TEHRAN (Iran) -- Iran announced Sunday it had begun enriching uranium to 20 percent using sophisticated centrifuges at the underground Fordo nuclear power plant. This announcement comes amid a standoff between Iran and the West over its tattered atomic agreement.
Iran is enriching uranium to 20% purity, a technical step above 90% weapons-grade. This new set of centrifuges in a mountain facility further reduces the chances of the accord being revived.
Behrouz Kamalvandi was a spokesperson for Iran's Atomic Energy Organization. He said that uranium enriched up to 20% was obtained for the first time on Saturday from advanced IR-6 centrifuges. He stated that Iran had reported the development to the U.N. nuclear watchdog two weeks ago.
The centrifuges are used for enhancing the purity of enriched uranium. Tehran's 2015 nuclear agreement with world powers had called for Fordo to become a research-and-development facility and restricted centrifuges there to non-nuclear uses.
Iran previously informed the IAEA it was planning to enrich uranium using a new cascade consisting of 166 advanced IR-6 centrifuges at underground Fordo facility. It didn't reveal the extent of the enrichment.
The International Atomic Energy Agency is the U.N.'s watchdog for nuclear issues. It told The Associated Press on Saturday that it had confirmed that Iran used a setup that allows it to quickly and easily switch between enrichment levels.
Director General Rafael Grossi, in a report to the member states, described a system with "modified subheaders" that allowed Iran to inject gas enriched to 5% into a cascade 166 IR-6 centrifuges to produce uranium enriched to up to 20% purity.
Iran didn't comment on the IAEA latest finding.
For months, nuclear talks have been in limbo. Robert Malley, the U.S. special representative for Iran, said that the most recent round of negotiations in Qatar was "more than just a little bit wasted occasion."
Last month, the IAEA reported that Iran had 43 kilograms of uranium enriched to 60% purity. This is a small step towards 90%. Experts in nonproliferation warn that Iran has enough fissile material to make one nuclear weapon, if it chooses to pursue it.
Iran would still need to design a bomb, and a delivery system, which could take months.
Iran claims its nuclear program is peaceful, but U.N. experts as well as Western intelligence agencies claim that Iran had an organized nuclear program from 2003 to 2003.
Iran's increasing nuclear activity has raised alarm, with transparency rapidly decreasing. Iran has shut down more than two dozen IAEA monitoring cameras at various sites related to nuclear work in Iran.
Trump, the former president, abandoned the nuclear agreement in 2018. He re-imposed severe sanctions against Tehran. This set off a series tensions across the Mideast. Iran responded by increasing its nuclear activities, expanding its stockpiles of highly enriched Uranium and spinning advanced centrifuges that were banned under the agreement.
Israel, Iran's arch-enemy, has been opposed to the nuclear agreement for many years. They claim it did not stop Iran's nuclear progress but delayed it and argue that sanctions relief gave Tehran the ability to create proxy militias in the region.
Sunday's call by Yair Lapid, the Israeli Prime Minister, to the U.N. for a reimposition of multilateral sanctions against Iran was met with strong opposition from the Trump administration.
Lapid, acting as caretaker leader, stated to his Cabinet that the international community's response must be decisive. He suggested that the U.N. Security Council should return to Iran and activate the sanctions mechanism at its full force. "Israel for its part maintains full freedom of action, both diplomatically and operationally in this fight against Iran’s nuclear program."
This report was contributed by Tia Goldenberg in Jerusalem and Isabel DeBre, United Arab Emirates correspondents.