Satellite image shows a nuclear facility in Iran.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Iran is ready to boost uranium enrichment, the spokesman for Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization said on Sunday during a visit to a park in Qazvin.
Behrouz Kamalvandi said that this would include boosting uranium enrichment to 190,000 Separative Work Units (SWU).
The announcement could raise concerns in Europe about Tehran’s goals under the Iran deal and comes amid US sanctions that were put in place last year after it withdrew from the deal.
In July, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, warned that Iran would increase its uranium enrichment. “Some European governments expect the Iranian nation to both put up with sanctions and give up its nuclear activities,” he said.
Iran constructed a new factory to create centrifuge rotors last year, and French Foreign Minister Jean Yves Le Drian warned the Islamic republic about its plan to increase uranium enrichment.
SWU is a measure for work involved in separating isotopes of uranium, the aim of which, according to an article from the Federation of American Scientists’ website, is to increase the concentration of “one or more isotopes... A typical enrichment process consists of a number of centrifuges arranged in the form of a cascade.”
SWUs are expressed in terms of kilograms or metric tons, the article notes. According to the text of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, Iran was supposed to “keep its uranium stockpile under 300 kg. of up to 3.67% enriched uranium.”
Also in July, Ali Akbar Salehi, head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, said that the country had constructed an advanced factory during the course of the Iran deal negotiations and that instead of taking another eight years, the factory would be ready in 10 months, according to Iran’s Fars News
This raised eyebrows last year, but the new announcement goes even further. Iran had asserted in 2014 that it would take eight years to get to the level of 190,000 SWUs. It now claims that it might reach that level this year or next year. Compared to other enrichment programs, such as India’s, the figure is still quite small.
Iran is now expected to unveil new information in March or April claiming to have made “achievements in the mass production of oxygen-18,” according to Iran’s Press TV.
This is a “major leap,” according to Kamalvandi. He argued that the isotopes developed would have medical applications, avoiding the nuclear arms issue. “Only five countries can produce oxygen-18,” he said.
Salehi said that researchers at its Khandab site, the Arak heavy water plant, were able to produce 60 kg. per year of oxygen-18 with 97% purity.
After the Iran deal, Tehran sought to renovate this site according to Iranian accounts. In April 2017, Iran signed an agreement with China to modernize the heavy water reactor.
Overall, the recent Iranian announcements appear aimed at showing that sanctions will not deter them and that they will increase their nuclear capabilities.
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