Iran has resumed enriching uranium to 20% purity, a level that is not allowed under Tehran’s 2015 nuclear pact with six major powers.
“A few minutes ago, the process of producing 20% enriched uranium has started in Fordow enrichment complex,” government spokesman Ali Rabeie told news agency Mehr on Monday.
The move is the latest and most significant of several recent Iranian breaches of the deal, which it started violating in 2019 in retaliation for Washington’s withdrawal from the agreement and the reimposition of US sanctions against Tehran.
Enriched uranium can be used to make reactor fuel but also nuclear bombs. Weapons-grade uranium is 90% purity.
There was no confirmation from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) about the latest announcement. But the watchdog on Friday said that it had been informed by Iran that it planned to enrich to 20%.
The step was one of many mentioned in a law passed by Iran’s parliament last month in response to the killing of the country’s top nuclear scientist, which Tehran has blamed on Israel. Such moves by Iran could hinder attempts by the incoming Biden administration to rejoin the deal.
“The process of gas injection to centrifuges has started a few hours ago and the first product of uranium hexafluoride (UF6) gas will be available in a few hours,” Rabeie said.
“The process has started after taking measures like informing the UN nuclear watchdog.”
Iran had earlier breached the deal’s 3.67% limit on the purity to which it can enrich uranium, but it had only gone up to 4.5% so far, well short of the 20% level and of the 90% that is weapons-grade.
US intelligence agencies and the IAEA believe Iran had a secret, coordinated nuclear weapons programme that it halted in 2003. Iran denies ever having had one.