TEHRAN, Iran — Iran will inaugurate a new uranium ore processing plant in less than a year in Ardakan, central Iran, a top nuclear official said Wednesday.
The nuclear facility will complete one of the early stages necessary for uranium enrichment — a process that can produce either fuel for a nuclear reactor or material for a warhead. Iran is looking to dramatically expand its enrichment program despite U.N. demands that it stop.
Hossein Faghihian, deputy head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran in charge of nuclear fuel, said the Ardakan Yellowcake Production Plant would open before the end of the current Iranian calendar year, which is March 20, 2009.
The plant will process ore extracted from uranium mines into uranium ore concentrate, known as yellowcake.
In the next stage, at the Uranium Conversion Facility in Isfahan, central Iran, the yellowcake is processed into uranium hexaflouride, a gas that is the feedstock for enriching uranium. The gas is taken to the Uranium Enrichment Plant in Natanz, where it is injected into centrifuges for enrichment.
Iran announced Tuesday that it had begun installing 6,000 new centrifuges for enrichment, a move that would triple its number of centrifuges.
Faghihian said the new plant at Ardakan is to have a capacity to produce 70 tons of yellowcake a year.
Uranium enriched to low grades is used for fuel in nuclear reactors, but further enrichment makes it suitable for atomic bombs.
The United States accuses Iran of seeking to develop nuclear weapons, but Tehran has denied the accusation.