After Iran confirmed that it has stepped up its uranium enrichment in breach of the 2015 nuclear deal, the head of Iran’s atomic agency said Tuesday the Islamic Republic is in the process of installing 1,000 new centrifuges to help increase production.
“One thousand centrifuges are being installed inside the country,” Ali Akbar Salehi said, according to the semi-official Fars News Agency.
“We are currently installing one thousand IR-2m centrifuges, but two cascades are installed and working,” he added.
Salehi also said that Iran had increased its supply of yellowcake, a precursor to enriched uranium, eight-fold in the past two years.
“Until three or four years ago, we used to produce an average of 4 to 5 tons of yellowcake, but for the past two years, we have increased the production of yellowcake to 30 tons,” he said in his reported comments. “This year, the production of yellowcake will be between 35 and 40 tons, which means that we have 8-folded the production of yellowcake.”
Yellowcake is a uranium concentrate in powder form and an early step in uranium processing. It is produced by mining uranium ore from rocks and separating the uranium from the rocks by bathing them in acid. The yellowcake can then be converted, enriched to raise its purity, and then used for weapons or energy production.
Salehi’s comments came a day after Iran said it had begun enriching uranium to 20 percent purity — far above the level permitted under its 2015 agreement with world powers — in a step the US State Department condemned as “nuclear extortion.” The 2015 deal capped enrichment at 3.75%. The jump from 20% to the 90% required for an atomic bomb is actually rather quick compared to the work needed to move from approximately 4% to 20%.
Increasing enrichment to 20% was the most striking suspension yet of Tehran’s commitments under its landmark deal with six nations, which has been fraying since US President Donald Trump withdrew from it in 2018 and reimposed crippling sanctions.
Responding to the uranium announcement, the US Treasury imposed new sanctions targeting Iran’s steel sector Tuesday, slapping penalties on a dozen Iranian companies, three foreign holding companies of Iranian firms, and one China-based manufacturer that supplies graphite electrodes to the Islamic Republic.
“The Iranian metals sector is an important revenue source for the Iranian regime, generating wealth for its corrupt leaders and financing a range of nefarious activities, including the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery, support for foreign terrorist groups, and a variety of human rights abuses, at home and abroad,” the US Treasury said in a statement.
“The Trump Administration remains committed to denying revenue flowing to the Iranian regime as it continues to sponsor terrorist groups, support oppressive regimes, and seek weapons of mass destruction,” said Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin.
The European Union noted Iran’s step “with deep concern” and said it planned to “redouble our efforts to preserve the agreement and return to its full implementation by all parties.”
Iran’s conservative-dominated parliament voted in favor of increasing uranium enrichment after the November killing of its top nuclear physicist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, an assassination Iran blamed on Israel.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has charged Iran’s latest nuclear move proves it is seeking to build an atomic bomb — a claim Iran has always strongly denied — and pledged the Jewish state “will not allow” it to do so.
Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Tehran took the latest enrichment step “after years of non-compliance” by other parties and that “our measures are fully reversible upon full compliance by all.”
Russia’s foreign ministry said in a statement it “paid tribute to the regular declarations by Iranian leaders of their willingness to return to full respect for the requirements of the agreement”.
It added, however, that “additional efforts and costs will now be required to bring the Fordo site in line with the terms of the agreement.”