Iran opens new nuclear facility for centrifuge production

Iran’s nuclear chief on Wednesday inaugurated the Islamic Republic’s new nuclear enrichment facility, geared toward producing centrifuges that will operate within the limits of the nuclear deal Tehran signed with world powers.

Iranian state television broadcast an interview with Ali Akbar Salehi after nightfall, showcasing the facility at Natanz’s uranium enrichment center.

In the interview, Salehi said the facility’s construction began even before the 2015 deal was signed and that he hopes the first centrifuges — known as old-generation centrifuges — will roll out in a month’s time.

In a gesture likely directed at the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the deal, Iran informed the U.N. nuclear watchdog Tuesday that it would increase its nuclear enrichment capacity yet stay within the provisions of the accord.

The landmark agreement, which lifted crippling economic sanctions in exchange for Tehran limiting its uranium enrichment program, has been facing its greatest diplomatic challenges in the wake of President Trump’s decision to pull the United States out of it.

European nations and others involved in the accord are now trying to salvage it, and many companies that rushed to make billion-dollar deals with Iran now are backing out for fear of being targeted by U.S. sanctions.

Natanz, about 155 miles south of the capital, Tehran, includes underground facilities protected by more than 25 feet of concrete, which offers protection from airstrikes.

Salehi’s choice of Natanz to offer his speech came as no surprise.

The facility long has been a point of contention between Iran and the West since its public disclosure by an Iranian exile group in 2002. While Tehran long has maintained its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, Western nations have feared Natanz represented a means for Iran to enrich enough uranium to produce atomic weapons.

Iran alsotold the IAEA this week that it had a “tentative schedule to start production of UF6,” or uranium hexafluoride. Uranium hexafluoride gas is spun by centrifuges to make enriched uranium that can be used in nuclear weapons and atomic reactor fuel. That work also is restrained under the nuclear deal.

Earlier Wednesday, Reza Najafi, Iranian ambassador to the IAEA, told journalists in Vienna that Iran had given European nations “a few weeks” to come up with ways to protect the deal from America’s pullout.

“These are the preparatory works for a possible scenario if in an unfortunate situation the (nuclear deal) fails then Iran can restart its activities without any limits,” Najafi said.

“What I can say is right now, the negotiations at the expert level are continuing and we hope that it could reach some conclusion,” he said. “Until then, we continue to exercise the most restraint, but it is not (an) endless process.”

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian warned Iran against restarting higher enrichment of uranium.

“It is always dangerous to flirt with the red lines,” he said.

Source » usatoday

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