The UN’s nuclear watchdog has confirmed that Iran is enriching uranium to 60% at a second plant amid the collapse of its nuclear deal with major powers.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said on Tuesday that Iran is also planning a massive expansion of its enrichment capacity.
Iran said earlier on Tuesday it had begun enriching uranium to 60% at the Fordo site, after doing so for more than a year at its above-ground pilot plant in Natanz.
The increased enrichment was seen as an important addition to the nuclear program. Enrichment to 60% purity is a short technical step away from weapon grade, 90%. Nonproliferation experts have warned in recent months that Iran has enough 60% enriched uranium to upgrade to fuel for at least one nuclear bomb.
Iran has always denied any ambition to develop a nuclear bomb, insisting that its nuclear activities are for civilian purposes.
The move was part of Iran’s response to the approval by the UN nuclear watchdog last week of a motion of censure drafted by Western governments accusing them of non-cooperation.
It also comes as talks have stalled to revive a landmark 2015 deal that curbed Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.
The deal began to unravel in 2018 when the US backed out and reimposed sanctions. In response, Iran began to ramp up its nuclear program.
A joint statement from Germany, France and Britain – the three Western European countries remaining in the nuclear deal with Iran – condemned Iran’s latest move to further expand its nuclear program.
“Iran’s move is a challenge to the global nonproliferation system,” Tuesday’s statement said. “This move, which carries significant proliferation-related risks, has no credible civilian justification.”
This month, the IAEA said it believes Iran has further increased its stockpile of highly enriched uranium. Just last week, the agency criticized Tehran for continuing to deny its officials access to or oversight of Iranian nuclear sites.
A separate report said IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi was “deeply concerned” that Iran was still not involved in the agency’s investigation of man-made uranium particles found at three undeclared sites . The issue has become a major sticking point in talks over a renewed nuclear deal.
It has been nearly two years since IAEA officials had full access to monitor Iran’s nuclear sites, and five months since IAEA surveillance equipment was removed.
Reuters and the Associated Press contributed to this report