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Iran Says to Break Int’l Curbs on Uranium Enrichment in 10 Days

Iran Says to Break Int’l Curbs on Uranium Enrichment in 10 Days

Monday, 17 June, 2019 - 09:45
A view of the Arak heavy-water project 190 km southwest of Tehran. (Reuters)
Asharq Al-Awsat
Iran announced on Monday that it will break the uranium stockpile limit set by Tehran's nuclear deal with world powers in the next 10 days.

“We have quadrupled the rate of enrichment and even increased it more recently, so that in 10 days it will bypass the 300 kg limit,” Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi said on state TV.

“There is still time ... if European countries act” to save the nuclear deal, he added.

He made the announcement during a press conference with local journalists at Iran's Arak heavy water facility that was carried live on Iranian state television.

“There is still time for the Europeans... But the Europeans have expressed indirectly their inability to act. They should not think that after 60 days (deadline set in May by Iran), they will have another 60-day opportunity.”

Tehran has repeatedly criticized delays in setting up a European mechanism that would shield trade with Iran from US sanctions in an effort to save the nuclear deal.

Urging European signatories to hasten efforts to salvage the accord, President Hassan Rouhani said its collapse would not be in the interests of the region or the world.

“It’s a crucial moment, and France can still work with other signatories of the deal and play an historic role to save the deal in this very short time,” Rouhani was quoted as saying during a meeting with France’s new ambassador in Iran.

US-Iran tensions are worsening following accusations by the administration of US President Donald Trump that Tehran carried out attacks last Thursday on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman, a vital oil shipping route.

Iran’s Armed Forces Chief of Staff, Major General Mohammad Baqeri, on Monday denied Tehran was behind the attacks and said if Tehran decided to block the strategic Strait of Hormuz shipping lane it would do so publicly.

The secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, Ali Shamkhani, said Tehran was responsible for security in the Gulf and urged US forces to leave the region, state TV said.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Sunday the United States did not want to go to war with Iran but would take every action necessary, including diplomacy, to guarantee safe navigation through Middle East shipping lanes.

The nuclear deal aimed to extend the amount of time it would theoretically take Iran to produce enough fissile material for an atomic bomb from several months to a minimum of one year.

The accord caps Iran’s stock of low-enriched uranium at 300 kg of uranium hexafluoride enriched to 3.67 percent or its equivalent for 15 years.

Tehran would increase uranium enrichment levels "based on the country's needs,” said Kamalvandi.

Iran needs 5% enrichment for its nuclear power plant in southern Iranian port of Bushehr and it also needs 20% enrichment for a Tehran research reactor, he added.

The United States and the International Atomic Energy Agency believe Iran had a nuclear weapons program that it abandoned. Tehran denies ever having had one.

When uranium is mined, it typically has about 140 atoms of this unwanted isotope for every atom of U-235. Refining it to a purity of 3.67%, the level now allowed by the nuclear deal, means removing 114 unwanted atoms of U-238 for every atom of U-235.

Boosting its purity to 20% means removing 22 more unwanted isotopes per atom of U-235, while going from there to 90% purity means removing just four more per atom of U-235, he noted. Ninety percent is considered weapons-grade material.

That means going from 20% to 90% is a relatively quicker process, something that worries nuclear nonproliferation experts.

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