Iran is rapidly expanding its ability to enrich uranium with increasingly advanced centrifuges as concerns mount about the possibility of the fundamentalist Islamic republic developing nuclear weapons. A leaked confidential UN nuclear watchdog indicated Iran is now intent on going further than previously planned at its underground plant at Natanz.
In accordance with the terms of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Iran agreed to limit the amount of uranium it produces.
However, three years later, then-President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the deal and re-imposed sanctions against Iran .
Iran – which is currently the site of widespread protests after the unexplained death of Mahsa Amini – responded by breaching the restrictions on its nuclear activities imposed by the JCPOA.
With indirect talks between Iran and the United States on reviving the deal having stalled, Tehran is now using an ever larger number of advanced centrifuges previously banned in accordance with the terms of the agreement.
Such machines are far more efficient than the first-generation IR-1, the only centrifuge which the JCPOA permitted Iran use to grow its stock of enriched uranium.
Iran has been adding the new equipment particularly at two underground sites at Natanz and Fordow, both of which are likely to be designed to withstand potential aerial bombardment.
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At the underground Fuel Enrichment Plant (FEP) at Natanz, Monday’s ad hoc report to member states showed Iran has quickly completed the installation of seven cascades, or clusters, of advanced centrifuges that were either not finished or at a very early stage of installation according to the last quarterly International Atomic Energy Agency report issued on September 7.
Those seven cascades, one of IR-4 centrifuges and six of IR-2m machines, were fully installed but not yet enriching, Monday’s report said.
Iran has also informed the IAEA it plans to add an extra three cascades of IR-2m machines at the FEP, on top of the 12 already announced and now installed, the report showed.
Of those three extra IR-2m cascades, installation has already started on two of them, the report said.
Iran recently installed three cascades of advanced IR-6 centrifuges at the underground Fuel Enrichment Plant (FEP) at Natanz which came onstream soon afterwards. Diplomats say the IR-6 is Iran’s most advanced centrifuge.
The last inspection mentioned in the quarterly report was September 6, when the IAEA verified that the third IR-6 cascade was enriching. Monday’s report said all three were still enriching.
The report showed all the centrifuges enriching at Natanz were still producing uranium hexafluoride (UF6) gas enriched to up to five percent but now they were being fed with natural UF6.
That contrasted to the quarterly report that said they were being fed with UF6 enriched to up to two. It did not explain the change.
Diplomats have said in the event that the deal is revived, Iran will have to put its advanced centrifuges into storage.