Iranian Move a 'Challenge' to World's Nonproliferation

Per IRNA, nation is enriching uranium to 60% purity, a step away from weapons-grade levels
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Nov 23, 2022 7:52 AM CST
Iranian Move a 'Challenge' to World's Nonproliferation
Stock photo.   (Getty Images/michaklootwijk)

Iran has begun producing enriched uranium at 60% purity at the country's underground Fordo nuclear plant, official media reported Tuesday, describing it as a response to a resolution by the United Nations' nuclear watchdog. The increased enrichment, reported by the official news agency IRNA, was seen as a significant addition to the country's nuclear program. From Vienna, the UN nuclear watchdog—the International Atomic Energy Agency, or IAEA—said the 60% enrichment at Fordo comes on top of similar production at the Natanz plant in central Iran, per the AP. The IAEA also said that Iran plans a "significant expansion" in its production of low-enriched uranium at Fordo and a second production building at Natanz. IRNA didn't give details on the amount of the enriched uranium being produced at Fordo.

Enrichment to 60% purity is one short, technical step away from weapons-grade levels of 90%. Nonproliferation experts have warned in recent months that Iran now has enough 60%-enriched uranium to reprocess into fuel for at least one nuclear bomb. On Monday, an Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman said his country was taking the steps in reaction to a resolution adopted last week by the IAEA. The resolution, approved by the IAEA's board of governors, called for Iran's cooperation with a probe by the agency into human-made uranium particles found at three undeclared sites in the country. As recently as last week, the agency criticized Tehran for continuing to bar the agency's officials from accessing or monitoring Iranian nuclear sites. It has been nearly two years since IAEA officials have had full access to monitor the sites, and five months since surveillance equipment was removed.

The IAEA's assessment came as efforts to revive Iran's 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, which eased sanctions on Iran in return for curbs on its nuclear program, have stalled. The United States unilaterally pulled out of the nuclear deal in 2018, under then-President Trump. It reimposed sanctions on Iran, prompting Tehran to start backing away from the deal's terms. Later Tuesday, a joint statement from Germany, France, and Britain—the three Western European nations that remain in the deal—condemned Iran's latest action. "Iran's step is a challenge to the global nonproliferation system," a statement from the three said. "This step, which carries significant proliferation-related risks, has no credible civilian justification." The statement added: "We will continue to consult, alongside international partners, on how best to address Iran's continued nuclear escalation."

(More Iran stories.)

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