Iran begins injecting gas at Fordow nuclear facility

Iran’s high-stakes centrifuge diplomacy gamble.

Iranian technicians work at a uranium processing site in Isfahan. (photo credit: REUTERS)
Iranian technicians work at a uranium processing site in Isfahan.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Iran began injecting gas into centrifuges at its Fordow enrichment facility. This is part of Iran showing that it will not bend to US “maximum pressure,” despite new sanctions the US has promised, including recently announced sanctions on nine key Iranian officials. Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said that Iran was responding to the US “blackmail” by “doing the opposite.”
This means Iran is seeking to inject uranium gas into centrifuges at the Fordow enrichment facility. It  is the fourth step Iran has taken to walk away from the JCPOA or “Iran deal” that was signed in 2015 but which the US left in 2018. Iran’s oil exports have collapsed to 125,000 barrels per day of exports, which is twenty times less than before  the maximum pressure campaign. Iran wants to export 2.5 million barrels a day. Iran said in September it would continue to  develop centrifuges as it and the US refused to work on a French initiative to come to a new agreement. In July Iran broke the 3.67% enrichment limit that was imposed by the JCPOA and hinted it could head to 20% enrichment. So far it is around 4.5%. It also said it would exceed the stockpile limit of 300 kilograms. Iran is also working on a new group of 30 IR-6 centrifuges, it said in October.
The new injection will affect some of Fordow’s 1,044 centrifuges. Fordow was key to the JCPOA. Ira was supposed to refrain from any uranium enrichment and research and development at Fordow. It was supposed to convert the facility into a nuclear technology center. The 1,044 IR-1 centrifuges there would remain in one wing of the center. Of the six cascades of centrifuges, which are used to perform isotope separation of gases, some were to be placed in an idle state and others and two were supposed to produce stable isotopes. The International Atomic Energy Agency is supposed to supervise the facility. Press TV in Ira said the injection of gas would begin Wednesday. Just before noon it said the process had started. US Democratic Presidential candidates Bernie Sanders ad Elizabeth Warren have both expressed concern. They argue for returning to the Iran deal.
Iran’s gamble with the injection and being totally transparent about what it is doing reveals that Iran is not seeking a clandestine path to a nuclear weapon. It is showing that it has a right to do this because the US has left the Iran deal. The message is that the deal gave Iran a right to do whatever it wants if the US and others do not do what Iran wants. In a sense this is nuclear diplomacy. It comes amid major tensions with Israel and also anti-Iran protests in Iraq. This means that Iran wants to show that when it comes to nuclear diplomacy it can hold the world hostage. The EU and Russia are also concerned about Iran’s latest moves.
As such Iran is saying that the EU and Russia must find a way to do what Iran wants. That means helping it get around US sanctions. The message to the US is that sanctions are not working. However, Iran is saying that it will show off its enrichment as a way to showing off that it is succeeding where the US is failing to stop it. Iran will now begin working with up to 5kg of enriched uranium a day. Iran’s ambassador to the IAEA says Iran could start injecting UF6 uranium hexaflouride) into centrifuges at Fordow. Iran already had 5,000 kg of low enriched uranium in 2012. Iran’s focus on details and numbers is all about pressuring the West and being overly transparent. It  intends to walk its way towards a nuclear weapon with the cameras rolling, not hiding in mountains. This way it thinks it will show that it had a right to weapons and highly enriched uranium in the first place, which was the message of the regime before the Iran. The deal only kept Iran from developing weapons or stockpiling enriched uranium for 15 years.