Iran has discovered a large quantity of uranium and will soon begin mining it, according to a top Iranian official in charge of the country’s atomic program.
Ali Akbar Salehi, head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, said on Saturday that the new discovery makes Tehran “confident” regarding its reserves of the natural element.
Uranium is a key ingredient in the making of nuclear weapons. Iran’s use of such materials is intended to be regulated under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the nuclear agreement between Iran and world powers, signed in Vienna in July.
“I cannot announce (the level of) Iran’s uranium mine reserves. The important thing is that before aerial prospecting for uranium ores we were not too optimistic, but the new discoveries have made us confident about our reserves,” Salehi was quoted as saying by IRNA, a state news agency.
Salehi was at the table next to Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif when the JCPOA plan was drafted.
World powers previously believed uranium ore was an Achilles’ Heel of Iran’s nuclear aspirations, since the country was considered as having very low reserves of the material and would need to import.
Reuters on Saturday quoted a report by US think-tanks Carnegie Endowment and the Federation of American Scientists that said Iran was compelled “to rely on external sources of natural and processed uranium” because of the scarcity and low quality of its own uranium resources.
“Despite the Iranian leadership’s assertions to the contrary, Iran’s estimated uranium endowments are nowhere near sufficient to supply its planned nuclear program,” according to the report.
Salehi told IRNA on Saturday that by now, two-thirds of the country have been already covered in the search for uranium ore. He said that within four years, the search will have covered all of Iran.
The new mine, Salehi said, is in the province of Yazd in central Iran.
Sanctions on companies involved in the mining of uranium in Iran will be lifted as part of the historic and controversial nuclear deal.
On Thursday, Iranian envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency Reza Najafi said that Tehran has not yet decided how to reduce its enriched uranium stockpile — which it must do under JCPOA.
Najafi said one option would be to export it to Russia or other countries. The other, he said, would be to convert it to non-enriched form.
Najafi was speaking to reporters Thursday outside a meeting of the agency’s 35-nation board.
AP contributed to this report