Iran unveiled on Tuesday a new uranium production facility and two extraction mines, only days after talks with world powers on its disputed nuclear programme again ended in deadlock.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad hailed the advances and boasted of mastery over “the entire chain of nuclear energy,” while demanding that the work be accelerated.
The announcements come after talks between sanctions-hit Iran and six world powers on Tehran’s nuclear drive failed to produce a breakthrough in the Kazakh city of Almaty on Friday and Saturday last week.
The mines in Saghand city operate 350 metres (yards) underground and are within 120 kilometres (75 miles) of the new yellowcake production facility at Ardakan, a city in the central province of Yazd, state television said.
The report gave few details about the Ardakan facility but said it had an estimated output of 60 tonnes of yellowcake, which is an impure state of uranium oxide later fed into centrifuges for enrichment.
Iran says its enrichment activities are aimed at feeding a peaceful energy programme.
That work, in defiance of repeated UN Security Council demands, is at the heart of international worries, with Western powers and Israel fearing the Islamic state is developing a capacity to build an atom bomb.
Diplomatic efforts to find a negotiated solution to the standoff have been underway for years, but to no avail.
Iran’s latest meeting in Almaty with the P5+1 group of powers — the Security Council’s five permanent members plus Germany — failed to coax it into curbing its programme in exchange for the easing of some sanctions.
Ahmadinejad, under whose presidency the atomic programme has expanded rapidly, on Tuesday praised the advances and urged nuclear scientists to step up their work.
“I demand you to speed up your work and without any interruption,” he said, while claiming mastery over “the entire chain of nuclear energy, one that no one can take it away”.
“In the past, we depended on others to provide us with yellowcake but with the grace of God, (uranium) mines were inaugurated one after another,” he said referring to Iran’s all but depleted 600 tonnes of yellowcake acquired from South Africa in the 1970s.
Iran says it has now managed to replenish the stockpile from its raw uranium reserve of 4,400 tonnes, according to official figures.
In December 2010 it announced the delivery of a domestically produced yellowcake batch from the Gachin uranium mine, near the Gulf port of Bandar Abbas.
The discovery of the uranium mines in Saghand was announced almost a decade ago. But Western experts believe they contain poor mineral deposits.
Iran enriches uranium to both 3.5 and 20 percent levels in its Natanz and Fordo facilities. Uranium purified at high levels can be used in a nuclear weapon.
On Tuesday, the state television also reported an electron accelerator was inaugurated on the occasion of Iran’s national Atomic Energy Technology day.
The Islamic republic is under a number of UN sanctions, reinforced by international punitive measures targeting its vital oil income and access to global banking system.
The United States along with Israel, the sole but undeclared nuclear armed state in the Middle East, have refused to rule out a military option to stop what they call Iran’s quest for the bomb.