Iran boasts of boosting its stockpile of 60% enriched uranium to 25 kg

As nuclear talks set to resume, IAEA warns of limited access while Iranian atomic agency brags that only countries ‘with nuclear arms’ are able to enrich uranium at such levels

Centrifuge machines in the Natanz uranium enrichment facility in central Iran, in an image released on November 5, 2019. (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran via AP, File)
Centrifuge machines in the Natanz uranium enrichment facility in central Iran, in an image released on November 5, 2019. (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran via AP, File)

TEHRAN, Iran — Iran said it has almost doubled its stock of enriched uranium in less than a month, as it prepares to resume talks with world powers on curbing its nuclear program. Meanwhile, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency warned on Thursday that its oversight capabilities in Iran are being weakened.

“We have more than 210 kilograms of uranium enriched to 20 percent, and we’ve produced 25 kilos at 60%, a level that no country apart from those with nuclear arms are able to produce,” said Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi, in a report carried by the semi-official Tasnim and Fars news agencies.

Sixty percent enrichment is the highest level to which Iran has enriched uranium and is a short technical step to weapons-grade 90%. Under the nuclear agreement, Iran was barred from enriching uranium above 3.67%.

Tehran has progressively abandoned its commitments to a 2015 nuclear deal since then US president Donald Trump pulled Washington out in 2018, prompting Washington to impose fresh sanctions in response.

In September, the International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed that Iran had boosted its stocks of uranium enriched above the percentage allowed in the deal.

On October 10, AEOI head Mohammad Eslami said his country had produced more than 120 kgs of 20% enriched uranium, in theory allowing the manufacture of medical isotopes used mainly in diagnosing certain cancers.

Mohammad Eslami, head of Iran’s nuclear agency (AEOI) talks on stage at the International Atomic Energy’s (IAEA) General Conference in Vienna, Austria, September 20, 2021. (Lisa Leutner/AP)

The 2015 agreement with Britain, China, Russia, France, Germany and the United States, offered Iran some sanctions relief in return for curbs on its nuclear program.

Nuclear negotiations between Iran and world powers are to resume on November 29.

Talks began in April in Vienna between Tehran and the remaining five parties to the 2015 deal, aimed at bringing Washington back into the agreement. But that dialogue has been stalled since the sixth round of talks in June, when ultraconservative Ebrahim Raisi won Iran’s presidential election.

Meanwhile, the head of the UN atomic watchdog warned in an interview aired Thursday that Iran was restricting access to nuclear sites, saying surveillance of these facilities has “been weakened.”

“In this situation, it is becoming increasingly difficult for us to do the job,” International Atomic Energy Agency Director Rafael Grossi told CNN. “We take this with realism because we know it may be part of the political discussion.”

“But what I’m telling them is there is a limit… If they want to have someone saying that things are correct and there is no deviation or whatever, we have to have the ability to do what we need to do and at this moment we don’t have it,” Grossi added. “We need the access that is commensurate with a nuclear program of such sophistication and ambition.”

Asked about previous estimates of how long it would take Iran to mass enough material needed for producing an atomic weapon, Grossi noted that Iran has breached numerous clauses of the nuclear deal after Trump withdrew the US from the accord.

“Those lines have long gone,” he said, without giving an estimate.

He also called the IAEA’s restricted access to Iranian nuclear sites “collateral damage” from the dispute between Washington and Tehran.

“We need to verify,” he said. “Without verifying, how are the powers that be going to walk into a negotiation without knowing what is the real situation on the ground?”

Last month, the IAEA chief said the agency’s monitoring program was no longer “intact” at a facility targeted this June in an attack that Iran has blamed on Israel.

The drone attack reportedly hit the Iran Centrifuge Technology Company, or TESA, in the city of Karaj, northwest of Tehran. According to an IAEA report, the blast destroyed one of its cameras at the site and heavily damaged another. It is unknown how many cameras are there.

Iran has acknowledged removing several damaged surveillance cameras installed by the IAEA at the Karaj site.

The alleged Karaj centrifuge parts plant near Karaj, Iran, seen in a photo posted online by Google user Edward Majnoonian, in May 2019. (Screenshot/Google Maps)

In July, Iran accused Israel of mounting the sabotage attack on the site, which makes components for machines used to enrich uranium. Without disclosing details of the assault, Iranian authorities acknowledged the strike had damaged the building.

The attack on Karaj was just the latest in a series of suspected assaults targeting Iran’s nuclear program that have heightened regional hostilities in recent months, as world powers attempt to salvage the now-collapsed nuclear deal. Israel is widely believed to have carried out the sabotage, though it has not claimed responsibility.

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