Nu­clear chief says Iran ex­plor­ing new ura­nium en­rich­ment


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 Amer­ica 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 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 U.N.’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, whose Tehran cam­pus 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.

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