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Iran starting 60% uranium enrichment, adding 1,000 new centrifuges in step closer to nukes

Cascade of gas centrifuges used to produce enriched uranium. (U.S. Department of Energy Archives/Released)
April 13, 2021

On Tuesday, Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi told the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that Iran will begin enriching uranium to 60 percent purity — more than 15 times the uranium purity limit set in the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), also known as the Iran nuclear deal.

Araqchi told Iran’s state-run Press TV that Iran would add 1,000 additional centrifuges at one of its main nuclear facilities in addition to the 60 percent uranium enrichment.

Under the JCPOA, Iran is limited to a uranium purity of 3.67 percent. Iran has already reached 20 percent uranium enrichment and weapon’s grade uranium is 90 percent enrichment.

In 2018, then-President Donald withdrew the U.S. from the JCPOA and gradually reimposed sanctions against Iran, while Iran has since abandoned several of its own commitments to the deal, breaching uranium stockpile and enrichment limits.

Araqchi said Iran would replace centrifuges damaged during the Natanz power outage and install 1,000 more centrifuges beyond that. Araqchi said the new centrifuges would be able to enrich uranium at a 50 percent higher enrichment capacity than the ones currently at Natanz.

Araqchi did not lay out a timeline for when Iran would be able to reach 60 percent uranium enrichment. Behrouz Kamalvandi, a spokesman for the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) told the Iranian state-run Islamic Republic News Agency that the preliminary steps to reach 60 percent uranium enrichment would begin at the Natanz facility on Tuesday night.

Iran’s plans to pursue 60 percent uranium enrichment appear to confirm a U.S. intelligence community warning that Iran would soon pursue 60 percent enrichment as its next step in nuclear development.

On Tuesday, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) released its annual threat assessment report for 2021. In the report, U.S. the intelligence office said “Iran is not currently undertaking the key nuclear weapons-development activities” but would pursue either 60 percent uranium enrichment or build a 40 Megawatt Heavy Water reactor if it doesn’t receive sanctions relief soon.

Iran’s latest uranium enrichment announcement comes a week after Iranian diplomats traveled to Vienna, Austria to begin talks with the remaining members of the JCPOA to bring Iran back into compliance with the agreement. Araqchi made his comments to Press TV from Vienna, where the talks are continuing into their second week. His comments cast doubt on Iran’s willingness to return to compliance with the deal.

The announcement also comes after Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility suffered a power outage on Sunday. U.S. and Israeli officials said the outage resulted in extensive damage and likely set Iran’s nuclear program back by up to nine months. Iran has blamed Israel for the power outage and vowed to take revenge.