Iran taking 'preliminary steps' to restart uranium enrichment

Iran's nuclear chief said country taking preliminary steps to design uranium fuel with a purity of 20 percent.

Elad Benari ,

Ali Akbar Salehi
Ali Akbar Salehi

Iran is taking preliminary steps to design uranium fuel with a purity of 20 percent for reactors instead of having to copy foreign designs, the country’s nuclear chief said on Sunday, according to Reuters.

“We have made such progress in nuclear science and industry that, instead of reverse-engineering and the use of designs by others, we can design new fuel ourselves,” said Ali Akbar Salehi, head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, according to the report.

“Initial measures have been started for the design of modern 20 percent fuel and we’re on the verge of (achieving) it. This product is different from the previous 20 percent fuel, and we can supply fuel to any reactor that is built like the Tehran reactor,” he added.

“The Tehran reactor has so far been working with old fuel, but modern fuel can improve efficiency,” continued Salehi.

Under Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, Iran is allowed to enrich uranium at up to 3.67 percent purity, well below the 20 percent it was reaching before the deal.

Iran is, however, allowed to produce nuclear fuel under strict conditions that need to be approved by a working group set up by the signatories to the deal. Those conditions include ensuring that the fuel cannot be converted to uranium hexafluoride, the feedstock for centrifuges that enrich uranium.

US President Donald Trump pulled out of the deal in May of 2018, and has since then imposed two rounds of sanctions against Iran.

Iran, angry over the US withdrawal from the deal, has threatened several times that it will begin uranium enrichment beyond previous levels if the remaining parties fail to uphold the 2015 nuclear deal.

Iran several months ago reopened a nuclear plant that was idle for nine years as it prepared to increase uranium enrichment capacity in response to Trump leaving the 2015 agreement.

The European signatories to the deal did not agree with Trump’s decision to leave the deal and have been trying to save the accord, which they see as crucial to forestalling an Iranian nuclear weapon.

Tehran has demanded that Europe come up with an economic package to offset the effects of the US withdrawal but so far has found Europe’s proposals to be unsatisfactory.

Iranian officials have repeatedly criticized the delays in setting up a new European Union payments mechanism for Iranian oil exports, but until now has stopped short of moves that could jeopardize the accord, noted Reuters.