Iran takes another step to enrich uranium

The current violation is considered asone of the most serious ones of Iran's nuclear agreement

Photo: EPA Iranian President Hassan Rouhani

Iran has announced that it will begin enriching uranium using centrifuges at a controversial and heavily fortified nuclear facility. The move is the latest in a series of breaches by Iran following President Trump's decision to abandon an international nuclear deal and impose economic sanctions.

In a televised speech on Tuesday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said there are about 1,044 centrifuges at the Fordow nuclear facility. A day later, even though it is against the terms of the deal, Iran will begin to inject them with a gas containing uranium.

"Once they live up to their commitments, we will stop feeding gas to the centrifuges," Rouhani said, according to a translation from Iran's Press TV. He appeared to be referring to the imposition of sanctions, which were to be lifted under the agreement that came into force in 2016.

In the meantime, Iranian nuclear head Ali Akbar Salehi said the country would be enriching the uranium up to 5% - which is still within the range used for nuclear power reactors. The terms of the deal limited enrichment to 3.67%, and Iran is currently enriching uranium to about 4.5%. As NPR has reported, weapons-grade uranium is much more highly enriched — to about 90%.

"Right now we have enough 20% uranium, but we can produce more as needed," Salehi told the Iranian news agency ISNA, according to Reuters. Iran had a significant amount of 20% uranium, which is used in some research reactors, before the deal was reached.

Experts say the gas infusion isn't expected to dramatically affect Iran's "breakout time" - the time it would take to produce the amount of highly enriched uranium needed to make a bomb.

"I would not think breakout time would be affected very much, at least initially," David Albright, a physicist at the Institute for Science and International Security, told NPR, adding that it partially depends on how many centrifuges are injected with gas.

However, he says this violation of Iran's nuclear agreement "is one of the most serious ones and could be perceived as the restart of Iran's nuclear weapons capability."

The Fordow facility has been controversial for years. It is buried inside a mountain and was kept secret until it was discovered in 2009. The nuclear deal called for it to be used as a research facility, according to The Associated Press.

 Now, Rouhani's announcement puts European countries hoping to keep the nuclear deal intact in a difficult position. As The Associated Press reported, EU spokesperson Maja Kocijancic called on Iran "to reverse such steps without delay and to refrain from any further measures that would undermine the nuclear deal."

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