IAEA inspectors in Iran believe that Iran has enriched uranium to an alleged level of 84% purity, which is just below nuclear weapons grade, raising the possibility of a dispute over Iran’s fast-developing nuclear program. While a 90 percent threshold is needed for use in a weapon, Iran was last known to enrich to a maximum of 60 percent.
Iran has refuted claims that it is enriching uranium to a level close to that needed for weapons. “So far, we have not made any attempt to enrich above 60%. The presence of particles above 60% enrichment does not mean production with an enrichment above 60%,” said the spokesperson for Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, Behrouz Kamalvandi.
It is up to the IAEA inspectors to ascertain whether Iran manufactured the material on purpose or whether the concentration was the result of an unexpected buildup within the network of pipelines tying together the several quickly spinning centrifuges that were used to separate the isotopes.
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The 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which restricted Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of sanctions, was created in response to allegations that Iran was striving to develop nuclear weapons. Iran was only permitted to enrich uranium to a maximum of 3.67% and maintain a small number of enriched uranium stocks. Iran started to back out of its pledges under the JCPOA after the United States withdrew from the agreement in 2018, with then-President Donald Trump claiming Iran received too much while giving up too little.
The IAEA is aware of recent media reports relating to uranium enrichment levels in Iran. Director General @rafaelmgrossi states that the IAEA is discussing with Iran the results of recent Agency verification activities and will inform the IAEA Board of Governors as appropriate. pic.twitter.com/4Aqdq01Xr5
— IAEA – International Atomic Energy Agency ⚛️ (@iaeaorg) February 19, 2023
Isolation from the West
Ever since Iran has increased its stockpiles and levels of enrichment while also using more sophisticated centrifuges to carry out the enrichment process. Iran is becoming more and more isolated from the West; nuclear negotiations with major powers have been put on hold, and regional tensions have escalated.
Iran has denied responsibility for the February 10 attack on an oil tanker in the Arabian Sea, which Israel has linked to Iran. The attack happened approximately a week after a drone attack on a weapons storage facility close to Isfahan, Iran, which Tel Aviv attributed to Israel as the latest in a series of attacks between the two adversaries.
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Iran has also been under fire for its violent repression of large-scale protests that started after Mahsa Amini’s murder, and the US and the EU have also strengthened sanctions against Iran due to its military support for Russia in the Ukrainian war. In an interview, the US’s envoy for Iran, Robert Malley, said Tehran was “only a handful of weeks away from having enough weapons-grade uranium,” but taking the further step of developing an actual weapon is “a different matter,” and so far, the US has no evidence of it.
Although Western countries and Israel accuse Iran of trying to build a nuclear bomb, Iran maintains that its multidecade nuclear program is for peaceful purposes. Additional technical procedures that the IAEA has not yet detected are needed, along with a political decision to proceed, in order to build a weapon.