Iran ex­plor­ing new ura­nium en­rich­ment

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - INTERNATIONAL - NASSER KARIMI In­for­ma­tion for this ar­ti­cle was con­trib­uted by Jon Gam­brell of The As­so­ci­ated Press.

TEHRAN, Iran — The head of Iran’s nu­clear pro­gram said Sun­day that the Is­lamic Repub­lic has be­gun “pre­lim­i­nary ac­tiv­i­ties for de­sign­ing” a mod­ern process for 20 per­cent ura­nium en­rich­ment for its 50-year-old re­search re­ac­tor in Tehran, sig­nal­ing new dan­ger for the nu­clear deal.

Restart­ing en­rich­ment at that level would mean Iran had with­drawn the 2015 nu­clear deal it struck with world pow­ers, an ac­cord that Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump al­ready pulled the United States out of in May.

How­ever, Ali Akbar Salehi’s com­ments to state tele­vi­sion ap­peared aimed at telling the world Iran would slowly restart its pro­gram. If it chooses, it could re­sume mass en­rich­ment at its main fa­cil­ity in the cen­tral Ira­nian town of Natanz.

“Pre­lim­i­nary ac­tiv­i­ties for de­sign­ing mod­ern 20 per­cent [en­riched ura­nium] fuel have be­gun,” state TV quoted Salehi as say­ing.

Salehi said adding the “mod­ern fuel” will in­crease ef­fi­ciency in the Tehran re­search re­ac­tor that con­sumes 20 per­cent en­riched fuel.

“We are at the verge” of be­ing ready, he said, with­out elab­o­rat­ing.

In June, Iran in­formed the United Na­tion’s nu­clear watch­dog that it will in­crease its nu­clear-en­rich­ment ca­pac­ity within the lim­its set by the 2015 agree­ment with world pow­ers. Iran con­tin­ues to com­ply with the terms of the deal, ac­cord­ing to the U.N., de­spite the Amer­i­can pull­out.

Salehi heads the Atomic En­ergy Or­ga­ni­za­tion of Iran, the Tehran cam­pus that holds the nu­clear re­search re­ac­tor given to the coun­try by the U.S. in 1967 un­der the rule of the shah.

But in the time since that Amer­i­can “Atoms for Peace” do­na­tion, Iran was con­vulsed by its 1979 Is­lamic Rev­o­lu­tion and the sub­se­quent takeover and hostage cri­sis at the U.S. Em­bassy in Tehran.

For decades since, Western na­tions have been con­cerned about Iran’s nu­clear pro­gram, ac­cus­ing Tehran of seek­ing atomic weapons. Iran long has said its pro­gram is for peace­ful pur­poses, but it faced years of crip­pling sanc­tions.

The 2015 nu­clear deal Iran struck with world pow­ers, in­clud­ing the U.S. un­der Pres­i­dent Barack Obama, was aimed at re­liev­ing those fears.

Un­der it, Iran agreed to store its ex­cess cen­trifuges at its un­der­ground Natanz en­rich­ment fa­cil­ity un­der con­stant sur­veil­lance by the U.N. nu­clear watch­dog, the In­ter­na­tional Atomic En­ergy Agency.

Iran can use 5,060 older-model IR-1 cen­trifuges at Natanz, but only to en­rich ura­nium up to 3.67 per­cent.

That low-level en­rich­ment means the ura­nium can be used to fuel a civil­ian re­ac­tor but is far below the 90 per­cent needed to pro­duce a weapon. Iran also can pos­sess no more than 660 pounds of that ura­nium.

That’s com­pared with the 22,046 pounds of higher-en­riched ura­nium it once had.

Trump, who cam­paigned on a prom­ise to tear up the nu­clear deal, said he ul­ti­mately pulled Amer­ica out of the ac­cord over Iran’s bal­lis­tic mis­sile pro­gram and its ma­lign in­flu­ence on the wider Mideast.

In an in­ter­view in Septem­ber with The As­so­ci­ated Press, Salehi warned that Iran could be­gin mass pro­duc­tion of more ad­vanced cen­trifuges if the deal col­lapses.

“If we have to go back and with­draw from the nu­clear deal, we cer­tainly do not go back to where we were be­fore,” Salehi said at the time. “We will be stand­ing on a much, much higher po­si­tion.”

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