Iran has started research on uranium metal-based fuel for its research reactor in Tehran, its envoy to the UN atomic watchdog said on Wednesday, in the Islamic Republic's latest breach of a 2015 nuclear deal with six major powers.
"R&D activities related to the design of an improved type of fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor started. Natural uranium will be used to produce uranium metal in the first stage," Kazem Gharibabadi said on Twitter.
He added that Iran had given design information about its research to the International Atomic Energy Agency. The agency had conducted an inspection, he said without elaborating.
The 2015 deal specifically prohibits "conducting R&D on plutonium or uranium metallurgy." It says that if, after the deal has been in place for a decade, Iran does then seek to initiate research on uranium metal-based fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor, it will seek approval from the other parties to the deal.
Uranium metal is a sensitive issue as it can potentially be used in nuclear weapons. The IAEA is investigating its possible use in the past by Iran, well before the nuclear deal was reached. Iran maintains that it has never sought nuclear weapons and never would.
In December, Iran's hardline-dominated parliament passed a law that obliges the government to harden its nuclear stance, including inauguration of the metallic uranium factory in Isfahan within five months.
It also says if U.S. sanctions are not eased by February 21, Tehran will step up uranium enrichment and will end the sweeping inspection powers given to the IAEA by the nuclear deal, limiting inspections to declared nuclear sites only.
- Trump's erratic last days in office put the Middle East on high alert
- Iran holds short-range missile drill amid rising tensions with U.S.
- Israel struck Syria 'with U.S. intel after Pompeo, Mossad head met in D.C.'
In a move that will possibly complicate efforts by U.S. President-elect Joe Biden to re-enter the pact, Iran resumed enriching uranium to 20 percent fissile strength at its underground Fordow nuclear plant earlier this month.
Tehran began violating the 2015 accord in 2019 in a step-by-step response to U.S. President Donald Trump's pull-out in 2018 and his reimposition of U.S. sanctions that had been rescinded under the deal.