Iran gets 20% richer with new centrifuges at fortified site
Iran announced on Sunday that it had started enriching uranium by up to 20% using sophisticated centrifuges at its underground Fordo nuclear power plant, state television reported, an escalation that comes in the amid a standoff with the West over its tattered atomic deal.
That Tehran is enriching uranium up to 20% purity – a technical step from military-grade levels of 90% – with a new set of its most advanced centrifuges at a facility deep in a mountain gate another blow to the already slim chances of reviving the deal.
Behrouz Kamalvandi, spokesman for Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, said 20% enriched uranium was collected for the first time from advanced IR-6 centrifuges on Saturday. He said Iran informed the UN nuclear watchdog of the development two weeks ago.
Centrifuges are used to centrifuge enriched uranium to higher levels of purity. Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers had called for Fordo to become a research and development facility and limit centrifuges there to non-nuclear uses.
Iran previously told the IAEA that it was preparing to enrich uranium through a new cascade of 166 advanced IR-6 centrifuges at its underground Fordo facility. But that didn’t reveal the level at which the stunt would be rewarding.
The International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN’s nuclear watchdog, told The Associated Press that it verified on Saturday that Iran was using a configuration that allowed it to switch more quickly and easily. between enrichment levels.
In a report to member states, Director General Rafael Grossi described a “modified sub-header” system, which he said allowed Iran to inject enriched gas of up to 5% purity into a cascade of 166 IR-6 centrifuges with the aim of producing enriched uranium up to 20% purity.
Iran has not commented on the IAEA’s latest discovery.
The nuclear talks have been stalled for months. US special envoy for Iran Robert Malley described the latest round of talks in Qatar as “more than a bit of a squandered opportunity”.
The IAEA reported last month that Iran possessed 43 kilograms of enriched uranium at 60% purity, a step towards 90%. Non-proliferation experts warn that this is enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon should Iran choose to pursue it.
However, Iran would still need to design a bomb and delivery system for it, probably a months-long project.
Iran insists its program is for peaceful purposes, although UN experts and Western intelligence agencies say Iran had an organized military nuclear program until 2003.
The escalation of Tehran’s nuclear work has sounded the alarm, with transparency rapidly diminishing. Last month, Iran shut down more than two dozen IAEA surveillance cameras at various nuclear-related sites across the country.
Former President Donald Trump scrapped the nuclear deal in 2018 and reimposed crushing sanctions on Tehran, sparking a series of tense incidents across the Middle East. Iran responded by massively increasing its nuclear work, increasing its stockpile of highly enriched uranium and spinning up advanced centrifuges banned by the deal.
Iran’s adversary Israel has long opposed the nuclear deal, saying it retards rather than halts Iran’s nuclear progress and argues that the sanctions relief has bolstered Tehran proxy militias throughout the region.
On Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid called on the UN to reimpose multilateral sanctions on Iran – an offer that was met with stiff opposition when pushed by the Trump administration.
“The response from the international community must be decisive: go back to the UN Security Council and activate the full-power sanctions mechanism,” Lapid, who serves as acting chief, told his cabinet. “Israel, for its part, maintains complete freedom of action, diplomatic and operational, in this fight against Iran’s nuclear program.”
Associated Press writers Isabel DeBre in Dubai, United Arab Emirates and Tia Goldenberg in Jerusalem contributed to this report.