The 20 percent level,needed to produce fuel for a medical research reactor, is far below themore than 90 percent required to build a nuclear weapon, but U.S.officials have expressed concern Iran may be moving closer to theability to reach weapons-grade level.
The United States and itsallies accuse Iran of seeking to acquire atomic weapons. Tehran deniesthe charge, saying its nuclear program is geared toward generatingelectricity.
Iran has been producing the 20 percent enrichedmaterial since February. The new figure of 17 kilograms — about 37pounds — was announced by Vice President Ali Akbar Salehi, who headsIran's nuclear program. That is up from 5 kilograms (11 pounds) Iranannounced in April that it had produced so far.
"Potentially, wecan produce 5 kilograms a month but we are not in a hurry over this,"Mr. Salehi said, according to the semiofficial Iranian Students NewsAgency.
The U.N. Security Council approved a resolution two weeksago strengthening sanctions on Iran over its disputed nuclear programand calling on individual countries and blocs of nations to expandtheir own sanctions regimes on Iranian individuals and organizations.
TheEuropean Union followed with new sanctions, and last week the U.S.Treasury Department said it would restrict economic contacts with somethree dozen additional individuals and companies claimed to be helpingIran develop its nuclear and missile programs and evade internationalpenalties.
Iran is producing the further enriched material fromits stocks of low enriched uranium, which at 3.5 percent purity is thelevel needed to fuel an electricity-generating reactor.
Iran saysit needs the 20 percent enriched uranium to produce fuel rods to powera research reactor that produces isotopes for treating cancer and othermedical material. Salehi said Iran possesses the technology needed toproduce the fuel rods and the first should be ready sometime nextspring.
He said Iran plans to build four new reactors for atomicmedical research around the country, saying the reactors will be forradioactive isotopes for medical needs of patients in Iran and abroad.
TheUnited Nations has demanded Iran halt all enrichment activities, butIran says it has a right to the program to fuel a peaceful nuclearprogram.
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