Iran nuclear program
Iran nuclear program iStock

Iran announced on Sunday that it has begun enriching uranium up to 20% using sophisticated centrifuges at its underground Fordow nuclear plant, The Associated Press reported citing state TV.

Behrouz Kamalvandi, a spokesman for Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, said uranium enriched to 20% was collected for the first time from advanced IR-6 centrifuges on Saturday. He said Iran had informed the UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), about the development two weeks ago.

Iran had previously told the IAEA that it was preparing to enrich uranium through a new cascade of 166 advanced IR-6 centrifuges at its underground Fordow facility, but it hadn’t revealed the level at which the cascade would be enriching.

The IAEA told AP that it had verified on Saturday that Iran was using a set-up that allowed it to more swiftly and easily switch between enrichment levels.

In a report to member states, Director General Rafael Grossi described a system of “modified sub-headers,” which he said allowed Iran to inject gas enriched up to 5% purity into a cascade of 166 IR-6 centrifuges for the purpose of producing uranium enriched up to 20% purity.

Iran did not comment on the latest IAEA finding.

Last month, the IAEA reported that Iran is escalating its uranium enrichment further by preparing to use advanced IR-6 centrifuges at its underground Fordow site that can more easily switch between enrichment levels.

The move was the latest in several steps Iran had long threatened to take but held off carrying out until 30 of the 35 countries on the IAEA Board of Governors backed a resolution criticizing it for failing to explain uranium traces found at undeclared sites.

Last month’s IAEA report came as talks on a return to the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers remained stalled.

An agreement was nearly reached before the talks stopped in March. US Special Envoy for Iran Rob Malley told lawmakers recently that the prospects for reaching a deal with Iran are “tenuous” at best.

Iran last month said it remains "serious" about reaching a revived nuclear deal with major powers that ends economic sanctions and to which the United States is again a party.

Those comments came after Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi criticized the United States for imposing new sanctions on petrochemical producers in the Islamic Republic.

"The world must give us the right not to trust the United States because they are violating their agreements," Raisi said.