Tehran to Washington: Get used to a nuclear Iran

ISTANBUL, TURKEY – Iran celebrated the test runs on its first nuclear reactor at Bushehr Wednesday and reaffirmed plans for a 10-fold increase in its uranium enrichment capacity. It also told the United States to get used to a nuclear Iran.

Russia built the reactor and last year provided all fuel – still under International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) seal – for the Bushehr power plant. All spent fuel rods are to be returned to Russia.

“America should face reality and accept living with a nuclear Iran,” Gholamreza Aghazadeh, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, told journalists. He said Iran aimed to install 50,000 centrifuges to enrich uranium in the next five years – a substantial boost over the 6,000 he said were already spinning.

Four United Nations Security Council resolutions – backed up by three sets of sanctions – require that Iran stop enrichment until the Islamic Republic puts to rest concerns by the US and some Western countries that its drive for nuclear energy does not mask a secret weapons program.

The Monitor has covered this international feud here in 2007 – when the US was weighing the military option to stop Iran's nuclear progress – and in this story, about when Iran appeared to take a softer tone on the nuclear issue.

An American National Intelligence Estimate in late 2007 concluded that Iran had stopped its weapons project in 2003. Last week, the head of the UN nuclear watchdog, Mohamed ElBaradei, said Iran appeared to have slowed its program in a “political decision,” possibly in regard to President Obama’s call for direct talks with Iran.

But the IAEA also reported last week that Iran has amassed more than 1 ton of low-enriched uranium. That is enough – if enriched from the current 4 percent to more than 80 or 90 percent, in a technically involved and time-consuming process – to theoretically make a single atomic bomb.

Analysts at the Institute for Science and International Security in Washington say Iran has now “achieved” a “nuclear weapons breakout capability."

But not all experts believe it is a significant milestone.

On Sunday the IAEA specified that it “has no reason at all to believe” that Iran had intentionally underestimated enrichment output, that all steps remained under video surveillance, and said “Iran has provided good cooperation on this matter.”

“Our plans to install and run centrifuges are not based on political conditions,” Mr. Aghazadeh said in Bushehr. “We have neither slowed or accelerated our work there.”

Work on Bushehr first began in the 1970s, when the pro-West Shah was a close ally of the US and Israel, and Washington encouraged an extensive array of nuclear reactors. It was stopped after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, but then resurrected years later. A deal was finally struck with Russia more than a decade ago to finish the job.

Despite delays and disputes over payment – denied by Tehran, which accused Moscow of deliberately stalling – a dry run finally happened Wednesday. The IAEA reports that Iran has informed the agency it will begin loading fuel into the reactor this coming spring.

Visiting Bushehr, the head of Russia’s state atomic energy company, Sergei Kiriyenko, said that Iran was on its way and had made “significant improvements.”

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