JEDDAH: In the latest breach of its nuclear deal with major world powers, Iran has started enriching uranium at its underground Fordow facility, the UN’s nuclear watchdog confirmed on Monday.
Tehran’s enriched uranium stock has continued to grow, the experts added, as Iran contravenes the limits set by the deal on its nuclear activities.
Iran announced last week that it had begun enriching uranium at its Fordow site, which is buried inside a mountain. This is prohibited by the 2015 nuclear deal, more formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
In its quarterly report, the International Atomic Energy Agency, which polices the deal, confirmed the Iranian announcement was true.
“Since Nov. 9 ... Iran has been conducting uranium enrichment at the plant,” according to the confidential IAEA report, a copy of which was obtained by Reuters and also seen by AFP.
“The agency detected natural uranium particles of anthropogenic origin at a location in Iran not declared to the agency.” Anthropogenic means that the particles are the result of human activity and not naturally occurring.
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The report also confirmed that Tehran has ramped up its enrichment of uranium, and its stockpile of enriched material has reached the equivalent of 551 kilograms, almost double the 300 kg limit laid down in the nuclear deal.
Experts described the Iranian enrichment activity as a serious breach of the agreement.
“The discovery of the uranium particles is part of the evidence that Iran is continuing to experiment and develop its nuclear weapons program, or at least components of it, in order to keep processes up to date,” said Theodore Karasik, a senior adviser to Gulf State Analytics in Washington, DC.
The fact that the particles were discovered in an undeclared area is a major violation that will add to the atmosphere of distrust and increase the challenges facing the European states that seek to keep Iran in the JCPOA framework, he added.
President Donald Trump withdrew the US from the nuclear deal in May 2018.
Karasik said the current breach goes far beyond previous contraventions.
“Iran plays a game with numbers in terms of centrifuges and enrichment schema,” he explained. “The violation here is much more egregious than any in the past as it deals with a previously undisclosed location outside of Tehran. As we can see, Iran is not genuine in its approach ... so trust is difficult, if not impossible.”