Home Iran Iran Expanding Enrichment Capacity After IAEA Resolution, Diplomats Say

Iran Expanding Enrichment Capacity After IAEA Resolution, Diplomats Say

Iran expanding uranium-enrichment capacity at two underground sites. New government will decide on escalation, diplomats say.
Iran, nuclear enrichment, nuclear bomb, IAEA, Un nuclear watchdog
FILE PHOTO: The flag of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) flutters in front of the agency's headquarters in Vienna, Austria, June 3, 2024. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger

Iran’s Nuclear Enrichment

Iran is expanding its uranium-enrichment capacity at two underground sites. This is apparently in response to last week’s U.N. nuclear watchdog board resolution against it. But, the escalation is not as big as many had feared, diplomats said on Wednesday. Iran usually reacts to such resolutions by the International Atomic Energy Agency’s 35-nation Board of Governors. Tehran reacted to the previous one 18 months earlier by enriching to up to 60% purity. That is close to weapons grade. It also announced a large expansion of its enrichment programme.

This time it plans to install more cascades, or clusters, of centrifuges. Those are the machines that enrich uranium at both its underground enrichment sites, five diplomats said. IAEA inspectors observing Iran’s progress plan to issue a report to member states on Thursday, three of the diplomats said. “It’s not as much as I would expect,” one Vienna-based diplomat said, referring to the scale of Iran’s escalation. “Why? I don’t know. Maybe they’re waiting for the new government,” they said. They were referring to the death in a helicopter crash last month of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian. And to the presidential election due to be held on June 28.

The IAEA Board passed a resolution a week ago calling on Iran to step up cooperation with the IAEA. The resolution also called on Tehran to reverse its recent barring of inspectors. Russia and China opposed the resolution. Twenty countries voted in favour.

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Diplomats did not specify the number or type of centrifuges being added. Or what level they would enrich to. Though one diplomat said they would not use them to quickly expand Iran’s production of uranium enriched to up to 60%. The diplomats said they would wait to see what the IAEA said Iran had actually done but they were aware of Iran’s plans. The move is “at the lower end of expectations and something we’re pretty sure they were going to do anyway”, one diplomat said, meaning it would have happened even without the resolution.

Iran did not fully follow through on its November 2022 announcement after the previous resolution. While it installed all the centrifuges it said it would at its underground enrichment plant at Natanz, 12 cascades of one advanced model, the IR-2m, are not yet in operation.

Iran is only enriching to up to 60% at an above-ground pilot plant at Natanz and its Fordow site. The Fordow site is dug into a mountain. In November 2022 it started enriching to up to 60% at Fordow but it has yet to install all the additional cascades it said it would.

(With Reuters Inputs)