Iran says 1,044 centrifuges now active at underground plant

Tehran announced resumption of enrichment at Fordo site last November in a further step away from 2015 nuclear accord abandoned by Washington in May 2018

A satellite image from September 15, 2017, of the Fordo nuclear facility in Iran. (Google Earth)
A satellite image from September 15, 2017, of the Fordo nuclear facility in Iran. (Google Earth)

TEHRAN, Iran — The head of Iran’s atomic agency said Sunday that 1,044 centrifuges were active at the Fordo uranium enrichment plant, in line with steps to reduce its commitments to the nuclear deal.

The suspension of all enrichment at the underground facility near the Shiite holy city of Qom was one of the restrictions on Iran’s nuclear activities that it accepted in return for the lifting of international sanctions in the 2015 accord.

Tehran first announced the resumption of enrichment at Fordo last November, the fourth phase of its push since May 2019 to progressively suspend commitments to the deal.

It was in retaliation for Washington’s abandonment of the accord in May 2018, followed by its unilateral reimposition of sanctions on Iran.

“Currently 1,044 centrifuges are enriching at Fordo,” Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran’s atomic agency, told the Iranian parliament’s news agency ICANA.

In this photo released Novenber 4, 2019 by the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, its head Ali Akbar Salehi speaks with the media while visiting the Natanz enrichment facility in central Iran. (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran via AP)

“We were committed in the JCPOA that these 1,044 machines do not carry out enrichment, but it is being done per dropped commitments as much as needed and we will stockpile the enriched material, too,” he added, referring to the accord’s official name, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

Iran’s other walk-back steps included exceeding the accord’s restrictions on enriched uranium reserves and enrichment level, development of advanced centrifuges, and foregoing a limit on its number of centrifuges.

In a joint statement in November, Britain, France, Germany and the European Union said Iran’s decision to restart activities at Fordo was “inconsistent” with the 2015 deal.

The parties to the accord have called on Iran to return to its commitments, but Tehran insists the steps can be reversed once its economic benefits from the deal are realized.

The United Nations’ nuclear watchdog said on September 4 that Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium now stands at more than 10 times the limit set down in the deal.

Tensions between Tehran and Washington have escalated since the US pulled out of the deal.

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