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UK Cleared Nuclear Cargo to Iran

British officials have allowed the export to Iran of a cargo of radioactive material that experts believe could be used in a nuclear weapons programme , On 31 August a truck carrying 1,000kg of zirconium silicate supplied by a British firm was stopped by Bulgarian customs at the Turkish border on its way to Tehran.Zirconium can be used as a component of a nuclear programme. The official who stopped the truck was alerted after its cargo emitted unusual radioactivity levels. Bulgarian officials said that the Turkish driver was arrested on 31 August. He was investigated \'for violating international treaties... by transferring across the border dangerous wastes, toxic chemical substances, biological agents, toxics and radioactive materials\'. The Bulgarians discovered the exporter was a British firm and alerted the UK embassy in Sofia, which informed London on 7 September. There are technical rules that control the trade in zirconium silicate. These controls focus on how much of the material contains hafnium, another rare metal. The British view is that zirconium sulphate with more than 0.05 per cent of hafnium does not require a licence, as it is difficult to refine - although this is challenged by some experts. After a two-month investigation involving the British and Bulgarian authorities, it was agreed that the British cargo did not need an export licence and could be released and driven to Iran. However, John Large, an independent nuclear consultant, said: \'It is not a very sophisticated process to extract the zirconium from such material. Even though it appears that technically this cargo does not fall within the international controls, I would still be concerned. Zirconium is used for two purposes: one for cladding nuclear fuel rods inside a reactor and as material for a nuclear weapon. If Iran wanted this material for any illicit purposes, this would be one way it could get its hands on it.\'