In a move certain to inflame tensions, Iran flaunts its mastery of the nuclear fuel cycle by announcing it is loading its own fuel rods into a reactor
Iran has begun loading domestically made nuclear fuel rods into its research reactor in a defiant response to toughening Western sanctions over its controversial nuclear programme.
The official IRNA news agency said President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad inserted the first rod into the reactor in northern Tehran, and state TV broadcast live images from the ceremony with Iranian nuclear experts briefing him on the process.
Act of defiance: Iran President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad inside Tehran's research reactor. Ahmadinejad led a ceremony inserting Iran's first domestically produced, 20-per cent enriched nuclear fuel into Tehran's research reactor
Iran touted the development as an incremental step in the country's efforts to master the complete nuclear fuel cycle, despite Western penalties and UN sanctions.
The move comes as Iran was accused of running a covert terror campaign against Israel after a string of explosions -- including a botched bombing in Bangkok -- aimed at Israeli diplomats.
The West suspects Iran's nuclear programme is aimed at producing atomic weapons, a charge Tehran denies, insisting it is for peaceful purposes.
The new generation of centrifuges at Natanz that are three times more productive. pics/afp
Members of Iran's parliament have been discussing a draft bill, although not finalised, which would cut-off the flow to the European Union before the latest EU sanctions on Iran go into effect this summer.
Iran has said it is forced to manufacture nuclear fuel rods, which provide fuel for reactors, on its own since international sanctions ban it from buying them on foreign markets. In January, Iran said it had produced its first such fuel rod.
Iran's unchecked pursuit of the nuclear programme scuttled negotiations a year ago but Iranian officials last month proposed a return to the talks with the five permanent UN Security Council members plus Germany.
In the past, Iran has angered Western officials by appearing to buy time through opening talks and weighing proposals even while pressing ahead with the nuclear programme.
Apart from the EU's recent measures on Iran, which include an oil embargo and a freeze of the country's central bank assets, the US also recently levied new penalties aimed at limiting Iran's ability to sell oil -- which accounts for 80 per cent of its foreign revenue.
Israel is worried Iran could be on the brink of an atomic bomb and many Israeli officials believe sanctions only give Tehran time to move its nuclear programme underground, out of reach of Israeli military strikes. --