The United Nations atomic watchdog said on Tuesday that Iran has provided notice of concrete efforts to make uranium metal enriched to up to 20% purity for reactor fuel, outlining a move that is certain to enrage Western nations in discussions to resurrect the Iran nuclear deal.
Since April, Iran has been in indirect talks with the US to resurrect the 2015 nuclear deal, which former US President Donald Trump reneged on. In exchange for the removal of sanctions, the deal set constraints on Iran’s nuclear program, and after Trump’s withdrawal, Iran began to break many of those restrictions.
Tehran has already produced a small amount of uranium metal this year that was not enriched. That is a breach of the deal, which bans all work on uranium metal since it can be used to make the core of a nuclear bomb.
Iran has outlined plans to produce enriched uranium metal, saying it is developing fuel for its Tehran Research Reactor, but Washington and its European allies dispute Tehran’s intentions and have called on it to stop.
“Today, Iran informed the Agency that UO2 (uranium oxide) enriched up to 20% U–235 would be shipped to the R&D laboratory at the Fuel Fabrication Plant in Esfahan, where it would be converted to UF4 (uranium tetrafluoride) and then to uranium metal enriched to 20% U–235, before using it to manufacture the fuel,” an International Atomic Energy Agency statement said.
Summarizing a report to its member states, the IAEA described the plan as a “multi-stage process”, suggesting it will take time before the enriched metal is produced.
The report is likely to increase tensions in the talks, which include the other parties to the 2015 deal. The talks adjourned on June 20 and a date for their resumption has not yet been set.
“This is clearly an escalation — clearly another message by Iran that in the absence of any restoration of (the nuclear deal), they are going to continue ramping up their capability and their pressure,” said Bob Einhorn, a nonproliferation expert at the Brookings Institution think tank.