Sun. Dec 4th, 2022

The UN’s nuclear watchdog has confirmed that Iran is enriching uranium to 60% at a second facility, amid the collapse of a nuclear deal with major powers.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said on Tuesday that Iran is also planning a major expansion of its enrichment capacity.

Earlier on Tuesday, Iran said it had begun enriching uranium to 60 percent at the Fordo site, after already doing so at its above-ground pilot plant in Natanz for more than a year.

Increased enrichment was seen as a significant addition to the nuclear program. Enrichment to 60% purity is one short technical step from weapon level, 90%. Non-proliferation experts have warned in recent months that Iran has enough 60% enriched uranium to process into fuel for at least one nuclear bomb.

Iran has always denied any ambition to develop a nuclear bomb, insisting that its nuclear activities are for civilian purposes.

Satellite image of Iran's Fordo fuel enrichment plant
Satellite images show Iran’s Fordo plant, where it has begun producing uranium enriched to 60 percent. Photo: Satellite image ©2021 Maxar Tech/AFP/Getty Images

The move was part of Iran’s response to last week’s adoption of a motion of censure by the UN nuclear watchdog drawn up by Western governments accusing it of non-cooperation.

It also comes as talks stall to revive the landmark 2015 deal that curbed Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.

The deal began to unravel in 2018 when the US withdrew and reimposed sanctions. In response, Iran began ramping up its nuclear program.

A joint statement by Germany, France and Britain – the three Western European countries remaining in the Iran nuclear deal – condemned Iran’s latest move to further expand its nuclear program.

“Iran’s move is a challenge to the global non-proliferation system,” it said in a statement on Tuesday. “This step, which carries significant proliferation risks, has no compelling civilian justification.”

This month, the IAEA said it believed Iran had further increased its stockpile of highly enriched uranium. As recently as last week, the agency criticized Tehran for continuing to bar its officials from accessing or monitoring Iran’s nuclear sites.

A separate report said the IAEA’s director general, Rafael Grossi, was “gravely concerned” that Iran had still not joined the agency’s investigation into the artificial uranium particles found at three undeclared sites. The issue has become a key point of contention in talks on a renewed nuclear deal.

It has been nearly two years since IAEA officials had full access to monitor Iran’s nuclear sites, and five months since the IAEA’s monitoring equipment was removed.

Reuters and the Associated Press contributed to this report