VIENNA: Iran has increased the rate at which it is producing near weapons grade uranium in recent weeks, reversing a previous slowdown that started in the middle of this year, the International Atomic Energy Agency said in a report to member states.
Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi said in the report that Iran “in recent weeks had increased its production of highly enriched uranium, reversing a previous output reduction from mid-2023,” according to an IAEA spokesperson Sunday.
Iran had previously slowed down the rate at which it was enriching uranium to 60 per cent purity. Uranium enriched at 60 per cent purity is just a short, technical step away from weapons-grade levels of 90 per cent.
Enriching uranium means increasing the percentage of uranium-235, the isotope of uranium that can be used in nuclear fission.
Many diplomats believed the slowdown, which had begun by June, was the result of secret talks between the United States and Iran that led to the release of US citizens held in Iran earlier this year.
Iran already has enough uranium enriched to up to 60 per cent, if enriched further, to make three nuclear bombs, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency’s theoretical definition, and more at lower enrichment levels. Iran denies seeking nuclear weapons.
Iran has “increased its production of highly enriched uranium, reversing a previous output reduction from mid-2023”, the IAEA said in a statement summarising a confidential report to member states seen by Reuters that was sent minutes earlier.
Iran is enriching to up to 60%, close to the roughly 90% that is weapons grade, at its Pilot Fuel Enrichment Plant (PFEP) in its sprawling Natanz complex and at its Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant (FFEP), which is dug into a mountain.
“The Agency confirms that, since the end of November 2023, the rate at which Iran has been producing uranium enriched up to 60% U-235 at these two facilities combined has increased to approximately 9 kg per month,” the report to member states said.
By the IAEA’s theoretical definition, around 42 kg of uranium enriched to 60% is the amount at which making a nuclear bomb with it cannot be excluded.
IAEA inspectors first observed a change in production at Fordow on November 25, after which Iran said the change was made on November22, and that the rate of production was returning to the pre-slowdown level there, the report said.
Inspectors observed an increase in the production rate at Natanz on November 27, it added. The IAEA then verified the amount being produced at Natanz on December 19 and Fordow on December 24, it said. The IAEA did not formally notify its member states of the reversal of the slowdown until Tuesday’s report.