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IAEA in talks with Iran over near-weapons-grade uranium

The U.N. nuclear watchdog's inspectors last week detected uranium enriched to 84%.

Centrifuges at the Iran nuclear energy exhibition in the Islamic Revolution and Holy Defense Museum in Tehran, 2018. Credit: Maps/Shutterstock.
Centrifuges at the Iran nuclear energy exhibition in the Islamic Revolution and Holy Defense Museum in Tehran, 2018. Credit: Maps/Shutterstock.

The International Atomic Energy Agency said on Monday it was in talks with Iran after the U.N. nuclear watchdog’s inspectors last week detected uranium enriched to 84% purity in the Islamic Republic, just below the 90% level needed for nuclear weapons.

Bloomberg reported on Sunday, citing two senior diplomats, that the IAEA was trying to clarify how Tehran accumulated the material, which is at the highest level of purity found by monitors in the country to date.

“The issue is whether it was a blip in the reconfigured cascades or deliberate. The [IAEA] has asked Iran for an explanation,” Reuters cited a diplomat as saying on Monday.

Iran has been enriching uranium to up to 60% purity since April 2021. Three months ago, it started enriching to 60% at a second site at Fordow.

The spokesman for Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization on Monday described the Bloomberg report as “slanderous.”

“So far, we have not made any attempt to enrich above 60%. The presence of particles above 60% enrichment does not mean production with an enrichment above 60%,” said Behrouz Kamalvandi, according to the IRNA news outlet.

Earlier this month, the IAEA chastised the Islamic Republic for modifying the connection between the two groups of high-tech machines at its Fordow plant.

The modification was discovered during an unannounced inspection on Jan. 21 at the Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant (FFEP), a location built into a mountain where inspectors are beefing up checks after Iran said it would drastically increase enrichment.

In a confidential report to member states obtained by Reuters, the IAEA stated that “they were interconnected in a way that was substantially different from the mode of operation declared by Iran.”

The diplomat cited by Reuters implied that the 84% enriched uranium was found at the same site as the reconfigured cascades, or clusters, of centrifuges.

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