Iran opens new nuclear facility
Isfahan - Iran's president has inaugurated a new facility producing uranium fuel for a planned heavy-water nuclear reactor. The West fears the reactor could eventually be used for producing a nuclear weapon.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has announced the plant's opening during a ceremony in the central city of Isfahan. The plant will produce pellets of uranium oxide to fuel the heavy-water research reactor, which is scheduled to be completed in 2009 or 2010.
Iran denies any intention to build a nuclear weapon. The US and its allies have expressed concerns that Iran could reprocess spent fuel from the heavy-water reactor into plutonium for building a warhead.
The process is distinct from uranium enrichment, which produces fuel for a light-water reactor. Highly enriched uranium can be used to build a warhead as well.
Iran's enrichment programme presents more immediate concerns to the West than the hard-water reactor, because it is far more advanced.
Iran invited to new talks
The announcement comes a day after the United States announced it would participate directly in group talks with Iran over its nuclear programme, another significant shift from President George W Bush's policy toward a nation he labelled part of an axis of evil.
Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia announced on Wednesday that they were inviting Iran to a new session of negotiations aimed at breaking a deadlock in the talks.
Iran has not yet replied to the invitation. Tehran has rejected UN demands that it halt uranium enrichment, saying it has a right to develop nuclear technology for a programme it says is peaceful, aimed only at producing electricity.
Ahmadinejad was attending celebrations for Iran's National Day of Nuclear Technology, which marks the day in 2006 when Iran enriched uranium for the first time.
Iran has been building the 40mW hard-water reactor in the central town of Arak for the past four years.
Hard-water reactors do not need enriched uranium for fuel, and can instead use more easily produced uranium oxide ore, fashioned into pellets.