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Iran converts sliver of its high-enriched uranium

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES (AP) – Iran has converted a fraction of its stockpile of highly enriched uranium into material crucial for detecting cancers and other diseases, the United Nations’ (UN) nuclear watchdog and an Iranian media report said on Friday.

Iran’s decision to convert the uranium takes it out of a form that can potentially be further refined into weapons-grade levels.

The development comes as talks in Vienna over restoring Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers hang in the balance.

Negotiators previously said they had reached the end of a monthslong effort to find a way to bring both the United States and Iran back into the accord – just as a Russian demand threw the talks into a chaotic pause.

Since then, Iran and the United Kingdom agreed to a prisoner release and news of the decision by Tehran to reprocess the uranium appears to signal that the negotiations may still see the parties return to Vienna and reach a deal.

A nuclear research reactor at the headquarters of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran. PHOTO: AP

In a statement on Friday, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said Iran had used 2.1 kilogrammes of its 60-per-cent enriched uranium to produce so-called “highly enriched uranium targets” at a facility in Isfahan.

Those “targets” will be irradiated at the Tehran Research Reactor and later used to produce molybdenum-99, the IAEA said. Molybdenum-99 decays within days into a form of an isotope called technetium-99m, which is used in scans that can detect cancer and assess blood supply to the heart.

Increasingly, countries around the world use low-enriched uranium to create the needed isotope to avoid the proliferation risks of employing highly enriched uranium.

Iran’s semiofficial Mehr news agency, quoting unnamed officials it referred to as “informed sources”, acknowledged that some of this material had been reprocessed. The report added that two kilogrammes of the material could help one million people.

The IAEA said that as of February 19, Iran had a stockpile of 33.2 kilogramme of 60-per-cent enriched uranium.