Photograph by Atta Kenare/AFP/Getty Images
Iranian state news agencies are trumpeting a pair of advances in the country's nuclear program Wednesday, with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad shown on Press TV (wearing a white lab coat and everything) overseeing the insertion of the country's first domestically made fuel rods into the Tehran nuclear research reactor.
CNN reports that Iran says the Tehran facility has been used primarily for medical purposes, including the production of radio isotopes for cancer treatment. But the international community has long believed that Iran's nuclear project is aimed at the creation of a bomb, a fear that was backed by a U.N. nuclear watchdog report from November, which found "credible" evidence that Iran had tested bomb parts.
Tougher sanctions have been imposed on the Islamic Republic in recent months by the United States and the EU in order to force Ahmadinejad into negotiations over his country's nuclear program, but so far Iran has mostly defied those warnings. News of the nuclear advances comes on the same day that Iran announced it would stop oil exports to six European nations (Netherlands, Spain, Italy, France, Greece, and Portugal) in response to recent EU sanctions.
In addition to the test of the domestically made fuel rods, according to the Associated Press, Iran also announced via state media that the Natanz uranium enrichment site has started using advanced centrifuges. The centrifuges are used to enrich uranium and, as the AP explains, much of the controversy surrounding Iran's enrichment of uranium has to do with the level of enrichment. Low-enriched uranium, which Iran has produced for years, is adequate for nuclear energy plants, which is Iran's stated purpose in developing nuclear power. Nuclear warheads need much higher enriched uranium, and some believe the new equipment could be aimed at breaking that threshold.