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Iran’s nearly completed facility in Isfahan is regarded as vital for the production of nuclear weapons.

A senior Iranian official said Tehran was nearing completion of the uranium conversion facility. The facility is designed to convert uranium ore, or yellowcake, into uranium hexafluoride, a key component in the process of enriching uranium to produce nuclear weapons.

“Currently, the Isfahan uranium conversion facility is 70 percent operational,” Iranian Atomic Energy Organization Deputy Director Mohammad Ghanadi said. “I can say that 21 out of the 24 workshops in this facility have become operational.”

Ghanadi’s assertion, broadcast by Iranian television Oct. 24, was the first disclosure of Tehran’s progress in completing the nuclear fuel cycle.

The UCF plant was designed to produce uranium hexafluoride, placed into gas centrifuges for the manufacture of enriched uranium.

The International Atomic Energy Agency has called for Iran to suspend its nuclear fuel cycle activities by the next meeting of the agency’s board of governors in late November. So far, Iran has refused.

Instead, Tehran said it intended to use the Isfahan plant to convert 37 tons of uranium ore into uranium hexafluoride, sufficient to produce five nuclear bombs. Last month, the IAEA determined that the uranium conversion facility at Isfahan was operating on an experimental basis.

Iran has announced plans to become independent in every phase of the nuclear fuel cycle. In a speech to Iranian workers at the Isfahan facility, Ghanadi said Iran was preparing to launch operations of its first uranium mine.

Ghanadi said the mine, located in the central Iranian town of Saghand, would become operational by March 2005. Tehran would also search for uranium in other areas of the country believed to contain the ore.

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