bushehr - Reuters - December 9 2010
Iran’s Bushehr nuclear power plant. Photo by Reuters
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Iran's nuclear chief says his country is willing to help what he called "friendly" African nations that have uranium reserves to set up facilities to process the ore into nuclear material.

Fereidoun Abbasi says Iran has mastered the entire nuclear fuel cycle from extracting uranium ore to producing fuel for reactors and is ready to share the technology. Abbasi's comment was reported by the semi-official Mehr news agency Saturday.

The offer appears aimed at touting Iran as a nuclear power that has mastered the technology and is willing to help others create peaceful nuclear programs. Iran says its program is solely aimed at generating electricity and denies Western accusations that it seeks to build a bomb.

Earlier on Saturday, Abbasi said the new Fordo uranium enrichment facility would soon become operational.

"The Fordo site near Qom (south of the capital Tehran) would soon be opened and become operational," Mehr news agency quoted Abbasi as saying.

Abbasi said the site, located near the religious city of Qom and about 160 kilometers south of Tehran, would be able to enrich uranium at levels of 3.5, 4 and 20 percent. He gave no further details about the date, but it was likely that any new nuclear "achievements" would be disclosed in February and on the 33rd anniversary of the 1979 Islamic revolution.

According to local reports, Iran had last summer already started transferring centrifuges from the main enrichment site of Natanz in central Iran to Fordo.

Fordow is to become the second enrichment site after Natanz. The new site was first inspected by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in October 2009, and Iranian officials have said the plant would work with at least 3,000 centrifuges for enriching uranium.

Abbasi said Iranian experts have already produced the new generation of centrifuges, which Iran says are much faster than the previous models and would considerably accelerate the enrichment process.

Iran would soon insert the first batch of 20-per-cent enriched uranium into the research reactor in Tehran, he said.

Last week, the Iranian Atomic Energy Organization announced that the country had successfully produced its first home-made fuel plate with 20-per-cent enriched uranium and inserted it, as a test, into the core of the Tehran reactor.

Abbasi also said that the 1,000-megawatt reactor of the Russian-built nuclear power plant in the southern Gulf port of Bushehr would become fully operational in February and be connected to the national grid.