Headquarters of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna, Austria, December 16, 2020. REUTERS / Lisi NiesnerVIENNA: Iran has informed the United Nations nuclear watchdog that it plans to enrich uranium at its site in Fordow, which is buried in a mountain, to a purity of up to 20%, which it had achieved before its 2015 agreement, the agency said on Friday with.
The move is the latest of several recent announcements by Iran to the International Atomic Energy Agency that it intends to violate the deal it broke in 2019 in retaliation for Washington's withdrawal from the deal and reintroduction of US sanctions against Tehran.
This move was one of many mentioned in a law passed by the Iranian parliament last month in response to the assassination of the country's best nuclear scientist, which Tehran blamed on Israel. Such moves by Iran could hamper US President-elect Joe Biden's efforts to rejoin the deal.
“Iran has informed the agency that the Iranian Atomic Energy Agency intends to produce up to 20 percent low-enriched uranium (LEU) at the Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant to comply with a piece of legislation recently passed by parliament.” the IAEA said in a statement.
An IAEA report to member states that Reuters received the previous Friday used similar wording to describe a December 31 letter from Iran to the IAEA.
“Iran's letter to the Agency … did not specify when this enrichment activity would take place,” the IAEA said.
Fordow was built in a mountain, apparently to protect it from air strikes, and the 2015 deal doesn't allow for enrichment there. Iran is already enriching Fordow with first generation IR-1 centrifuges.
Iran has exceeded the 3.67% limit for the purity with which it can enrich uranium, but has only climbed to 4.5% so far, well below the 20% it reached before the deal and that 90% who are weapons capable.
The main objective of the agreement was to extend the time it would take Iran to produce enough fissile material for a nuclear bomb from at least two to three months to at least a year. It also lifted international sanctions against Tehran.
US intelligence agencies and the IAEA believe Iran had a secret, coordinated nuclear weapons program that was shut down in 2003. Iran denies ever having had one.