UN nuclear watchdog says Iran has stepped up uranium enrichment

Iran has stepped up its uranium enrichment with advanced machinery at its underground plant in Fordow, the UN atomic watchdog, the IAEA, said in a report on Saturday.

Western diplomats have long worried about the devices with which this cascade, or cluster, of centrifuges is equipped.

The use of these so-called modified sub-headers means that Iran could more quickly and easily transition to enrichment at higher purity levels.

Iran’s decision came ten days after the collapse of indirect talks with the United States in Doha with the mediation of the European Union. The United States said Tehran did not come to the meeting in a serious negotiating position and simply repeated “foreign” requests.

While Iran is required to notify the International Atomic Energy Agency of such a change, if it chooses not to do so, it could escape detection for some time as there are currently a disconnect between the enrichment of Iran and the verification by IAEA inspectors of what is produced.

“On July 7, 2022, Iran informed the Agency that on the same day it had started feeding the above-mentioned cascade with UF6 enriched up to 5% in 235U,” the confidential report to member states states. of the IAEA. Reuters reported on the development after seeing the IAEA report.

UF6 refers to uranium hexafluoride gas that is fed into centrifuges to be enriched.

In a June 20 report also seen by Reuters, the IAEA said that months after Iran informed it of its intention to use the cascade, Iran began introducing UF6 there to passivation, a process that precedes enrichment.

The IAEA verified on July 6 that the passivation was complete, according to Saturday’s report.

“On July 9, 2022, the Agency verified that Iran had started introducing UF6 enriched up to 5% in 235 U in the cascade of 166 IR-6 centrifuges with modified sub-headers in the stated goal of producing up to 20% U.-235 enriched UF6,” he said.

Iran is already enriching itself up to 60% elsewhere, well above the 20% it was producing before its 2015 deal with the major powers that capped its level of enrichment at 3.67% but still below some 90% of weapon quality.

This decision is the latest step among many to breach and go well beyond the restrictions that the 2015 agreement placed on Iran’s nuclear activities. It comes as talks to revive the deal have stalled and Western powers have warned that time is running out to reach a deal.

A deal was reportedly reached in March, after 11 months of talks in Vienna, but negotiations stalled and stalled. The deal would have removed major US economic sanctions, but Iran has insisted that sanctions not directly related to the nuclear conflict should also be removed. A large group of sanctions targets the Revolutionary Guards, but these are linked to its role in terrorism and regional destabilization.

The United States withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal known as the JCPOA in 2018 under then-President Donald Trump, reimposing sanctions on Tehran that the deal had lifted.

A year later, Iran began to retaliate by violating the agreement’s restrictions on the level of uranium enrichment. Tehran further increased enrichment as Joe Biden won the US presidential election and began talks with Iran and other JCPOA signatories to revive the deal.

Today, Iran has accumulated enough 60% enriched uranium to take the next step of enriching fissile material to the 90% purity needed for a nuclear bomb.

With information from Reuters

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