Iran re­sumes For­dow en­rich­ment

Arab Times - - FRONT PAGE -

DUBAI, Nov 7, (Agen­cies): Iran said on Thurs­day it had re­sumed ura­nium en­rich­ment at its un­der­ground For­dow nu­clear plant, step­ping fur­ther away from its 2015 nu­clear deal with world pow­ers after the United States pulled out of it.

The pact bans pro­duc­tion of nu­clear ma­te­rial at For­dow, a highly sen­si­tive site that Iran hid from UN non-pro­lif­er­a­tion in­spec­tors un­til its ex­po­sure in 2009. But with feed­stock gas en­ter­ing its cen­trifuges, the fa­cil­ity, built in­side a moun­tain to with­stand any air strikes, will move from the per­mit­ted sta­tus of re­search plant to be­ing an ac­tive nu­clear site.

“After all suc­cess­ful prepa­ra­tions ..., in­jec­tion of ura­nium gas into cen­trifuges started on Thurs­day at For­dow ... The whole the process has been su­per­vised by the in­spec­tors of the UN nu­clear watch­dog,” the Atomic En­ergy Or­ga­ni­za­tion of Iran (AEOI) said in a state­ment car­ried by state me­dia.

Iran has grad­u­ally scaled back its com­mit­ments to the deal, un­der which it re­strained its en­rich­ment pro­gramme in ex­change for the re­moval of most in­ter­na­tional sanc­tions, since the United States re­neged on the agree­ment last year.

“The process will take a few hours to sta­bi­lize and by Satur­day, when In­ter­na­tional Atomic En­ergy Agency in­spec­tors will again visit the site, an ... en­rich­ment level of 4.5 per­cent will have been achieved,” AEOI spokesman Behrouz Ka­mal­vandi told state TV.

En­rich­ment of ura­nium to such a low level of fis­sile pu­rity would be broadly suit­able for civil­ian elec­tric­ity gen­er­a­tion. Ninety-per­cent pu­rity is re­quired for nu­clear bomb fuel.

The United States with­drew from the deal in May 2018, call­ing it flawed to Iran’s ad­van­tage, and reim­posed sanc­tions on Iran aimed at crip­pling its oil­based econ­omy.

Wash­ing­ton con­demned Iran’s re­ac­ti­va­tion of en­rich­ment at For­dow and urged coun­tries to in­crease pres­sure on Tehran.

“Iran’s ex­pan­sion of pro­lif­er­a­tion-sen­si­tive ac­tiv­i­ties raises con­cerns that Iran is po­si­tion­ing it­self to have the op­tion of a rapid nu­clear break­out,” US Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo said on Thurs­day.

“It is now time for all na­tions to re­ject this regime’s nu­clear ex­tor­tion and take se­ri­ous steps to in­crease pres­sure. Iran’s con­tin­ued and nu­mer­ous nu­clear provo­ca­tions de­mand such ac­tion,” Pom­peo added in a state­ment.

The big­gest ob­sta­cle to build­ing a nu­clear weapon is stock­pil­ing enough fis­sile ma­te­rial – highly en­riched ura­nium or plu­to­nium – for the core of a bomb. A cen­tral ob­jec­tive of the 2015 deal was to ex­tend the time Iran would need to do that, if it chose to, to a year from about 2 to 3 months.

Un­der the 2018 pact, Iran agreed to turn For­dow into a “nu­clear, physics and tech­nol­ogy cen­tre” where 1,044 cen­trifuges are used for pur­poses other than en­rich­ment, such as pro­duc­ing sta­ble iso­topes, which have a va­ri­ety of civil uses.

“All the cen­trifuges in­stalled at For­dow are IR1 types. Ura­nium gas (UF6) was in­jected into four chains of IR1 cen­trifuges (696 cen­trifuges),” Ka­mal­vandi said.

“Two other re­main­ing chains of IR1 cen­trifuges (348 cen­trifuges) will be used for pro­duc­ing and en­rich­ing sta­ble iso­topes in the fa­cil­ity.”

US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s ad­min­is­tra­tion has re­newed and in­ten­si­fied sanc­tions on Iran, slash­ing the coun­try’s eco­nom­i­cally vi­tal crude oil ex­ports by more than 80 per­cent.

Iran’s move at For­dow will make it even harder for the deal’s other par­ties, Bri­tain, Ger­many, France, Rus­sia, China and the Euro­pean Union, to pre­vent its ul­ti­mate col­lapse.

Speak­ing at a news con­fer­ence at the end of a visit to China, French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron called Iran’s lat­est step “se­ri­ous” and said he would speak with both Trump and the Ira­ni­ans in com­ing days.

Ira­nian Pres­i­dent Has­san Rouhani, co-ar­chi­tect of the 2015 agree­ment, has un­der­lined that Tehran’s breaches would be re­versible if Wash­ing­ton scrapped sanc­tions and re­turned to it.

Re­spond­ing to Wash­ing­ton’s “max­i­mum pres­sure” pol­icy, Iran has by­passed restric­tions of the deal step-by-step – in­clud­ing by breach­ing both its cap on stock­piled en­riched ura­nium and on the fis­sile level of en­rich­ment, set at 3.7 per­cent.

Iran said on Mon­day it was de­vel­op­ing ad­vanced cen­trifuges ca­pa­ble of re­fin­ing ura­nium much faster than the IR1s, seen by many ex­perts as an­ti­quated and prone to break­down.

Sep­a­rately on Thurs­day, the Euro­pean Union and United States ex­pressed con­cern over Iran’s brief de­ten­tion of an in­spec­tor from the UN nu­clear watch­dog last week.

Iran al­leged Thurs­day that the UN in­spec­tor it blocked from a nu­clear site last week tested pos­i­tive for sus­pected traces of ex­plo­sive ni­trates. The UN’s nu­clear watch­dog, the In­ter­na­tional Atomic En­ergy Agency, did not im­me­di­ately com­ment.

The al­le­ga­tion made by Ira­nian rep­re­sen­ta­tive Kazem Gharib Abadi came as Iran in­jected ura­nium gas into cen­trifuges at its un­der­ground For­dow nu­clear com­plex early Thurs­day, tak­ing its most-sig­nif­i­cant step away from its 2015 nu­clear deal with world pow­ers.

These lat­est steps by Iran put ad­di­tional pres­sure on Europe to of­fer Tehran a way to sell its crude oil abroad de­spite the US sanc­tions im­posed on the coun­try since Trump uni­lat­er­ally with­drew Amer­ica from the nu­clear deal over a year ago.

The in­ci­dent hap­pened at Iran’s Natanz nu­clear fa­cil­ity, which in­cludes the ma­jor­ity of the cen­trifuges now en­rich­ing ura­nium in the coun­try. The en­trance of Natanz in­cludes equip­ment to check for traces of ni­trates, Abadi said.

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