Tehran — Iran has resumed generating 60 percent enriched uranium at its Fordo plant, according to state media reports on Tuesday. The underground facility was reactivated three years ago following the collapse of Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers. This was Iran’s reaction to the acceptance last week by the United Nations nuclear watchdog of a censure motion written by Western nations accusing Iran of non-cooperation.
Iran has begun generating 60 percent-enriched uranium at the Fordo plant for the first time, according to Iran’s ISNA news agency.
Despite the fact that uranium enriched to 60 percent is not technically weapon-grade (weapons require uranium enriched to 90 percent or higher), a large stockpile of it may minimize the amount of time Iran would need to produce a bomb.
Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi is interviewed on 60 Minutes at 14:26
Iran has long denied any desire to create a nuclear weapon and said its nuclear programs are solely for peaceful purposes, but the United States and its allies, most notably Israel and the major European nations, do not trust Tehran.
Iran agreed to decommission the Fordo nuclear facility and limit its enrichment of uranium at other facilities to 3.67 percent, which is adequate for most civilian applications, as part of a package of restrictions on its nuclear activities designed to prevent it from clandestinely developing a nuclear weapon. In exchange, major nations, including the United States, agreed to ease sanctions placed on Iran over its nuclear program.
In 2018, however, then-president of the United States Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew the United States from the accord and reimposed punishing economic penalties on Iran.
The next year, Iran began to depart from its obligations under the agreement. It reactivated the Fordo facility and resumed uranium enrichment at a greater level.
A photo published by the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran on November 6, 2019 shows a forklift transporting a cylinder holding uranium hexafluoride gas that will be pumped into centrifuges for enrichment at the Fordo nuclear complex near Qom, Iran. Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization/AP
Iran said in January 2021 that it was trying to enrich uranium at Fordo to 20 percent purity. Several months later, a second enrichment facility in Iran, Natanz, achieved 60 percent.
France, Germany, and the United Kingdom, who were all parties to the now-defunct nuclear agreement of 2015, voiced “grave worry” about Iran’s upgrade to 60 percent enrichment last year and stated that the Islamic Republic had “no plausible civilian purpose for enrichment at this level.”
President Joe Biden has expressed a desire for the United States to return to a revived version of the agreement, and talks have been ongoing intermittently since April of last year. However, Secretary of State Antony Blinken stated late last month that he saw little opportunity to restore the agreement, as Iran battles nationwide protests sparked by the death of a 22-year-old Kurdish woman in Iranian police custody in September.
Robert Malley, the U.S. special envoy for Iran, stated on Tuesday that Washington had anticipated Tehran’s response to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) censure vote.
“Unfortunately, the Iranian response was not unexpected,” Malley told Al Jazeera, adding that the United States will closely follow Iran’s future measures.
When asked about attempts to restart the nuclear agreement, Malley stated that Tehran’s crackdown on anti-government protesters and the Islamic Republic’s admitted supply of drones to Russia for its conflict in Ukraine had diverted Washington’s attention from the talks.
Iran acknowledges providing Russia with military drones during the conflict in Ukraine. 02:10
The IAEA oversaw implementation of the 2015 agreement, but its ties with Iran have significantly deteriorated in recent months. Thursday, the IAEA board of governors adopted a resolution denouncing Iran’s lack of cooperation.
Iran declared late on Sunday that it has initiated retaliatory actions, but did not define what those steps were.
“In reaction to the recent action of three European nations and the United States in adopting a resolution against Iran, the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran has decided on early actions,” stated the foreign ministry spokesperson Nasser Kanani.
The enhanced enrichment at Fordo, according to ISNA, was part of Iran’s reaction.
The Nov. 1, 2019 satellite picture from Maxar Technologies via AP depicts the Fordo nuclear complex, located just north of the holy city of Qom in Iran.
“As a second reaction to the resolution, Iran introduced (uranium hexafluoride) gas into two IR-2m and IR-4 cascades at the Natanz plant,” the statement stated, alluding to an older enrichment facility where uranium was already being enriched to 60 percent.
The U.N. watchdog has been pressuring Iran to explain the finding of indications of nuclear material at three facilities it had not reported, a major sticking point that led to the IAEA adopting a previous censure vote in June.
According to a report reviewed by AFP earlier this month, Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium as of October 22 was 3,673.7 kilos, a fall of 267.2 kilograms from the previous quarterly report. This, however, included considerable stocks of uranium enriched to higher levels, including 386.4 kilograms enriched to 20% and 62.3 kilograms enriched to 60%.
Iran’s limitations have impeded the IAEA’s inspectors’ ability to monitor Iran’s increased nuclear activity, according to the IAEA.