Iran has started producing up to 60% enriched uranium at its underground Fordo nuclear facility, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Rafael Grossi said Tuesday, bringing the country closer to weapons-grade material.
“Iran had started production of highly enriched uranium – UF6 with up to 60% enrichment – using the existing two cascades of IR-6 centrifuges at the Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant (FFEP), in addition to that production which has been taking place in Natanz since April 2021,” the IAEA said in a statement.
The statement added that Iran had installed more “cascades of advanced IR-6 centrifuges” and was planning a “significant expansion of production of low enriched uranium – UF6 enriched up to 5% or up to 20% – at Fordow,” which is located near the north-central city of Qom, through these advanced centrifuges.
This comes hours after Iranian state media Press TV reported that Iran had informed the IAEA that it had begun to increase its uranium enrichment to 60% purity in retaliation for the IAEA Board of Governors, which asked Iran to at to cooperate in an investigation of unexplained traces of uranium found at unknown Iranian sites.
Tehran “described the move as sending a strong message to the anti-Iran resolution recently passed by the IAEA Board of Governors,” Press TV said.
The IAEA statement added, “Director-General Grossi said the agency will notify 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 advance its enrichment activities at the Fuel Enrichment Plant (FEP) in Natanz and is now planning to install a second production building that can house over 100 cascades of centrifuges.”
Iran has repeatedly denied that it intends to build nuclear weapons.
However, the move may further shorten Iran’s so-called “breakout time” to produce a nuclear weapon.
It’s the latest in a series of moves that go well beyond the parameters of the 2015 nuclear deal — officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) — that would limit Iran’s uranium enrichment to 3.67% in exchange for sanctions lifting limited. Weapons-grade uranium is considered to be over 90% enriched.
In 2018, former US President Donald Trump withdrew from the landmark deal, then unleashed a wave of withering sanctions on Iran’s economy. Tehran has since ramped up uranium enrichment at a pace not seen since it signed the deal.
US President Joe Biden, an ardent opponent of Trump’s so-called “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran, entered into negotiations to revive the deal when he took office. But Biden’s policies have so far failed to revive him, and Iran has steadily upped the ante by violating its end of the deal.
Following the IAEA report, the E3 group – made up of Britain, France and Germany – released a statement condemning Iran’s “decision to further expand its nuclear programme”.
“By increasing its production capacity 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 towards undermining the JCPOA,” it said.