Iran has escalated the rate at which it is enriching uranium to up to 60 per cent purity, levels close to weapons-grade, the UN’s nuclear watchdog warned today.

Iran has ‘increased its production of highly enriched uranium, reversing a previous output reduction from mid-2023’, the International Atomic Energy Agency said in a statement.

Iran is enriching to up to 60 per cent at its Pilot Fuel Enrichment Plant (PFEP) in its sprawling Natanz complex and at its Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant in the north, the IAEA found.

It marks a staggering reversal after months spent slowing Tehran’s enrichment programme, believed to be the result of secret talks with the Washington that had led to the release of US citizens held in Iran earlier this year.

Iran has enough uranium enriched to up to 60 per cent purity for three atom bombs by the International Atomic Energy Agency’s definition. Its leaders maintain it ‘does not need’ nuclear weapons and is only enriching uranium for peaceful purposes.

But on December 18, the UK government warned that Iran’s stockpiles ‘are unprecedented for a state without a nuclear weapons programme’, denouncing the ‘deplorable state’ of its commitments to a 2015 deal in which Tehran agreed to slash stockpiles and enrich only to 3.67 per cent.

Since the slowdown in the summer, Iran’s main plants had been enriching uranium to up to 60 per cent at a rate of about 3 kg a month, the IAEA said.

‘The Agency confirms that, since the end of November 2023, the rate at which Iran has been producing uranium enriched up to 60% U-235 at these two facilities combined has increased to approximately 9 kg per month,’ the report to member states said.

By the IAEA’s theoretical definition, around 42 kg of uranium enriched to 60% is the amount at which making a nuclear bomb with it cannot be excluded.

IAEA inspectors first observed a change in production at Fordow on November 25, after which Iran said the change was made on November 22.

Iran claimed that the rate of production was returning to the pre-slowdown level there, the report said.

Inspectors observed an increase in the production rate at Natanz on November 27, it added.

The IAEA then verified the amount being produced at Natanz in late December.

The IAEA did not formally notify its member states of the reversal of the slowdown until Tuesday’s report.

In November, the IAEA had reported that Iran was ‘stonewalling’ the agency on key issues – a trend of uncooperating dating back years.

According to the UK government, ‘Iran has continued to violate the terms of the JCPOA agreement’ since May 2019.

The JCPOA refers to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, an agreement made between Iran, the EU and the P5+1 in 2015 to limit Iran’s enrichment programme.

Iran agreed to cut its stockpile of low-enriched uranium by 98 per cent, limit its enrichment activities and convert facilities to avoid further risk of nuclear proliferation.

By 2018, the IAEA was reporting that Iran was committing to its agreement after installing surveillance across plants.

By April, the US and Israel alleged Iran had not disclosed a past covert programme; a month later, then-President Donald Trump announced the US would withdraw from the JCPOA to reach a new deal.

In 2020, Iran said it would no longer abide by the terms of the deal but would continue to work with the IAEA, leaving the door open for a revised agreement.

Iran has been developing nuclear technology since 1957, backed at first by the American ‘Atoms for Peace’ programme which provided adopters with nuclear technology in return for a commitment to only using it for civilian purposes.

Source » dailymail