Iranian nuclear development may be slowing down due to a shortage of fuel supplies, according to diplomats quoted Tuesday by the Associated Press.
The diplomats, who insisted on anonymity, could not say specifically what might have caused the slowdown in production of enriched uranium. In any case, they said, the production output has definitely been curbed.
Officials speculated that perhaps the Islamic Republic has run short of the uranium oxide needed to produce nuclear fuel, or to produce atomic weapons. Thousands of centrifuges are used to refine uranium oxide ore, which is imported into Iran. The enriched uranium is then viable for use as nuclear fuel – or the fissile core material for nuclear warheads.
Scientists at the Institute for Science and International Security, based in Washington DC, estimated recently that Iran currently has the capability to produce enough weapons-grade uranium for at least two nuclear warheads within the next six months. The estimate was based on a June 2009 report by the United Nations nuclear watchdog organization, the International Atomic Energy Agency. According to the IAEA, by May 2009 nearly 5,000 uranium enrichment centrifuges had been installed and were operating at the Natanz nuclear facility.
Tuesday's report said there are now approximately 6,000 centrifuges operating at Natanz.
Israel, the United States and a number of other Western nations believe that Iran is continuing its drive toward development of a nuclear weapon, rather than domestic nuclear power for peaceful purposes, as Iran has repeatedly claimed. The Islamic Republic has insisted on continuing its uranium enrichment program, expanding it several times in defiance of a U.N. mandate to cease its activities. This, despite three increasingly severe rounds of economic sanctions by the U.N. Security Council.
Diplomatic efforts by the United States aimed at convincing Iran to at least suspend, if not abandon, the program have thus far failed to bear fruit, although the Islamic Republic announced last week it was willing to cooperate with IAEA inspectors. A State Department spokesman expressed skepticism at the Iranian statement, noting that there were many levels at which cooperation had yet to be achieved.