Iran enriches uranium to higher level

Iran announced that it had enriched uranium to a higher level than before though not beyond the range required for reactor fuel as a leading nuclear official tried to reassure neighboring countries that Tehran 's nuclear program posed no danger. Iran 's nuclear chief Gholamreza Aghazadeh said Wednesday that Iran enriched uranium up to 4.8 percent, topping last month's announcement that enrichment had reached 3.6 percent level. But those levels are far below enrichment to more than 90 percent required to use uranium in nuclear weapons.

"The latest enrichment percentage carried out in Iran is 4.8 percent," state-run television quoted Aghazadeh as saying. Aghazadeh added that Iran has no intention of enriching uranium beyond 5 percent. Meanwhile, Ali Larijani, Iran 's top nuclear negotiator, denied during a visit to the United Arab Emirates , that the Bushehr reactor, located near the Persian Gulf coast opposite Saudi Arabia , presented any danger to the region.

"This is baseless ... This plant does not emit any harmful radiation. It does not even contain any nuclear fuel yet," the Emirates News Agency WAM quoted him as saying late Tuesday. "The whole row has been fabricated by the U.S. ," he added. Larijani said it would be another year before nuclear fuel was brought to the plant for processing.

Gulf states have voiced concern over the facility, stating the nuclear plant was not properly maintained and was based on outdated Russian designs. Larijani dismissed the claims. "Some circles are working to spread panic and tension in the region through hurling such accusations against Iran ," he said. He said any Gulf mediation to ease the rising tensions would be welcome.

Nuclear chief Aghazadeh also announced the discovery of uranium deposits in southern Iran near the port city of Bandar Abbas . Iran announced April 11 that it had enriched uranium for the first time. The Security Council has demanded that Iran cease all of its enrichment-related activities until Tehran answers its questions on its nuclear program.

Last week, the International Atomic Energy Agency reported that Iran flouted the council's requests. Iran says its nuclear program is confined to generating power, but the United States and France accuse the country of secretly trying to build nuclear weapons.

Mohammad Ghannadi, deputy chief for nuclear research and technology, told a conference in Qom, south of the capital Tehran, Tuesday that the country's political leadership had ordered him to ensure that enrichment did not go beyond 5 percent. "We need enriched uranium to produce electricity ... we have been given orders to enrich uranium only up to 5 percent," he said.

Aghazadeh, the nuclear chief, said studies show there are considerable amounts of uranium ore at Bandar Abbas. "The deposits have not been identified fully but studies show that there are considerable amounts of uranium (ore) at the site," he said adding that additional exploration at the site was underway," television quoted Aghazadeh as saying.

The announcement of the deposits came just after Ghannadi, the deputy, said Tuesday that Iran had discovered uranium ore at three new sites in the central Khoshoomi, Charchooleh and Narigan areas.

Aghazadeh, who is also the head of Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, said Iran was planning vast investments to extract uranium from its deposits. "Experts at the ( Iran 's) Atomic Energy Organization are making plans to identify the country's uranium reserves. It is predicted that we will have vast investments in various parts of the country," he said, reports the AP.

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