Major uranium deposit discoveries may fuel Iran’s nuclear program

Iran announced over the weekend a significant discovery of new uranium deposits equivalent to three times its estimated uranium reserves, only days before the nation was scheduled to resume talks with Western powers in Kazakhstan over Tehran’s controversial nuclear program.

In a statement, the country’s Atomic Energy Organization said it had designated 16 sites for new nuclear power plants, and that new uranium discoveries over the past year and a half had almost tripled the country’s estimated reserves of uranium from 1,527 tons to 4,400 tons.

The sites — on Iran's north and south coasts, Khuzestan province and north-western Iran — were chosen in part for their resistance to earthquakes and military strikes, the organization said.

The timing of Saturday’s announcements from the body, which is Iran’s top authority on technical issues for the nuclear industry, suggests Tehran is trying to bolster its negotiating position in advance of nuclear talks scheduled to begin Tuesday, say experts.

The U.S. and its allies on this particular issue —Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany—accuse Iran of trying to develop atomic weapons under the cover of a civilian nuclear program. Iran says its nuclear efforts are for peaceful purposes only.

The so-called six powers may offer Iran some form of relief from international economic sanctions if the nation agrees to cut down enriched uranium production, which could be used to develop nuclear weapons.

According to several documents published by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), "overall, credible" evidence exists that until 2003, and possibly since then, Iran conducted nuclear weapons research.

The IAEA has also expressed concern about extensive changes at Iran's Parchin military base, where the agency suspects that explosives tests relevant to nuclear weapons have taken place in the past.

Iran has consistently denied that claim and other similar charges, accusing it of secretly developing atomic weapons and says that as a signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) it is entitled to develop a nuclear power programme.

Tightening sanctions have squeezed the country’s economy, with oil revenue slashed, a currency that has nosedived in value, and increasing unemployment.

(Image by Petr Kratochvila/Shuterstock.com)