Iran Has Begun Enriching Uranium With Advanced Centrifuges at Natanz, Rohani Says

On the backdrop of Vienna talks to revive 2015 nuclear accord, Rohani says that Tehran has started the second stage of producing heavy water needed to produce nuclear weapons at Arak Nuclear Plant

Jack Khoury
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President Hassan Rohani during a government meeting in Tehran, this week.
President Hassan Rohani during a government meeting in Tehran, this week. Credit: AFP
Jack Khoury

Iranian President Hassan Rohani said on Saturday that Iran had begun feeding uranium hexafluoride (UF6) gas feedstock into about 30 uranium-enriching centrifuges installed at its underground nuclear plant at Natanz.

Rohani said that Iran has started the second stage of producing heavy water – a component of making nuclear weapons and nuclear energy that is not radioactive – at Arak Nuclear Plant. This is yet another breach by Iran of the nuclear accord it signed with world powers in 2015.

The deal was abandoned in 2018 by former President Donald Trump, who restored sanctions that have crippled Iran's economy.

Speaking on Iran's annual national nuclear day, Rohani said that, the production capacity of the new advanced IR-5 centrifuges at Natanz is ten times that of the old centrifuges.

Iran's IR-9 centrifuge, when operational, would have the ability to separate uranium isotopes more quickly than the current centrifuges being used, thereby enriching uranium at a faster pace.

Rohani said that Iran's nuclear program is for civil needs and that Teheran "is still obligated to the global nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and will not deviate from its nuclear program and use it for military needs."

Rohani went on to say that one of the most important elements in the 2015 nuclear agreement is the legalization of Iran's nuclear work. "This is one of the Iranian regime's achievements," he said.

A live video link carried on state TV showed Rohani ordering the injection of uranium gas into 164 IR-6 centrifuges, 30 IR-5 centrifuges, and mechanical tests on IR-9 machines with the capacity of 50 early IR-1 machines - a likely new breach of the nuclear deal.

The ceremony unveiled 133 advances over the past year in the country's nuclear industry mostly in the fields of medicine, power, agricultural and energy, state television said.

"Once again, I stress that all our nuclear activities are peaceful and for non-military purposes," Rohani said in televised remarks.

"We continue to be committed to our pledge to NPT to the world not to deviate militarily from our nuclear program," Rohani said.

Since January, Iran has begun enriching uranium at up to 20 percent purity, a technical step away from weapons-grade levels, though Iran's leadership insists the country has no desire to develop a nuclear weapon.

On Friday, the UN atomic watchdog flagged a new breach by Iran of the nuclear deal on the day its representatives met with European mediators in Vienna to revive the agreement, a report by the agency seen by Reuters showed, likely raising tensions with Western powers.

The breach has to do with what counts officially towards Iran's stockpile of enriched uranium, a highly sensitive issue since that stockpile could be enriched further to weapons-grade material suitable for nuclear bombs if Iran chose to do so. It denies seeking such weapons and says its aims are entirely peaceful.

Also on Friday, a senior U.S. official said that the United States has seen some signs of Iranian seriousness of purpose this week during indirect talks in Vienna, but not enough and the main question mark is over Tehran's repeated demand that Washington lift all sanctions imposed.

"If Iran sticks to the position that every sanction that has been imposed since 2017 has to be lifted or there will be no deal, then we are heading towards an impasse," the senior State Department official told reporters in a telephonic briefing.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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