Tehran resumed uranium enrichment at its underground Fordow nuclear facility, the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) said yesterday, further stepping away from its 2015 nuclear deal with major world powers.
The agreement bans enrichment and nuclear material from Fordow, but with feedstock gas entering its centrifuges, the facility, built inside a mountain, will move from the permitted status of research plant to being an active nuclear site.
“After all successful preparations ... injection of uranium gas to centrifuges started on Thursday at Fordow ... all the process has been supervised by the inspectors of the UN nuclear watchdog,” the AEOI said in a statement reported by Iranian media.
Iran has gradually scaled back its commitments to the deal, under which it curbed its nuclear program in exchange for the removal of most international sanctions after the US pulled out of the agreement last year.
“The process will take a few hours to stabilize and by Saturday, when International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors will again visit the site, a uranium enrichment level of 4.5 percent will have been achieved,” AEOI spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi told state TV.
The US reiterated a statement from Tuesday, calling Iran’s move a “big step in the wrong direction.”
US Department of State spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said that Tehran had no credible reason to expand its uranium enrichment program and Washington would continue its policy of economic pressure until it changed its behavior.
Under the pact, Iran agreed to turn Fordow into a “nuclear, physics and technology center” where 1,044 centrifuges are used for purposes other than enrichment.
“All the centrifuges installed at Fordow are IR1 types. Uranium gas [UF6] was injected to four chains of IR1 centrifuges [696 centrifuges],” Kamalvandi said.
“Two other remaining chains of IR1 centrifuges [348 centrifuges] will be used for producing and enriching stable isotopes in the facility,” he said.
In pulling out of the deal, US President Donald Trump said it was flawed to Iran’s advantage.
Washington has since renewed and intensified sanctions on Iran, slashing its economically vital crude oil sales by more than 80 percent.
The Iranian move would further complicate the chances of saving the accord that European powers, Russia and the EU have urged Iran to respect.
Speaking at a news conference at the end of a visit to China, French President Emmanuel Macron called Tehran’s latest move “grave,” adding that he would speak with Trump and Iran.
Iran has bypassed restrictions of the deal step-by-step — including by breaching both its cap on stockpiled enriched uranium and on the fissile level of enrichment.
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