Iran works on uranium metal as reactor fuel | Nuclear Energy News

Iran has stepped up its breaches of the nuclear deal over the past two months amid heightened tensions with the United States.

Iran has started work on uranium metal fuel for a research reactor, the United Nations nuclear watchdog and Tehran said on Wednesday, in the latest breach of its nuclear deal with six major powers as the country lobbies for the lifting of US sanctions.

Kazem Gharib Abadi, Iran’s representative at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), confirmed that the country has started work on the fuel, saying everything has been reported to the agency.

“Agency inspectors visited the plant where the fuel will be produced three days ago,” he said.

“From a technical point of view, this places Iran among the advanced countries in the production of new fuels.”

A photo released by the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran shows the interior of the Fordow uranium conversion facility in Qom, in the north of the country. [File: Handout/Atomic Energy Organization of Iran via AFP]

Iran has accelerated its violations of the agreement over the past two months. Some of these measures were required by a law passed in response to the murder of its leading nuclear scientist in November, which Tehran blamed on its nemesis Israel.

However, they are also part of a process Tehran started in 2019 to commit violations in response to US President Donald Trump’s 2018 withdrawal from the deal and his reimposition of the US sanctions the deal lifted in exchange for it. restrictions on the country’s nuclear activities.

These moves increase pressure on US President-elect Joe Biden, who takes office next week and has pledged to bring the US back to the deal if Iran first resumes full conformity. Iran wants Washington to lift the sanctions first.

“[IAEA] Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi today briefed IAEA member states on recent developments regarding Iran’s plans to conduct R&D activities on uranium metal production as part of its stated goal of designing an improved type of fuel for the Tehran research reactor, ”the IAEA said in a statement. .

The agency issues ad hoc reports to member states when Iran commits a new violation of the agreement, though it refuses to label them as violations, leaving that call to parties to the 2015 agreement.

The agreement specifically imposes a 15-year ban on Iran from producing or acquiring uranium metal, a sensitive material that can be used in the core of a nuclear bomb.

The IAEA’s confidential report to member states, obtained by the Reuters news agency, said Iran has indicated that it plans to produce uranium metal from natural uranium and then produce uranium metal enriched up to 20% as fuel for the Tehran research reactor.

The deal also says this can only happen in small batches and in consultation with the parties to the deal after 10 years.

Separately, Iran also plans to enrich uranium to 20 percent, a level it last reached before the 2015 deal, at its Fordow site buried in a mountain, and it has started this process last week.

So far it has only gone up to 4.5%, above the 3.67% limit imposed by the agreement, but still far from the 90% which is military grade.

U.S. intelligence agencies and the IAEA believe Iran had a secret and coordinated nuclear weapons program that it cut short in 2003. Iran denies ever seeking nuclear weapons and claims its targets with the nuclear energy are completely peaceful.

Iran, however, told the agency on Wednesday that “there is no limitation [its] R&D activities “and” modification and installation of the appropriate equipment for the mentioned R&D activities have already started “at its fuel plate manufacturing plant in Isfahan, the IAEA report said.

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