TEHRAN  - Iran said on Sunday that its scientists have “tested the first nuclear fuel rod produced from uranium ore deposits inside the country,” the website of the Iranian Atomic Energy Organisation said.
“After going through physical checks, it was inserted into the core of the Tehran research reactor in order to study how well it works,” the website added.
Iran said last month that it planned to insert domestically produced uranium fuel into the Tehran research reactor, which produces isotopes for medical purposes and currently runs on a nearly depleted stock of nuclear plates bought from Argentina in 1993.
The Tehran reactor requires uranium enriched to 20 percent, a far higher level than that needed for Iran’s Russian-built nuclear power plant in Bushehr, on the Gulf coast, which uses Russian fuel that is returned when spent.
The atomic energy organisation did not specify the level of enrichment of the trial fuel rod but Iran’s programme to enrich uranium to the higher level has been at the centre of growing Western concerns about the goals of its nuclear programme.
Uranium enriched to 20 percent level is normally manufactured into plate, not rod, form for use as fuel. Western governments nations have expressed scepticism that Iran has the technology to produce plates.
Iran also successfully test fired a medium-range surface-to-air missile on Sunday during navy war games taking place near the strategic Strait of Hormuz, a spokesman for the manoeuvres said, according to the official IRNA news agency. “This medium-range surface-to-air missile is equipped with the latest technology to combat radar-evading targets and intelligent systems which try to disrupt missile navigation,” Commodore Mahmoud Mousavi was quoted as saying. He said it was the first time Iran had tested the missile, which was “domestically designed and built.”
Mousavi also told the ISNA news agency that the 10 days of war games were to end Monday with all ships and submarines exercising a new tactic to practise the closure of the strait “if Iran’s navy so chooses.” It was not immediately known whether the missile was fired from a ship or from land. Other details about the missile, including the distance it can fly, were not given.
The missile’s launch and the war games are meant to show Iran’s military capabilities at a time that the US and other Western nations are increasing pressure over Tehran’s nuclear programme.
The fact that they are taking place near the Strait of Hormuz has focused attention on Iran’s threats in recent days that it could close the narrow channel at the entrance to the Gulf if more sanctions are imposed.