UN watchdog: Iran raising production rate of near-weapons-grade uranium

IAEA report says Teheran reversed previous slowdown and has tripled the rate at which it is enriching to 60% purity

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, right, visits an exhibition of the country's nuclear achievements, at his office compound in Tehran, Iran, June 11, 2023. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader, Via AP, File)
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, right, visits an exhibition of the country's nuclear achievements, at his office compound in Tehran, Iran, June 11, 2023. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader, Via AP, File)

Iran has increased the rate at which it is producing near-weapons-grade uranium in recent weeks, reversing a previous slowdown that started in the middle of this year, the International Atomic Energy Agency said Tuesday in a report to member states.

IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi said in the report that Iran “in recent weeks had increased its production of highly enriched uranium, reversing a previous output reduction from mid-2023,” according to an IAEA spokesperson Sunday.

Iran had previously slowed down the rate at which it was enriching uranium to 60 percent purity. Uranium enriched at 60% purity is just a short, technical step away from weapons-grade levels of 90%.

The UN nuclear watchdog said its inspectors had verified the increased rate of production since the end of November at facilities in Natanz and Fordow to about 9 kilograms per month, up from 3 kilograms per month since June and representing a return to earlier levels of production.

In January, Grossi had warned that Tehran already had enough nuclear material for “several” weapons. “They have amassed enough nuclear material for several nuclear weapons — not one at this point,” he said, listing 70 kilograms of uranium enriched to 60% purity and 1,000 kilograms at 20%.

Enriching uranium means increasing the percentage of uranium-235, the isotope of uranium that can be used in nuclear fission.

FILE – Rafael Grossi (C), director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) opens the IAEA’s Board of Governors meeting at the agency’s headquarters in Vienna, Austria on November 22, 2023. (Joe Klamar / AFP)

Diplomats believe Western powers have been reluctant to get tough on Tehran in recent months for fear of aggravating Middle East tensions as Iran grows its nuclear program and reduces cooperation with the UN watchdog. Worries of a wider regional conflict have sharpened since Hamas’s devastating October 7 onslaught and Israel’s subsequent air and ground offensive aimed at eliminating the terror group in Gaza.

War erupted when thousands of terrorists from the Iran-backed group stormed into southern Israel, brutally massacring at least 1,200 people, mostly civilians in their homes and at a music festival, and seizing some 240 hostages.

“The picture is pretty bleak, but the fact at the moment is that there is no appetite to provoke a reaction in Iran in the context of the war in the Middle East,” a senior diplomat told AFP in November about the current deadlock on Iran’s nuclear activity.

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