January 30, 2019 / 3:05 PM / 22 days ago

Iran ships 30 tons of yellow cake to facility in Isfahan

GENEVA (Reuters) - Iran has sent a large batch of mined uranium “yellow cake” for processing ahead of shipment to its main enrichment facility, Iran’s state news agency reported on Wednesday in the latest sign of plans to step up its atomic activities.

Yellow cake, or uranium ore, can be further processed into enriched uranium to make fuel for nuclear power plants, Iran’s stated aim, or to provide material for atomic bombs if refined much more, which the West fears may be the Islamic Republic’s ultimate goal.

U.S.-Iranian tensions have resurged since President Donald Trump pulled Washington out of the 2015 nuclear accord, calling it deeply flawed. Under the deal, Iran restricted its enrichment program to ease concerns it could not be put to developing nuclear weapons and in return won relief from sanctions.

Thirty tons of yellow cake from a production plant in the city of Ardakan in central Iran was sent to a uranium conversion facility in Isfahan on Wednesday, the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported.

This appears to be the second time a consignment of yellow cake has been delivered to the facility, which was reopened in June after lying idle for nine years.

The activity is permissible under the nuclear deal, which allows Iran to enrich uranium to 3.67 percent — far below the 90 percent of weapons grade — and caps its stock of enriched uranium hexafluoride at 300 kg.

Yellow cake is converted into a gas called uranium hexafluoride (UF6) before enrichment. The shipment will subsequently be sent to the Natanz nuclear facility for enrichment, according to IRNA.

The Atomic Energy Organization of Iran said in June that the plant for the production of UF6, the feedstock for centrifuge machines that enrich uranium, had been relaunched at the Isfahan uranium conversion facility and a barrel of yellow cake had been delivered there.

Reporting By Babak Dehghanpisheh in Geneva and Francois Murphy in Vienna, Editing by William Maclean

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