Iran has tripled its capacity to enrich uranium to 60% purity as Tehran continues to stand at odds with the West over its nuclear program, the head of the UN nuclear watchdog said Friday.
Uranium enriched to 60% purity is a short technological step away from 90% weapons grade levels.
Iran said last month it had advanced uranium enrichment that Western governments fear was part of a secret nuclear weapons program.
“Iran has reported that it will increase its uranium enrichment capacity by a factor of three, not two, to 60%, which is very close to its military level of 90%,” said International Atomic Energy Agency chief Rafael Grossi in Rome.
“This is not trivial. This is something with consequences. It gives them an inventory of nuclear material that cannot be excluded…may have other uses. We need to go. We need to verify.” said Reuters.
Iran said last month that enrichment is being done in an underground Ford factory using an advanced IR-6 centrifuge, in response to an IAEA resolution criticizing Iran for not cooperating with nuclear monitoring agencies. said there is.
Under the terms of a 2015 agreement with world powers, Iran is only allowed to enrich uranium to a purity of 3.67%. The deal eased Iran’s sanctions in exchange for curbing its nuclear program to prevent weapons production.
The deal also required Ford to become a research and development facility, limiting the centrifuges used to spin enriched uranium to higher levels of purity for non-nuclear use.
Last month, the United States expressed “deep concern” about Iran’s progress on its nuclear program and ballistic missile capabilities.
“We intend to ensure that all options are available to the president,” said White House National Security Press Secretary John Kirby. “Our view has certainly not changed that we will not allow Iran to achieve a nuclear weapons capability.”
The UK, France and Germany said in a joint statement that Iran was moving “well beyond” the limits set out in the Joint Comprehensive Action Plan, the official name of the 2015 agreement.
By enriching uranium to 60%, Iran is challenging global non-proliferation, they said.
“This step, which carries significant proliferation-related risks, does not have a credible private justification,” European countries said.
Grossi said on Friday that Iran is still at odds with the IAEA. The two sides have long been at odds as Iran blocked inspectors from visiting questionable sites and withheld information from authorities.
The IAEA wants Iran to explain traces of uranium found at three undeclared sites. The IAEA had previously said Iran had agreed to allow UN inspectors to visit her in November, but no talks had taken place.
“We do not appear to be in agreement with Iran over our obligations to the IAEA,” Grossi said. “We need to get the relationship on track.”
About 110 miles (190 km) south of Tehran, the heavily protected Ford plant was built deep underground to protect it from air and missile attacks by Iran’s enemies.
In September, Defense Minister Benny Gantz said Ford’s enrichment capacity had tripled in the past year, months after Iran announced it had begun enriching uranium to 20% purity at its plant.
Last month, the director of military intelligence, Maj. Gen. Aharon Khaliba, said Iran had made “great progress” toward producing 90% enriched uranium.
“It’s time for the international community’s greatest challenge to come to light. It’s time for Iran to entertain. [the idea of] 90% enrichment, even if it’s symbolic,” he said.
The IAEA reported in July that Iran had 43 kilograms of uranium enriched to 60% purity elsewhere.
However, Iran still has to design the bomb and its delivery system, a project that will likely take months.
Negotiations aimed at reviving the nuclear deal stalled with international condemnation of Tehran’s heavy-handed response to domestic protests.
The deal fell apart after Washington’s unilateral withdrawal in 2018 under then-President Donald Trump.
Israel has long opposed the nuclear deal, saying it slowed rather than ended Iran’s nuclear progress, arguing that the lifting of sanctions empowered proxy militias across Tehran’s region, Benjamin Netanyahu He claimed that the incoming prime minister was strongly opposed to the agreement.