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IAEA: Iran upgrades uranium enrichment tech

July 9, 2022

The UN's nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, has found that Iran is now using machines that allow it to switch more easily between uranium enrichment levels.

A satellite image of Iran's Fordo plant, most of which is located underground
Iran has recently began installing a new cascade of advanced centrifuges at its Fordo facilityImage: Satellite image ©2019 Maxar Technologies/AP/picture alliance

A report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) found that Iran is changing the process of uranium enrichment at its underground Fordo plant.

Iran has informed the UN agency that the country is using IR-6 centrifuges with "modified subheaders," the IAEA told DW on Saturday. According to Iran, the declared purpose of the enrichment process is to create uranium isotope enriched up to 20%.

This remains well below the 90% enrichment level that is needed to create weapons-grade uranium.

The special subheaders that are now in use allow for easier and faster switching to higher purity levels.

According to a report by the Reuters news agency, Iran is obligated to inform the IAEA if it changes its enrichment targets. But if Tehran chooses not to do, the change might escape detection for some time.

Ukraine war raises the stakes

Iran has repeatedly insisted that it has no intention of developing a nuclear weapon. Also, Iranian scientists are already enriching up to 60% at locations outside the Fordo plant.

The latest changes are likely to spark additional concern as Western politicians scrambling to revive the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran. Under the deal, which was dismantled by US President Donald Trump in 2018, enrichment levels were capped at 3.67%.

Iran has signaled that it would not unilaterally abide by the currently defunct accord. Though the United States has sought to revive the deal since Joe Biden took power in 2021, Iranian diplomats have called for new concessions, including lifting at least some sanctions, before the country agrees to new limitations.

Iran has also reportedly requested guarantees against another US pullout. Earlier this year, Tehran and Washington also clashed over Iran's Revolutionary Guard, with the US refusing to remove the "terrorist" label from the corps. The Biden administration says the demand is not linked to the nuclear proliferation deal.

But the Ukraine war has given the West more reasons to secure a thaw with oil-rich Iran, as European powers struggle to replace Russia's energy deliveries.

Iran: Washington 'must decide it wants a deal'

This week, Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian denied Washington's accusations that Tehran is making demands that go beyond the scope of the 2015 accord.

Washington "must decide if it wants a deal or insists on sticking to its unilateral demands," Amirabdollahian said.

"The American side should guarantee that Iran will fully benefit from a 2015 revived deal. So far, the American side has not been able to give such assurances," he said.

dj/jcg (Reuters, AFP)