Iran steps up uranium enrichment: watchdog
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Iran steps up uranium enrichment: watchdog

Iran plans to install two new cascades of advanced centrifuges that will rapidly enrich uranium, the UN nuclear watchdog says, the latest escalation in the deadlock over the country’s nuclear program.

Iran steps up uranium enrichment: watchdogUN atomic watchdog: Iran increases uranium stockpile further | AP News

The decision to add the two IR-6 centrifuge cascades to Natanz’s underground nuclear facility comes as countries voted to condemn Iran at an International Atomic Energy Agency meeting in Vienna Wednesday evening.

The reprimand is what the watchdog calls Iran’s failure to provide “credible information” about man-made nuclear material found at three undeclared sites in the country.

But even before the vote, Iran shut down two devices the IAEA uses to monitor fortification at Natanz. Iranian officials also threatened to take more steps amid a years-long crisis that threatens to spread to further attacks.

The IAEA said on Thursday that its director general Rafael Mariano Grossi told members Iran had informed the agency that it planned to install two new cascades of the IR-6 in Natanz. A flood is a series of centrifuges hooked together to quickly spin uranium gas to enrich it.

An IR-6 centrifuge spins uranium 10 times faster than the first-generation centrifuges Iran was once limited to under its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers. Iran had already run a cascade of IR-6s at its underground facility in Fordo in February, according to the IAEA.

In Natanz, about 200km south of the capital Tehran, Iran, had previously planned to install one cascade of IR-6s. The IAEA said it was “verifying” the ongoing installation of that cascade Monday, with the newly promised two new waterfalls yet to begin.

Iran and the world powers agreed on a nuclear deal in 2015, with Tehran drastically curtailing uranium enrichment in return for lifting economic sanctions. In 2018, then-President Donald Trump withdrew America from the accord unilaterally, escalating tensions in the Middle East and sparking a series of attacks and incidents.

Talks in Vienna over the tattered nuclear deal with Iran have stalled since April. Since the deal’s collapse, Iran has advanced centrifuges and has a rapidly growing stockpile of enriched uranium.

Non-proliferation experts warn that Iran has enriched enough to 60 percent purity — a short technical step from 90 percent weapon quality levels — to make one nuclear weapon if it decides to do so.

Iran insists its program is for peaceful purposes, although UN experts and Western intelligence agencies say Iran had an organized military nuclear program until 2003.

Building an atomic bomb would still take Iran more time if it pursued a weapon, analysts say, though they warn Tehran’s advances to make the program more dangerous. Israel has threatened in the past that it would launch a preemptive strike to stop Iran — and is already suspected of a string of recent assassinations of Iranian officials.

Iran has been holding images from IAEA surveillance cameras since February 2021 as a pressure tactic to restore the nuclear deal.

The censure resolution at the IAEA meeting in Vienna, sponsored by Germany, France, the UK, and the US, was passed with the support of 30 of the 35 governors. Russia and China voted against it, Russian ambassador Mikhail Ulyanov wrote on Twitter. India, Libya, and Pakistan abstained.

Following the vote, a joint statement by France, Germany, the UK, and the US said the censorship “sends an unequivocal signal to Iran that it must honor its security obligations and provide technically credible clarifications on outstanding security issues.”

Iran’s foreign ministry, meanwhile, criticized the censure as a “political, incorrect, and unconstructive action”.

An Iranian official previously warned IAEA officials that Tehran is now considering taking “other measures” as well.

“We hope they come to their senses and respond cooperatively to Iran’s cooperation,” said Behrouz Kamalvandi, a spokesman for the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran. “It is unacceptable for them to engage in inappropriate behavior while Iran continues to cooperate.”