Iran rapidly expands its ability to enrich uranium with increasingly advanced centrifuges as concerns mount about the possibility of the fundamentalist Islamic Republic developing nuclear weapons. A leaked confidentiality The UN’s nuclear watchdog indicated that Iran now intends to go further than previously planned on its underground facility at Natanz.
In accordance with the terms of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Iran agreed to limit the amount of uranium it produces.
But three years later, then-President Donald Trump pulled the US out of the deal and reimposed sanctions on Iran.
Iran – currently the site of widespread protests following the unexplained death of Mahsa Amini – responded by breaking restrictions on its nuclear activities imposed by the JCPOA.
As indirect talks between Iran and the US to revive the accord have stalled, Tehran is now using an ever-increasing number of advanced centrifuges previously banned under the deal’s terms.
Such machines are far more efficient than the first-generation IR-1, the only centrifuge that the JCPOA allowed Iran to use to grow its stockpile of enriched uranium.
Iran has added the new equipment, particularly at two underground sites at Natanz and Fordow, both of which are likely to be designed to withstand potential aerial bombardment.
At the underground fuel enrichment facility (FEP) in Natanz, Monday’s ad hoc report to member states showed that Iran has quickly completed the installation of seven cascades, or clusters, of advanced centrifuges that were either not completed or at a very early stage of installation according to the last quarterly report of the International Atomic Energy Agency issued on September 7.
Those seven cascades, one of IR-4 centrifuges and six of IR-2m machines, were fully installed but not yet enriching, Monday’s report said.
Iran has also informed the IAEA that it plans to add three more cascades of IR-2m machines at the FEP, on top of the 12 already announced and now installed, the report showed.
Of these three additional IR-2m cascades, installation has already started on two of them, the report said.
Iran recently installed three cascades of advanced IR-6 centrifuges at the underground fuel enrichment facility (FEP) at Natanz, which became operational soon after. Diplomats say the IR-6 is Iran’s most advanced centrifuge.
The last inspection mentioned in the quarterly report was on September 6, when the IAEA confirmed that the third IR-6 cascade was enriched. Monday’s report said all three were still enriching.
The report found that all the centrifuges that enriched at Natanz were still producing uranium hexafluoride (UF6) gas enriched to up to five percent, but were now being fed natural UF6.
That contradicted the quarterly report that said they were fed UF6 enriched to up to two. That didn’t explain the change.
Diplomats have said that if the deal is revived, Iran will have to keep its advanced centrifuges.