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Updated: For First Time, Iran Loads Domestic Fuel Rods Into Nuclear Reactor

Despite international pressure, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad listens to a technician during a visit to the Natanz Uranium Enrichment Facility, 200 miles south of the capital, Tehran, in 2008.
Iranian President's Office
Despite international pressure, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad listens to a technician during a visit to the Natanz Uranium Enrichment Facility, 200 miles south of the capital, Tehran, in 2008.

Update at 7:58 a.m. ET. Iran Stops Exporting Oil To 6 EU Countries:

Reacting to sanctions imposed by the European Union, Iran threatened to halt oil exports to six European countries.

Press TV, Iran's official English-language news outlet, reported Iran would no longer export oil to the Netherlands, Spain, Italy, France, Greece and Portugal.

Press TV adds: "Iran says it will only sell oil to those European companies that agree to strike long-term agreements and guarantee payment."

Update at 7:29 a.m. ET. Ahmadinejad Makes Announcement:

The AP and Reuters are reporting that President Ahmadinejad just made the announcement that the Tehran reactor has been loaded with domestically produced nuclear fuel rods.

Reuters reports that state TV showed Ahmadinejad himself "inserted the first Iranian-made rod into the reactor in northern Tehran."

Update at 11:41 a.m. ET. The AP has provided this video of the moment:

Update at 3:20 p.m. ET. Oil Prices Rise:

After Tehran issued its threats, the price of oil jumped. The AP reports:

"Benchmark U.S. crude rose by $1.08 to $101.82 per barrel in New York. Brent crude, which is used to price foreign oil that's imported by refineries, rose by $1.53 to $118.88 per barrel in London.

"Stopping Iranian shipments means European refineries will have to find new sources of oil sooner than expected. The European Union, which buys about 18 percent of Iran's total crude exports, had planned to embargo Iranian oil this summer to pressure the country to abandon its nuclear program."

Our Original Post Continues:

Iranian State TV reported yesterday that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will make an announcement about "key nuclear achievements," today.

Quoting the official news agency, The New York Times reports that Ahmadinejad will likely "proclaim that a new uranium enrichment plant built inside a mountain near the holy city of Qum was 'fully operational.'"

The Times adds:

"The announcement appeared timed to convey the defiant message that the increasingly harsh Western economic sanctions imposed on Iran were having no effect on the government's determination to proceed with its nuclear program. The United States, Europe and Israel have all called the program a cover for Iranian efforts to develop nuclear weapons capability, an accusation that Iran denies.

"The new uranium enrichment plant, known as Fordo, has raised Western concerns because it is buried deep underground, making it more impervious to scrutiny. The Fordo plant also has elevated distrust of Iran because the plant's construction had been kept a secret until Western intelligence confirmation of its existence forced the Iranians to acknowledge the plant in September 2009, just as President Obama and European allies were announcing it. The Iranians said at the time that they had always intended to reveal the plant's existence."

The BBC reports that senior national security official Ali Baqeri noted that Iran will also load Iranian-made nuclear fuel rods into the Tehran Research Reactor. The BBC makes much the same point as the Times: About two years ago talks to provide Iran with rods for the reactor collapsed and this announcement was likely meant to send the West a message that the sanctions will not deter Iran from trying to "master nuclear technology on its own."

Now, it's important to note that announcements of this kind by Iran have in the past amounted to empty boasts.

Also of note is that Iran is set to meet with the International Atomic Energy Agency in Tehran on Feb. 20 and 21.Reuters reports that the IAEA has been working its diplomatic channels to try to convince Tehran to be more transparent about its nuclear activity.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Eyder Peralta
Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.