Iran has found a big uranium reserve and will soon mine it, Reuters reported, citing the head of the nation's Atomic Energy Organization.
Previous estimates from Western analysts indicated that Iran's uranium reserves were low and that the raw material required for its nuclear program would soon have to be imported.
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Any indication Iran could become more self-sufficient will be closely watched by world powers, which reached a landmark deal with Tehran in July over its program. They had feared the nuclear activities were aimed at acquiring the capability to produce atomic weapons — something denied by Tehran.
"I cannot announce [the level of] Iran's uranium mine reserves," Iranian nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi was quoted as saying by state news agency IRNA, Reuters reported. "The important thing is that before aerial prospecting for uranium ores we were not too optimistic, but the new discoveries have made us confident about our reserves."
Iran has repeatedly said its nuclear program is a peaceful venture, and while uranium can be harnessed for power production and science, it's also a key building block for nuclear weapons.
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After decades of efforts, Iran - which has consistently said its program is for peaceful purposes - has achieved a full nuclear fuel cycle, ranging from the extraction of uranium ore to enrichment and production of fuel rods for nuclear reactors.
Sanctions on companies taking part in Iran's uranium mining industry will be lifted when the agreement is implemented. [...]
Some Western analysts have previously said that Iran was close to exhausting its supply of yellowcake — or raw uranium — and that mining it domestically was not cost-efficient.
A report published in 2013 by U.S. think-tanks Carnegie Endowment and the Federation of American Scientists said the scarcity and low quality of Iran's uranium resources compelled it "to rely on external sources of natural and processed uranium."
It added: "Despite the Iranian leadership's assertions to the contrary, Iran's estimated uranium endowments are nowhere near sufficient to supply its planned nuclear program."
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