Reporting from Tehran — The head of Iran's atomic energy organization said on television Sunday that Iran had achieved the ability to produce its own yellow cake, uranium powder that is a step in the process for creating nuclear fuel.
Ali Akbar Salehi said the breakthrough, using uranium ore mined in southern Iran, signified the country's full self-sufficiency in the production of uranium, cutting out the need for imported material.
The announcement comes on the eve of talks on Iran's nuclear program Monday in Geneva and may be aimed at bolstering Tehran's bargaining position. It also follows attacks Monday on two Iranian scientists, one of them Majid Shahriari, who was killed in what Iran described as a Western or Israeli operation.
"The enemies and ill-wishers have always tried to create despair and disappointment among our youth, academicians, engineers and our nation, but today we witness the delivery of the first batch of yellow cake that is produced inside the country," Salehi said at a news conference broadcast on state television.
Salehi said the announcement meant Iran would be attending the upcoming talks "with power and authority and that we do not seek favors from any party."
The latest development, which Salehi said was observed by international inspectors, also demonstrates Iran's continuing drive to master nuclear know-how and establish itself as a world power. Western analysts had speculated that Iran's nuclear program was running into technical difficulties because of an inability to procure raw uranium and technical problems with the centrifuges it uses to refine uranium.
Iranian officials immediately dismissed a U.S. proposal announced last week to create an international enriched-uranium fuel bank that nations could use to create nuclear energy without mastering the fuel themselves. It is "monopolization of technology and science and nuclear apartheid," Iran's envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency, Ali Asghar Soltaniyeh, said in Vienna on Thursday, the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported.
The West, Israel and many Middle Eastern governments suspect Iran plans eventually to build nuclear weapons in violation of its treaty obligations, a charge that Tehran denies. The United Nations Security Council has repeatedly demanded that Iran stop its nuclear-fuel production program.
Salehi said the uranium was from a southern Iranian mine called Gachin near the city of Bandar Abbas that is well known to international inspectors. The yellow cake must be further processed at Tehran's uranium conversion facility near the central city of Esfahan before it is refined at Iran's enrichment facility near the town of Natanz.
Enriched uranium can be used to power electricity plants, medical research reactors and, if highly refined, provide fissile material for nuclear bombs.
"Iran is searching for more uranium mines across the country," a Tehran nuclear physicist, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the Los Angeles Times. "Therefore, the fuel cycle from A to Z is complete."