Iran starts advanced centrifuges at Fordo plant, UN watchdog report says

New units allow Iranians to switch between uranium purity levels more easily, papers obtained by foreign media say, as negotiations to restore 2015 deal remain stuck

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)

Iran has begun to use advanced centrifuges to enrich uranium at the underground Fordo facility, according to an International Atomic Energy Agency report obtained by international media on Saturday.

The new machines mentioned in the confidential document obtained by Reuters have been the object of concern among Western states, as they make it easier for the Iranians to shift between enrichment levels.

Iran has told the IAEA it only plans to reach 20 percent enrichment with the upgraded centrifuges, below the necessary 90% needed for a nuclear weapon.

The confidential report to the IAEA cited by Reuters said, “On 7 July 2022, Iran informed the Agency that, on the same day, it had begun feeding the aforementioned cascade with UF6 enriched up to 5% U-235.” UF6, or uranium hexachloride, is used for enrichment. U-235 concentrations can sustain a nuclear chain reaction and can be used to fuel nuclear power plants.

The report said the IAEA “verified” the announcement and confirmed that Iran “had begun feeding UF6 enriched up to 5% U-235 into the cascade of 166 IR-6 centrifuges with modified sub-headers for the declared purpose of producing UF6 enriched up to 20% U-235.”

The report came amid stalled efforts by Western powers to forge an agreement with Iran that would place restrictions on the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program and prevent it from being able to weaponize the material.

Iran has held direct talks with the remaining parties to the deal, and indirect talks with the US, since last April in a bid to restore the previous deal signed in 2015, but those negotiations have been at an impasse since March.

The US accused Iran over the last week of making demands at the negotiating table which were “wholly unrelated” to its nuclear program, a claim which was denied by Tehran.

Differences between Tehran and Washington have notably included Iran’s demand that its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps be removed from a US terror list.

(R to L) Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian and Qatar’s Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim al-Thani give a joint press conference at the foreign ministry headquarters in the capital Tehran on July 7, 2022. (Atta Kenare/AFP)

“We have no requirement which goes beyond the nuclear agreement — contrary to certain claims by the American party in the media,” Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian told reporters in Tehran.

In a meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday, Prime Minister Yair Lapid stressed to Israeli reporters the need for a “credible military threat” against Iran to ensure they would sign a deal acceptable to Israel.

There is also a growing acceptance, the prime minister asserted, that there won’t be a return to the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

The US walked out of the previous Iran nuclear deal in 2018 under then-US president Donald Trump, who proceeded to reimpose biting sanctions on Tehran, prompting the latter to step away from many of the nuclear commitments it made under the accord.

Israel’s government fiercely opposed the JCPOA, believing Iran was unable to be trusted to adhere to the agreement.

AFP and Lazar Berman contributed to this report.

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