Iran has begun producing small amounts of uranium metal, the UN atomic watchdog said on February 10, in the latest breach of Tehran’s 2015 deal with world powers as it seeks to ramp up pressure on U.S. President Joe Biden’s new administration.
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) head Rafael Grossi told member nations that inspectors had confirmed on February 8 that 3.6 grams of uranium metal had been produced at a nuclear facility in Isfahan.
Although the amount is small and not enriched, uranium metal could be used to form the core of a nuclear weapon.
The nuclear agreement — reached by Iran, the United States, China, Russia, Germany, France and Britain — put a 15-year ban on Iran “producing or acquiring plutonium or uranium metals or their alloys.”
Former President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the nuclear pact in 2018 and reimposed crushing sanctions on Tehran.
In response to the U.S. withdrawal, Tehran has gradually breached the deal by building up its stockpile of low-enriched uranium, refining uranium to a higher level of purity, and using advanced centrifuges for enrichment.
Iran announced in January it intended to research uranium metal production, saying the advanced fuel was needed for a research reactor in Tehran. The measure was part of a law passed by parliament in December following the assassination of a top nuclear scientist, which Tehran blames on Israel.
When Iran announced its plans to produce uranium metal, Germany, France, and Britain stated they were “deeply concerned.”
“Iran has no credible civilian use for uranium metal,” they said in a joint statement. “The production of uranium metal has potentially grave military implications.”
Iran maintains its nuclear program is for civilian purposes and it has no intention of building a weapon.
Iran’s latest breach complicates a standoff between Washington and Tehran over the future of the nuclear accord.
The Biden administration is seeking to revive diplomacy but is demanding Iran first return to compliance with the accord, which required Tehran to put limits on its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.
Iranian officials insist that the United States should first return to the deal by lifting sanctions.
Based on reporting by AFP, AP, and Reuters