Iran has begun producing uranium enriched to 60% at its underground Fordow nuclear facility, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Rafael Grossi said on Tuesday, bringing the country closer to to weapon quality material.
“Iran had begun producing highly enriched uranium (UF6 enriched to 60%) using the two existing IR-6 centrifuge cascades at the Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant (FFEP), in addition to this production which has been carried out in Natanz since April 2021,” the IAEA said in a statement.
The statement added that Iran has installed more “advanced IR-6 centrifuge cascades” and plans a “significant expansion of low-enriched uranium (UF6 enriched to 5% or up to 20%) production in Fordow,” which lies near the north. -central city of Qom, through those advanced centrifuges.
This comes hours after Iranian state media Press TV reported that Iran had informed the IAEA that it had begun increasing its uranium enrichment to the 60% purity level in retaliation to the board of governors of the ‘IAEA that asked Iran to cooperate in an investigation into unexplained traces. of uranium found at undisclosed Iranian sites.
Tehran “described the move as a strong message to the recent anti-Iran 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 that “Iran continues to advance its enrichment activities at the fuel enrichment plant (FEP) in Natanz and now plans to install a second production building, capable of housing more than 100 Centrifuge Falls”.
Iran has continuously denied its intention to build nuclear weapons.
However, the move potentially further shortens Iran’s so-called “breakthrough time” to build a nuclear weapon.
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), which limited Iran’s uranium enrichment to 3 .67% in exchange for the relief of sanctions. Weapons grade uranium is considered to have been enriched above 90%.
In 2018, former US President Donald Trump pulled out of the landmark deal and then unleashed a wave of crushing sanctions on Iran’s economy. Since then, Tehran has increased uranium enrichment at a rate not seen since its signing.
An ardent opponent of Trump’s so-called “maximum pressure campaign” against Iran, US President Joe Biden began negotiations to revive the deal when he took office. But Biden’s policy has so far failed to resurrect it, and Iran has steadily raised the stakes by violating its end of the deal.
Following the IAEA report, the E3 group, made up of the UK, 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 significant steps to eliminate the JCPOA,” he said.