Iran has begun production of up to 60% enriched uranium at its underground nuclear power plant in Fordow, International Atomic Energy Organization (IAEA) director-general Rafael Grossi said Tuesday, bringing the country closer to weapons-grade material.
“Iran had started production of highly enriched uranium – UF6 enriched to 60% – using the existing two cascades of IR-6 centrifuges at the Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant (FFEP), in addition to the production that has been taking place at Natanz since April 2021 . the IAEA said in a statement.
The statement added that Iran has installed more “cascades of advanced IR-6 centrifuges” and is planning a “significant expansion of low-enriched uranium production – UF6 enriched to 5% or to 20% – in Fordow”, which is expected in the located near the north. -central city of Qom, by those advanced centrifuges.
This comes hours after Iranian state media Press TV reported that Iran had informed the IAEA that it had begun ramping up uranium enrichment to the 60% purity level in retaliation for the IAEA board of directors calling on Iran to cooperate to an investigation of unexplained traces. of uranium found at secret Iranian sites.
Tehran “described the move as a strong message to the recent anti-Iranian resolution passed by the IAEA Board of Governors,” Press TV said.
The IAEA statement added: “Director General Grossi said the Agency will inform Iran of its intention to increase the frequency and intensity of its verification activities at FFEP in accordance with the Safeguards Agreement.”
Grossi also said, “Iran continues to improve its enrichment operations at the Fuel Enrichment Plant (FEP) in Natanz and now plans to install a second production building, which will accommodate more than 100 centrifuge cascades.”
Iran has always denied that it plans to collect nuclear weapons.
However, the move could potentially shorten Iran’s so-called “escape time” to make a nuclear weapon even further.
It is the latest in a series of steps that go well beyond the parameters of the 2015 nuclear deal – formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – that limits Iran’s uranium enrichment to 3.67% in exchange for relief from the sanctions. Weapons-grade uranium is considered enriched to more than 90%.
In 2018, former US President Donald Trump pulled out of the landmark deal, subsequently unleashing a wave of crushing sanctions against Iran’s economy. Tehran has since ramped up uranium enrichment at a rate not seen since the signing.
A staunch opponent of Trump’s so-called “maximum pressure campaign” against Iran, US President Joe Biden entered negotiations to revive the deal when he took office. But Biden’s policies have so far failed to revive it, and Iran has steadily raised the bar by violating the end of the agreement.
Following the IAEA report, the E3 group — made up of the United Kingdom, France and Germany — issued a statement condemning Iran’s “decision to further expand its nuclear program.”
“By increasing its production capabilities at Fordow and Natanz, well beyond the limits of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), and accelerating its production of enriched uranium, Iran has taken further important steps to erode the JCPOA,” he said. so it.