Iran has found a big uranium reserve and will soon begin extracting the radioactive element at a new mine, Reuters reported, citing the head of the Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization.
Previous estimates from Western analysts indicated that Iran’s uranium reserves were low and would soon need to import uranium, the raw material needed for its nuclear program.
World powers say they will watch Iran closely to see if Iran, which the U.S. Department of State has designated as a state sponsor of terrorism, could become more self-sufficient and acquire the capability to produce atomic weapons — something denied by Tehran.
Iranian nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi said:
“I cannot announce (the level of) Iran’s uranium mine reserves. 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.”
Salehi said uranium exploration had covered almost two-thirds of Iran and would be complete in the next four years.
The Iran deal, agreed upon by Iran and world powers in July, will lift international sanctions on Iran in exchange for at least a decade of curbs on the country’s nuclear activity.
While uranium can be used for civilian power production and scientific purposes, it’s also a key ingredient in nuclear weapons.
Iran has already achieved a full nuclear fuel cycle — ranging from the extraction of uranium ore to enrichment and production of fuel rods for nuclear reactors — after decades of effort and consistently stating its nuclear program is for “peaceful” purposes.
The U.S. State Department said any new reserves of uranium discovered in Iran will be under the same monitoring as existing mines under the nuclear agreement.
However, U.S. inspectors will be banned from all ground inspections at Iranian nuclear sites. Inspectors will have access to nuclear facilities, but they are required to request visits first.
Salehi said uranium extraction was set to begin at a new mine in the central province of Yazd, according to IRNA.
Some Western analysts have previously said that Iran was close to exhausting its supply of yellowcake, also known as raw uranium, and that mining it domestically was not cost-efficient.
Sanctions on companies taking part in Iran’s uranium mining industry will be lifted when the agreement is implemented.