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Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Iran enriching uranium to 60% purity at Fordo site

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Iran has begun producing enriched uranium at 60% purity at the country’s underground Fordo nuclear plant, official media reported on Tuesday, describing it as a response to a resolution by the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog.

The increased enrichment, reported by the official news agency IRNA, is seen as a significant addition to the country’s nuclear programme.

Enrichment to 60% purity is one short, technical step away from weapons-grade levels of 90%.

Non-proliferation experts have warned in recent months that Iran now has enough 60%-enriched uranium to reprocess into fuel for at least one nuclear bomb.

Iran is already enriching to 60% purity at its Natanz nuclear facility in central Iran. Fordo is some 62 miles (100km) south of the capital, Tehran.

IRNA did not give details on the amount of enriched uranium being produced.

Earlier this month, the IAEA said it believes that Iran has further increased its stockpile of highly enriched uranium. As recently as last week, the agency criticised Tehran for continuing to bar the agency’s officials from accessing or monitoring Iranian nuclear sites.

A separate report said IAEA director-general Rafael Grossi is “seriously concerned” that Iran has still not engaged with the agency’s probe into man-made uranium particles found at three undeclared sites in the country.

The issue has become a key sticking point in talks on a renewed nuclear deal.

It has been nearly two years since IAEA officials have had full access to monitor Iran’s nuclear sites, and five months since the surveillance equipment was removed.

The IAEA’s assessment came as efforts to revive Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, which eased sanctions on Iran in return for curbs on its nuclear programme, have stalled.

The United States unilaterally pulled out of the nuclear deal – formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA – in 2018, under then-president Donald Trump.

It reimposed sanctions on Iran, prompting Tehran to start backing away from the deal’s terms.

The semi-underground enrichment facility at Natanz is home to thousands of centrifuge machines.

Iran began 60% enrichment in that site in 2019.

Natanz was the target of sabotage in 2021, an explosion that hit new halls for installing centrifuge machines which Iran called “nuclear terrorism”, and a shadow war between Tehran and Israel, the prime suspect in the sabotage, raged.

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