JEDDAH: Iran has increased its stockpile of uranium and boosted its ability to enrich it to weapons grade, the head of its atomic agency admitted on Wednesday.
Ali Akbar Salehi, head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, said the regime had imported 550 tons of uranium before the 2015 agreement to curb its nuclear program. It had acquired about 400 tons more since then, bringing the total to between 900 and 950 tons.
Iran has also built a factory that can produce rotors for up to 60 IR-6 centrifuges a day for uranium enrichment, Salehi said.
The announcements came a month after Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said he had ordered agencies to prepare to increase uranium-enrichment capacity if the nuclear deal falls apart after Washington’s withdrawal.
Under the agreement, which was also signed by Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany, Iran agreed to curb its nuclear programme in exchange for sanctions relief.
The other signatories have been scrambling to save the deal. Iran has said it will wait to see what they can do, but has signaled it is ready to put its enrichment activities back on track.
Salehi insisted the new factory did not break the terms of the agreement. “Instead of building this factory in the next seven or eight years, we built it during the negotiations but have not started it,” he said.
Salehi said last month that Iran had begun working on infrastructure for building advanced centrifuges at its Natanz facility.
The announcements suggest that a nuclear bomb is on Iran’s agenda, Oubai Shahbandar, a Syrian-American analyst and fellow at the New America Foundation’s International Security Program, told Arab News
“Iran’s negotiating strategy here seems to be pegged to pressuring the EU to provide European businesses protection from complying with renewed US sanctions,” he said.
“IR-6 centrifuges are relatively complex and if Tehran moves forward with enhancing their capacity to mass-produce faster advanced centrifuges, they could easily establish a position to breakout quickly toward nuclear weapon production, if the decision is made.
“The capacity to build en masse more advanced centrifuges in the future doesn’t violate the deal itself, but it sends a strong political signal that nuclear weaponization could very well still be on the agenda in Tehran.”