update deskMiddle East

Iran set to dramatically increase uranium enrichment

According to reports, new equipment was to be installed within four weeks.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei tours an exhibition in Tehran on Iran's nuclear industry, June 11, 2023. Source: X.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei tours an exhibition in Tehran on Iran's nuclear industry, June 11, 2023. Source: X.

An expansion underway at Iran’s Fordow enrichment plant could allow the regime to accumulate several bombs’ worth of nuclear fuel every month, The Washington Post reported Wednesday, citing confidential documents.

According to the report, the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran had informed the International Atomic Energy Agency of its plan to install some 1,400 new centrifuges at the heavily guarded underground facility, which would triple the production of enriched uranium at Fordow alone.

The new equipment was to be installed within four weeks, as similar expansion plans were underway at the main enrichment plant near the central Iranian city of Natanz, according to the report, which cited IAEA documents and European diplomats.

While Tehran has restricted IAEA inspectors’ ability to monitor the country’s nuclear advancement, inspectors witnessed technicians installing advanced IR-6 centrifuges last week, per a confidential memo shared with the U.N. agency’s member states.

Within a month after becoming operational, Fordow’s new equipment could generate 320 pounds of weapons-grade uranium, one expert told the paper. Using conservative estimates, that would be sufficient for five bombs. In two months, the stockpile could climb to nearly 500 pounds.

“Iran would achieve a capability to breakout quickly, in a deeply buried facility, a capability it has never had before,” said David Albright, a nuclear-weapons expert and president of the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security NGO.

After a leaked draft of Iran’s plans was initially reported by Reuters on June 13, U.S. State Department spokesman Matthew Miller charged the Islamic Republic with “expanding its nuclear program in ways that have no credible peaceful purpose” and vowed to “respond accordingly.”

However, a U.S. official told The Washington Post on Wednesday that the Biden administration does not believe that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has “made a decision to resume the weaponization program that we judge Iran suspended or stopped at the end of 2003.

“That said, we remain deeply concerned with Iran’s nuclear activities and will continue to vigilantly monitor them,” stated the official.

Tehran has continued to ramp up enrichment while maintaining that its nuclear program is strictly peaceful. Iran’s stockpile of 60%-enriched uranium has increased by 20.6 kilograms (45.5 pounds) since February, AFP reported on May 27, citing a new IAEA report.

The confidential document, which was also seen by the Associated Press, revealed that Tehran had accumulated 142.1 kilograms (313.2 pounds) of uranium enriched up to 60%. This level of enrichment is just a technical step from 90% enrichment, considered weapons grade.

According to the IAEA definition, it is technically possible to create an atomic bomb with roughly 42 kilograms (92.5 pounds) of uranium enriched to 60% if the material is further enriched to 90%.

Iran has recently threatened a push towards the bomb. On May 9, an adviser to Khamenei warned that Tehran would weaponize its nuclear program if Israel “threatens its existence.”

Also last month, a lawmaker close to the regime suggested that the country might already possess an atomic bomb, saying: “In my opinion, we have achieved nuclear weapons, but we do not announce it.”

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