Iran Reportedly Making A Deal For Raw Uranium
LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
And I'm Steve Inskeep.
This year began with some hope of change in the long confrontation between Iran and the West. This year is ending with new allegations about Iran's nuclear program. The Associated Press obtained a document saying Iran is trying to buy 1,350 tons of uranium ore. Reporter George Jahn has seen the document, and he's on the line. Welcome to the program, sir.
Mr. GEORGE JAHN (Reporter): Thank you.
INSKEEP: What is the deal that's under discussion here?
Mr. JAHN: Reduced to its basics, what the intelligence assessment says is that Iran has been negotiating a deal with elements in Kazakhstan to by 1,350 tons of purified uranium ore.
INSKEEP: You said elements in Kazakhstan, somebody in the central Asian nation of Kazakhstan.
Mr. JAHN: That's absolutely correct, and the key word that I followed up on was elements, because this estimate doesn't say that it's the Kazak government that's involved.
INSKEEP: You said intelligence assessment. That's what you've been reading. Can you describe that document a little more? And who gave it to you?
Mr. JAHN: Well, I can't tell you who gave it to me because if I do, I'll never be able to report on...
INSKEEP: Understood. You do describe it, though, as a nation that is a member of the international...
Mr. JAHN: Absolutely. A nation member of the International Atomic Energy Agency. It has good intelligence in the region. It's a two-page summary on this purported deal, basically.
INSKEEP: Now, why would it be important for Iran to get its hands on uranium, and especially this much of it?
Mr. JAHN: Basically, this is the starting block in its enrichment program. Iran needs purified ore, also known as yellow cake or uranium oxide, to enrich, and of course, its enrichment program is the backbone of its nuclear activities, which could create nuclear weapons.
INSKEEP: And I guess Iran has been reported to be running out of uranium within its own borders.
Mr. JAHN: That's correct, that's correct. Iran doesn't have huge domestic capacities. It needs to import. It has been using 600 stocks that it secured from South Africa back in the 1980s, but this is reported to be running out.
INSKEEP: And we should be clear, as well. You talked about needing to enrich this some more. We should be clear: 1,350 tons of uranium ore sounds like an awful lot, but you don't just stick that into a bomb. It's a long way from being a bomb or a nuclear reactor or anything else.
Mr. JAHN: Absolutely. As I say, it's the starting block. It's the starting block of enrichment. And very briefly, what you need to do with this yellow cake or uranium oxide is to process it into a uranium gas, and then you have to spin it in centrifuges to enrich, either for nuclear fuel or for weapons grade uranium, a long and complex process.
INSKEEP: We've just got a few seconds left. I want to mention, by the way, that Iran has been dismissing these reports. Kazakhstan, the government of Kazakhstan, has said they don't know anything about this, they have nothing to do with this. You've got this intelligence assessment that says otherwise.
Very briefly, though, Iran has insisted it has a legal right to peaceful nuclear power under a nuclear treaty that's been signed. On the face of it, is a transaction like this legal? Can they legally go to somebody in Kazakhstan and by 1,350 tons of uranium?
Mr. JAHN: It depends on whether you accept the Security Council's authority. The Security Council has banned imports of such materials. Iran says it's not bound by the Security Council. The Security Council, however, is generally recognized as having the authority to ban these kinds of imports.
INSKEEP: Mr. Jahn, thanks very much.
Mr. JAHN: My pleasure.
INSKEEP: George Jahn is a reported for the Associated Press. He has seen a document from the International Atomic Energy Agency that says Iran is close to buying many tons of uranium from Kazakhstan.