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Iran nuclear program: Clock is ticking as uranium collects

It's amassing low-enriched uranium at the rate of 2.75 kilograms per day – enough to give Iran nuclear program enough feedstock for two bombs by February, by one estimate.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / November 3, 2009


Iran's steady production of low-enriched uranium is a clock that is ticking away as Tehran develops its nuclear program.

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Every day, the whirling centrifuges at the Natanz Fuel Enrichment plant produce about 2.75 kilograms of the stuff, according to International Atomic Energy Agency data.

Day after day, this amount is added to Iran's existing stockpile of low-enriched uranium (LEU), estimated by the US to total about 1,600 kilograms.

This material can be used as the feedstock for weapons-grade uranium. That is why US experts worry about it so much – and why the West wants Iran to ship most of it abroad, where it can be converted into a much less dangerous form of reactor fuel.

Iran's enrichment program "is the pacing element in determining when [Iran] would be capable of making a nuclear weapon," said Paul Pillar, a former US intelligence officer who is now a professor of security studies at Georgetown University, at a recent Arms Control Association seminar on the Iranian nuclear challenge.

Right now it is far from a sure thing that Iran will agree to the US-backed proposal that it send most of its LEU to Russia for processing.

Iranian officials have sent mixed signals on the proposal. On Monday, the head of the UN nuclear agency urged Iran to clarify its response.

Addressing the UN General Assembly, Mohamed ElBaradei said "a number of questions and allegations relevant to the nature" of Iran's nuclear efforts remain. Dr. ElBaradei, who is stepping down after 12 years as the IAEA's chief, called for confidence-building measures on all sides.

"I therefore urge Iran to be as forthcoming as possible," he said.

The US and many other countries are worried that Iran is bent on obtaining nuclear weapons. Tehran insists its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on a government website in regards to the current negotiations that Iran "looks at the talks with no trust."