The head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, Ali Akbar Salehi, said on Saturday that Iran has found "unexpectedly" high reserves of uranium and will soon begin mining activity at the new location in the central province of Yazd, Reuters reports.
The official Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) quoted Salehi saying, "I cannot announce (the level of) Iran's uranium mine reserves. The important thing is that before aerial prospecting for uranium ores we were not too optimistic, but the new discoveries have made us confident about our reserves."
The announcement comes days after Senate Democrats helped the administration of President Barack Obama to secure the six-nation nuclear deal with Iran by blocking a resolution by Republicans to reject the deal, according to the New York Times.
It also follows previous assessment reports by Western analysts and think tanks, such as the Carnegie Endowment and the Federation of American Scientists, that Iran is running low on supply of yellowcake -- the raw form of uranium -- and that the country would soon have to import uranium to support its nuclear program.
The assessments asserted that in addition to scarcity, the country's uranium resources were of low quality and thus domestic mining of the element was not cost-efficient, contrary to claims by the Iranian authorities.
"Despite the Iranian leadership's assertions to the contrary, Iran's estimated uranium endowments are nowhere near sufficient to supply its planned nuclear program."It is believed that the deal with Iran was based partly on the assessment that the country's nuclear program faced a constraint with regard to sourcing natural or processed uranium. Western intelligence agencies have therefore been on the lookout for evidence that Iran was trying to import uranium from sources such as Zimbabwe and Kazakhstan, but Iran has repeatedly denied past allegations.
The latest development, which implies that Iran could soon become self-sufficient with regard to uranium supply, thus changes radically the previous assessments by Western analysts. It will accentuate fears among geo-political opponents of the Iranian regime about the country's nuclear program and its capability to produce nuclear weapons in the circumstances that the deal reached in July between Tehran and the Western powers to impose restrictions on Iran's nuclear program covers only about a decade.
But Reuters notes that the existing deal had considered the possibility that Iran could discover new uranium reserves and thus provides that any new reserves will come under monitoring along with existing ones.
U.S. State Department spokesperson John Kirby said in a recent statement, "Any violation of that commitment would be met with the appropriate response."
The lifting of international sanctions on Iran is contingent on the country's compliance with the terms of the accord reached with the world powers.
Iran has achieved the capability to extract and enrich uranium and produce fuel rods for nuclear reactors. The country has within its reach the capability to build a bomb. But Iran has maintained consistently that its nuclear program is entirely for peaceful purposes and that it intends to comply with the terms of its agreement with world powers.