Japanese media get special tour of Iran uranium conversion plant

ISFAHAN, Iran (Kyodo) A uranium conversion facility and nuclear fuel plant in Isfahan, central Iran, were shown to Japanese media Wednesday as the United States and Europe continued to pressure the country about its atomic ambitions.

The conversion facility, which manufactures uranium hexafluoride as a raw material for uranium enrichment, forms the core of Iran’s nuclear program in tandem with a uranium enrichment facility in Natanz.

The facility would be considered a prime military target if talks with the United States or Israel collapse and result in the use of force.

The viewing, which was restricted to Japanese media companies, was considered an unusual move for Iran. Some observers say the act was aimed at proving Iran is acting transparently in pursuing nuclear power so it can gain support from Japan, a “friendly country” that is distancing itself from the United States and Europe, which are leaning toward increasing sanctions.

Although the enrichment facility was undergoing maintenance, an engineer explained the entire process for manufacturing uranium hexafluoride from yellowcake, or uranium ore that has been crushed to a fine powder.

The engineer emphasized that the containers used to solidify and store uranium hexafluoride are sealed by the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog, and placed under supervision.

In the nuclear fuel plant, fuel rods used for an experimental heavy-water reactor under construction in Arak, western Iran, were shown. But a manufacturing line for the Tehran research reactor fuel it has threatened to make on its own was not installed, and a manufacturing line for a light-water reactor to be used for future electricity generation also lay incomplete.

“Of course, we are facing some difficulties. For light-water reactors, we’ve been solving the problems step by step. As no one in Europe or the United States sells fuel to us, we do it ourselves,” said Ali Saeidi, manager of the Iranian Fuel Assembly Co.

Construction of the enrichment facility began in 1997, and production started in 2004. According to an IAEA report, a total of 371 tons of uranium hexafluoride have been produced, with a portion of that used to enrich uranium at Natanz.