Iran said on cusp of ability to make nukes, having enriched uranium to 84% purity

Report says inspectors from UN atomic agency made discovery last week, are probing if move was intentional; Tehran previously known to have enriched to 60%

Various centrifuge machines line a hall at the Natanz Uranium Enrichment Facility, on April 17, 2021. (Screenshot/Islamic Republic Iran Broadcasting-IRIB, via AP)
Various centrifuge machines line a hall at the Natanz Uranium Enrichment Facility, on April 17, 2021. (Screenshot/Islamic Republic Iran Broadcasting-IRIB, via AP)

Inspectors from the UN atomic agency discovered uranium enriched to 84-percent purity in Iran last week, closer than ever to weapons-grade levels, Bloomberg reported Sunday, citing two unnamed senior diplomats.

Iran has been known thus far to have enriched uranium to 60%. A purity of 90% is needed to produce nuclear weapons.

International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors are trying to determine whether Tehran deliberately made the move or if it was an “unintended accumulation within the network of pipes connecting the hundreds of fast-spinning centrifuges used to separate the isotopes,” the report said.

One diplomat said that Iran had not submitted the necessary paperwork to declare its intention of raising enrichment levels at two nuclear facilities in Natanz and Fordo.

The other diplomat noted that even if the material built up accidentally, as has happened in the past, it shows the problems associated with Iran’s activities in producing highly enriched uranium.

The IAEA said in a tweet that it was “aware of recent media reports relating to uranium enrichment levels in Iran.”

Director-General Rafael Grossi noted that the agency was in talks with Iran regarding the results of recent inspections, the tweet added.

The report did not say where the highly enriched material was found.

It came after last month’s unannounced inspection at the Fordo nuclear site, which found two advanced centrifuges connected in a way that the Iranians had not declared to inspectors. Iran said it provided “explanations” to the inspector who reported the change and that he then “realized his mistake.”

In a joint response at the time, the United States, France, the United Kingdom, and Germany dismissed Iran’s claim as “inadequate.”

On March 6, the IAEA will present its quarterly safeguards report on Iran to its board of directors when they meet in Vienna.

In January, Grossi told European Parliament lawmakers Iran had “amassed enough nuclear material for several nuclear weapons — not one at this point.”

Speaking about Iran’s recent atomic activities, including enriching uranium well beyond the limits of the landmark 2015 deal to curb its nuclear capabilities — Grossi said Tehran’s trajectory “is certainly not a good one.”

The deal with world powers, known as the JCPOA, collapsed after the United States withdrew from it in 2018 under then-president Donald Trump. The JCPOA gave Iran sanctions relief in return for the curbs and inspections of its nuclear facilities. After Washington withdrew, claiming the deal did not go far enough in preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, the Iranians dropped many of their own commitments to the pact and ramped up uranium enrichment. The deal had set a maximum enrichment threshold of 3.67%.

Negotiations that started in April 2021 to revive the agreement have since stalled.

Iran said in November it had begun producing uranium enriched to 60% at Fordo, an underground facility that reopened three years ago after the breakdown of the JCPOA.

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