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Iran inaugurates new nuclear fuel facility

Isfahan (Iran): Iran's president has inaugurated a new facility producing uranium fuel for a planned heavy-water nuclear reactor. The West fears the reactor could eventually be used for producing a nuclear weapon.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has announced the plant's opening during a ceremony in the central city of Isfahan.

The plant will produce pellets of uranium oxide to fuel the heavy-water research reactor, which is scheduled to be completed in 2009 or 2010.

Iran denies any intention to build a nuclear weapon. The US and its allies have expressed concerns Iran could reprocess spent fuel from the heavy-water reactor into plutonium for building a warhead.

The process is distinct from uranium enrichment, which produces fuel for a light-water reactor. Highly enriched uranium can be used to build a warhead as well. Iran's enrichment program presents more immediate concerns to the West than the hard-water reactor, because it is far more advanced.

The announcement comes a day after the United States announced it would participate directly in group talks with Iran over its nuclear program, another significant shift from President George W Bush's policy toward a nation he labeled part of an axis of evil. -- AP

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