TEHRAN: Iran said on Sunday it had developed machinery to separate uranium from its ore, part of the Islamic state’s ongoing drive to become self-sufficient in nuclear technology. The mixer-settler machinery was developed by Iran’s Atomic Energy Organisation (IAEO), state television said. “Unfortunately, because of the problems that exist, it was not possible for us to buy this machine from abroad and we had to build it domestically. Fortunately, we succeeded,” an unidentified IAEO official said. Iran’s efforts to build a full nuclear fuel cycle has caused alarm in the West which fears Tehran could use the technology to build atomic weapons. Iran says it only wants to use its nuclear facilities to generate electricity. In August Iran announced another breakthrough in nuclear technology by using biotechnology to produce larger and cheaper quantities of uranium oxide, or yellow cake, from uranium ore. Yellowcake is processed and then enriched to produce nuclear reactor fuel or, if highly enriched, bomb-grade material. The United States accuses Iran of trying to master the civil nuclear fuel cycle as a cover for a military programme to obtain atomic weapons — a charge vehemently denied by Tehran. Iran announced in 2003 its intention to start extraction of uranium from a mine at Saghand, in the province of Yazd, which has an estimated 1.5 million tons of uranium ore. In August, Iran ended its freeze on the conversion of yellowcake to uranium hexafluoride gas (UF6) at a facility near the central city of Isfahan. So far it has agreed to maintain a freeze of enrichment at a plant in Natanz. Iran’s right to enrichment has proved a major stumbling block in talks with the European Union on its nuclear programme, as in highly enriched form uranium can be used in the core of an atomic bomb.