According to the UN’s nuclear watchdog, the IAEA, uranium enriched to near bomb-grade levels has been discovered at an Iranian nuclear facility, as the US warns that Tehran’s ability to build a nuclear bomb is accelerating.
The Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed in a new report that uranium particles enriched to 83.7% purity – close to the 90% enrichment levels required to make a nuclear bomb – were discovered in Iran’s Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant (FFEP), an underground nuclear facility located some 20 miles northeast of the Iranian city of Qom.
According to the report, the IAEA took environmental samples at the Fordow plant in January, which revealed the presence of high enriched uranium particles with up to 83.7% purity.
The IAEA then informed Iran that these findings were “inconsistent with the level of enrichment declared by Iran at the Fordow plant and requested Iran to clarify the origins of these particles,” according to the report.
According to the confidential IAEA report, Iran’s stockpile of uranium enriched up to 60% has increased from 25.2 kg to 87.5 kg since the last quarterly report.
Israel, a close US ally, has vowed never to allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon, threatening military strikes on Iranian nuclear facilities if the US cannot reach an agreement with Iran on a nuclear deal.
According to the IAEA report, discussions with Iran to clarify the situation are ongoing, and “these events clearly indicate the IAEA’s capability to detect and report changes in the operation of nuclear facilities in Iran.”
In an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Tuesday, February 28, Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian did not directly respond to a question about the alleged enrichment.
According to Amir-Abdollahian, the IAEA’s deputy director general, Massimo Aparo, has visited Iran twice in recent weeks, and the IAEA’s director general, Rafael Grossi, has been invited to visit the country.
“We’ve worked out a plan with the IAEA. And, in the last few weeks, Mr. [Massimo] Aparo, Mr. [Rafael] Grossi’s deputy, came to Iran on two occasions, and we had constructive and productive negotiations. In addition, we have invited Mr. Grossi to visit Iran soon,” Amir-Abdollahian told CNN. “As a result, our relationship with the IAEA is on the right track.”
Last year, Iran removed all IAEA equipment previously installed for nuclear-related surveillance and monitoring activities under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
The move had “negative implications for the IAEA’s ability to provide assurance of the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program,” according to an IAEA report.
According to a US State Department spokesperson, the IAEA report could be a “very serious development.”
“We are in close contact with our allies and partners in Europe and the region as we await additional information from the IAEA on this potentially very serious development,” the spokesperson added.