Iran has started production of 60 percent enriched uranium at its Fordo plant, which reopened in 2019 after a nuclear deal with major powers collapsed, reports said Tuesday.
“Iran has started production of uranium enriched to 60 percent for the first time at the Fordow plant,” Iranian news agency ISNA reported.
A nuclear bomb requires uranium enriched to 90 percent, so 60 percent is a significant step toward weapons-grade enrichment.
Iran has always denied any ambitions to develop a nuclear bomb, insisting that its nuclear activities are for civilian purposes only.
Under a landmark 2015 deal, Iran agreed to mothball the Fordo facility and limit its uranium enrichment to 3.67 percent, which is sufficient for most civilian uses, as part of a package of restrictions on its nuclear activities aimed at it aim to prevent the covert development of a nuclear power plant weapon.
In return, the major powers agreed to ease the sanctions they had imposed on Iran’s nuclear program.
But the deal began to fall apart in 2018 when then-US President Donald Trump pulled Washington out of the deal and re-imposed crippling economic sanctions.
The following year, Iran began to back away from its obligations under the deal. It reopened Fordo and began enriching uranium to higher levels.
In January 2021, Iran said it was working to enrich uranium to 20 percent at Fordo. A few months later, another Iranian enrichment facility achieved 60 percent enrichment.
US President Joe Biden has expressed a desire for Washington to return to a revived agreement, and on-off talks have been ongoing since April last year.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said late last month that he sees little room to restore the deal as Iran battles nationwide protests sparked by the death in September of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish woman, in police custody.
The heavily protected Fordo plant, some 180 kilometers south of Tehran, was built deep underground to protect it from air or missile attacks by Iranian enemies.
Archenemy Israel has never ruled out military action if it deems it necessary to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapons capability.
Israel is widely suspected of possessing the region’s only, albeit undeclared, nuclear arsenal, although it has consistently refused to confirm or deny that it is nuclear-armed.
Implementation of the 2015 deal was overseen by the International Atomic Energy Agency, but the UN regulator’s ties with Iran have plummeted in recent months.
The IAEA Board of Governors passed a resolution on Thursday criticizing Iran for its lack of cooperation.
Iran said Monday it was retaliating against the International Atomic Energy Agency over a resolution criticizing Tehran’s lack of cooperation with nuclear regulators.
ISNA news agency said the upgrade at Fordo was part of Iran’s response.
“Also, in a second response to the resolution, Iran (uranium hexafluoride) injected gas into two IR-2m and IR-4 cascades at the Natanz facility,” it said, referring to an older enrichment facility.