The IAEA finds 84% enriched uranium in Iran, almost ready for bombing – diplomats
By Francois Murphy
VIENNA (Reuters) – The UN nuclear guardian has found uranium enriched to 84% in Iran – very close to weapons quality, diplomats said on Monday, while the guardian said it is negotiating with Tehran over the latest finds there.
Iran has been enriching uranium to a purity of up to 60% since April 2021. Three months ago, he began enriching to 60% at a second site, Fordow, which is dug into a mountain. Weapon grade is around 90%.
Two diplomats told Reuters the International Atomic Energy Agency, which inspects Iran’s nuclear facilities, has discovered uranium enriched to 84%, confirming an initial report by Bloomberg News late Sunday.
“The question is whether it was an outlier in the reconfigured cascades or on purpose. The agency has asked Iran for an explanation,” one of the diplomats told Reuters.
Earlier this month, the IAEA criticized Iran for failing to notify it of a “significant” change to the connections between the two cascades, or clusters, of centrifuges that enrich uranium up to 60% at Fordow. Several diplomats said the change means Iran can quickly switch to a higher stage of enrichment.
These rearranged cascades are the ones referred to by the first diplomat.
The United States withdrew in 2018 from the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and major powers, which lifted sanctions on Tehran in exchange for curbing its nuclear activities.
Iran responded to the re-imposition of US sanctions by violating those restrictions and going well beyond them, to the point where IAEA chief Rafael Grossi said the deal was now an “empty shell”.
NO IAEA REPORT YET
The prospects for a revival of the deal are slim, diplomats say, as tensions between Iran and the West over protests in Iran, the war in Ukraine and Iran’s ongoing nuclear advances are eroding the time it would take to complete to manufacture an atomic bomb if he so desires. Iran denies having any such intentions.
“The IAEA is aware of the latest media reports on uranium enrichment in Iran,” the IAEA said on Twitter on Sunday. “The IAEA is discussing with Iran the findings of the agency’s recent review activities and will update the IAEA Board of Governors as appropriate.”
The IAEA, which inspects Iran’s nuclear facilities, flags significant developments in Iran’s activities, either in ad hoc reports to the 35-nation Board of Governors or in regular quarterly reports issued before board meetings.
Diplomats said Monday the IAEA has not issued such a report. The next quarterly meeting of the Board of Governors begins on Monday, March 6th and quarterly reports are typically released the week before a meeting.
“So far we have not attempted to enrich above 60%. The presence of particles above 60% enrichment does not mean that the production is above 60% enrichment,” Iranian Atomic Energy Agency spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi said on Monday, according to the official IRNA news agency.
(Reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Bernadette Baum)