Middle East

Iran: Find of almost weapons-grade uranium confirmed

Now it's official: Inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency have found very highly enriched uranium particles in an Iranian nuclear facility. The government in Tehran speaks of an "unintended fluctuation".

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has found particles of very highly enriched uranium in Iran. IAEA boss Rafael Grossi officially confirmed for the first time that the uranium had a purity of 83.7 percent. That’s just under the 90 percent needed for nuclear weapons.

Particles detected at Fordo facility

A corresponding confidential IAEA report, which was distributed to the member states, had been circulating for around a week. The paper is available to the news agencies dpa, AP and AFP. Accordingly, IAEA inspectors discovered the traces in the underground Iranian nuclear facility Fordo.

The particles were found on Jan. 21 in two cascades of centrifuges that were configured very differently than previously stated, inspectors said. Samples showed an accumulation of particles up to 83.7 percent.

Diplomat speaks of a very small amount

The report states that Iranian authorities have told the IAEA that the extremely high level of enrichment is an “unintended fluctuation”. Talks with Tehran to clarify the matter are underway. “Something like this can happen accidentally or on purpose,” said a senior diplomat who closely follows Iran’s nuclear program. However, previous analyzes by the IAEA had shown that only a very small amount of 83.7 percent material had been produced, he said.

On Friday, a spokesman for Iran’s civilian nuclear program rejected enrichment to almost 84 percent and called it a conspiracy against Iran. Any particles found to be enriched to this level are a short term side effect of trying to achieve a finished product of 60 degrees purity.

Tehran emphasizes peaceful use

IAEA chief Grossi had already pointed out in January that Iran already has enough enriched uranium for several nuclear weapons if the material were to be further enriched.

According to the report, the Islamic Republic possesses a total of 3.76 tons of enriched uranium. Almost 435 kilograms are therefore 20 percent uranium, 48 kilograms more than in the previous quarterly report from November. The stock of 60% uranium increased by 25 kilograms and is currently at almost 88 kilograms. Tehran has always emphasized that it is only interested in peaceful nuclear technology.

Negotiations are on hold

In 2015, Iran pledged to limit its nuclear program. At that time, a maximum quantity of 202.8 kilograms of uranium was agreed, the threshold for the degree of purity should be 3.67 percent. In return, Western sanctions were lifted. This pact was intended to prevent the construction of nuclear weapons in the Islamic Republic.

After the United States withdrew from the agreement in 2018 under then-President Donald Trump, Tehran responded by expanding uranium enrichment and restricting IAEA inspections. Negotiations to revive the nuclear deal, in which Germany is also involved, have been on hold for months.

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