Iran on Monday began new operations at the heavy water nuclear reactor in Arak, the head of the country’s nuclear agency said, according to The Associated Press.
The move was seemingly designed to intensify pressure on Europe to find an effective way around US sanctions that block Tehran’s oil sales abroad.
Starting up the Arak heavy water reactor’s secondary circuit does not violate Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, but does inch Tehran’s program closer toward weapons-grade levels.
Ali Akbar Salehi, head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, was quoted as having told state TV that the secondary circuit transfers heat to the reactor’s cooling system. He said the entire reactor system will go online in 2021.
Heavy water helps cool reactors, producing plutonium as a byproduct that can potentially be used in nuclear weapons. Iran insists its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.
Most recently, the Islamic Republic restarted uranium enrichment at the underground Fordow facility in violation of the deal.
Britain, France and Germany have been trying to save the nuclear deal and have vowed to help Iran evade the economic sanctions imposed by the US, shielding companies doing business with the rogue state in an effort to preserve the Iran nuclear deal.
Salehi recently blamed Europe for his country scaling back its commitments under the deal, saying their broken promises gave the Islamic Republic little choice.
On Sunday, the secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, Ali Shamkhani, threatened that Iran will take a fifth step of scaling back its commitments under the 2015 nuclear deal if the Europeans fail to fulfill their obligations.