The head of the UN atomic watchdog said on Thursday that Iran was still at the starting stage of creating a uranium enrichment plant, and further dismissed concerns about Iran’s activities, saying that the country’s nuclear programs are under IAEA inspection. “There are various definitions of industrial scale production. Iran is still at the starting stage of creating a uranium enrichment plant,” Reuters quoted Mohammed ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, as telling reporters in Riyadh. “The fears do not only stem from Iran conducting industrial production but rather Iran’s aims behind (enriching uranium) before it has nuclear reactors for electric power generation that need enriched uranium.”
As a signatory to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), Iran is legally entitled to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes.
ElBaradei was speaking after talks with Abdul-Rahman al-Attiyah, secretary general of the six-nation Persian Gulf Cooperation Council. During his brief visit to Riyadh, ElBaradei also held talks with Saudi King Abdullah.
Iran said on Monday it had begun industrial enrichment of uranium. It also said it had injected uranium gas feedstock into a batch of 3,000 centrifuges it is building.
“(Iran) is still going ahead with the construction of the Natanz reactor … with the goal of having 54,000 centrifuges. Now it is still at the hundreds stage,” ElBaradei said.
ElBaradei confirmed that IAEA inspectors were in Iran. They began this week a routine visit to the Natanz facility where Iran carries out its enrichment work, an Iranian official has said, and could provide the first independent assessment of Iran’s assertion.
“Since uranium is being enriched under the supervision of the IAEA, this means Iran cannot enrich uranium to the scale that would raise concerns on its use for weapons,” he said.
A year ago, the IAEA confirmed that Iran had managed to enrich uranium for the first time in small quantities after a similar assertion by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
“The risk from Iran is not of tomorrow or after tomorrow, we have to understand this. Even those who believe Iran’s goal is to produce nuclear weapons, believe this will not happen for years,” ElBaradei said.