The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has detected particles of almost nuclear-weapons-grade uranium in Iran. The find was downplayed on Wednesday by the country, which for many years has been suspected of working on its own nuclear bomb.
Iran's nuclear chief Mohammed Eslami said in Tehran: "One of the investigations discovered a slight fluctuation, which could not even be seen with a microscope." According to the IAEA, the uranium was 83.7 percent pure - just below the 90 percent required to build a nuclear weapon.
The traces were discovered back in January during an inspection of an Iranian facility in Fordow, where uranium is produced to a purity of 60 percent. IAEA boss Rafael Grossi officially confirmed the find for the first time on Tuesday evening in Vienna. Discussions are now underway with Tehran to clarify the situation, according to a non-public report available to the German Press Agency. "Something like this can happen accidentally or on purpose," said a senior diplomat who closely follows Iran's nuclear program.
Just a harmless outlier - or a big jump?
Similar outliers have also occurred in enrichment plants in other countries. In this case, however, it is "a fairly large jump" from 60 to almost 84 percent. However, previous analyzes had shown that only a very small amount of 83.7 percent material had been produced, the diplomat said.
Authorities chief Grossi had already pointed out in January that Iran already has enough enriched uranium for several nuclear weapons if the material were to be further enriched. However, Tehran still has a long and difficult road ahead of it before it can develop a nuclear weapon, said the IAEA Director-General. Tehran always emphasizes that it is only interested in the peaceful use of nuclear technology.
Even 60 percent uranium is already suitable for weapons
According to the IAEA report, the Islamic Republic has nearly 435 kilograms of 20 percent uranium, 48 kilograms more than in the previous quarterly report from November. The stock of 60 percent uranium increased by 25 kilograms - currently almost 88 kilograms. Grossi has repeatedly pointed out that even 60 percent uranium is almost suitable for use in weapons.
In 2015, Iran committed to restricting its nuclear program. In return, Western sanctions were lifted. This pact was intended to prevent the authoritarian country from joining the ranks of nuclear powers. After the United States withdrew from the agreement in 2018 under then-President Donald Trump, Tehran responded by expanding uranium enrichment and restricting IAEA inspections. Negotiations to revive the agreement, in which Germany is also involved, are on hold.
Last year, the IAEA had to dismantle 27 surveillance cameras in Iran. However, given the latest find, Grossi emphasized that his inspectors remain able to spot important developments in a short space of time.