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Iran Loads Domestically-Made Fuel Rods into Nuclear Reactor

Reuters: Iran to unveil new generation of centrifuges --

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad promised he’d be making a big announcement regarding the progress of his country’s nuclear program, which Iran says is for civilian purposes, but which the West characterizes as covertly aimed at one day producing nuclear bombs. Iran has now announced it loaded domestically made nuclear fuel rods into its Tehran Research Reactor on Wednesday, the first time it has done so in order to keep it running.

Iran’s Press TV reports:

Iran has placed the first domestically-made fuel rods into the heart of Tehran Research Reactor as President Ahmadinejad unveils the country’s latest nuclear achievements.

According to the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, the fuel rods were produced at Isfahan nuclear facility and transferred to the Tehran Research Reactor under the supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors.

By placing nuclear plates into the Tehran reactor, Iran has taken the final step in completing the nuclear fuel cycle.

Iran's Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi and Head of Atomic Energy Organization of Iran Fereydoun Abbasi were also present at the ceremony on Wednesday.

Reuters reports:

Tehran had announced in January that it had successfully manufactured and tested fuel rods for use in nuclear power plants, a move to show that international sanctions are failing to stop it making advances in nuclear know-how and to strengthen its hand in any renewed negotiations with six world powers. […]

The Tehran reactor produces radio-isotopes for use in medical treatments and agriculture.

Iran says it was forced to make its own fuel for the Tehran reactor after failing to agree terms for a deal to obtain it from the West to replenish imported Argentinian stocks expected to run out in the near future. But many analysts doubted Iran would be able to convert its uranium into special reactor fuel.

Ali Baqeri, the deputy head of Iran's Supreme National Security Council told a Russian news outlet:

"We have started enriching uranium to 20 percent to build nuclear fuel rods since western countries are reluctant to provide us with assistance," Bagheri told RIA Novosti on Tuesday.

The Iranian student news agency, ISNA characterized the insertion of the domestically-produced fuel rods as a “giant step in Iranian nuclear program.”

Reuters spoke to a nuclear expert to gauge the significance of the development:

Mark Hibbs, a nuclear expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said he did not believe the Iranian announcement signaled any mass production of nuclear fuel.

"We are talking about laboratory-scale production of a single element for the reactor," he said.

Meanwhile, a new Gallup poll shows that Iranians are split on their country’s potential military use of the nuclear program. In a poll published Wednesday, Gallup reports more Iranians support the non-military use than military:

Iranians are more likely to approve of Iran developing its nuclear power capabilities for non-military use (57%) than for military use (40%). They are more mixed about military use, which Iran insists it is not pursuing, with 40% approving and 35% disapproving. Nearly one in four did not express an opinion either way.

At the same time, survey respondents contacted by phone from outside Iran said despite the pain of economic sanctions, “nearly half (46%) approve of cutting diplomatic relations with countries that impose economic sanctions on it. A sizable minority of Iranians, 31%, disapprove of cutting ties.”

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