Iran Says to Break Uranium Stockpile Limit Under 2015 Nuclear Deal Within Days

Tehran already quadrupled its production of low-enriched uranium and will increase enrichment levels 'based on the country's needs,' nuclear agency spokesman says

Bushehr nuclear power plant in southern Iran, October 26, 2010.
Majid Asgaripour/Mehr News/AFP

A spokesman for Iran's atomic agency said Monday the country will break the uranium stockpile limit set by Tehran's nuclear deal with world powers in the next 10 days.

Speaking to local journalists at Iran's Arak heavy water facility in a news conference broadcasted live on Iranian state television, Behrouz Kamalvandi also said Tehran will increase uranium enrichment levels "based on the country's needs."

Kamalvandi acknowledged that the country has already quadrupled its production of low-enriched uranium "and even increased it more recently, so that in 10 days it will bypass the 300 kg limit. There is still time ... if European countries act."

He says that an increase could be to any level, from 3.67 percent which is the current limit set by the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers, arguing that the country "has a need" for uranium enriched up to 20 percent, only a step away from weapon-grade levels of enrichment.

Kamalvandi added that Iran's needs 5 percent enrichment for its nuclear power plant in southern Iranian port of Bushehr and it needs 20-percent enrichment for a Tehran research reactor.

His comments come in the wake of accusations surrounding suspected attacks on oil tankers in the region last week. Washington has blamed on Iran amid heightened tensions between the two powers, a year after President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew America for the nuclear deal.

Shortly later, Iranian President Hassan Rohani warned that there's a limited time to save the country's nuclear deal with world powers. "The current situation is very critical and France and the other parties to the (deal) still have a very limited opportunity to play their historic role for saving the deal," Rouhani said Monday while meeting the new French ambassador to Tehran, Philippe Thiebaud. 

"There is no doubt that the collapse of the (accord) will not be beneficial for Iran, France, the region and the world," Rohani added.

Meanwhile Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged world powers on Monday to step up sanctions against Iran swiftly should it go through with a plan to exceed an enriched uranium limit set by a 2015 nuclear deal.

"Should Iran deliver on its threats, the international community will have to implement, immediately, the pre-set sanctions mechanism," Israeli media quoted Netanyahu as saying in a speech following Tehran's announcement.

When uranium is mined, it typically has about 140 atoms of this unwanted isotope for every atom of U-235. Refining it to a purity of 3.67 percent, the level now allowed by the nuclear deal, means removing 114 unwanted atoms of U-238 for every atom of U-235.

Boosting its purity to 20 percent means removing 22 more unwanted isotopes per atom of U-235, while going from there to 90-percent purity means removing just four more per atom of U-235, he noted. Ninety percent is considered weapons-grade material.

That means going from 20 to 90 percent is a relatively quicker process, something that worries nuclear nonproliferation experts.

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Last week Iranian President Hassan Rohani said his country will continue scaling back its compliance with its nuclear deal commitments in the absence of "positive signals" from other signatories to the pact.

Iran stopped complying in May with some commitments to the nuclear deal that was agreed with global powers.

Tehran said in May that, unless world powers protect its economy from U.S. sanctions within 60 days, Iran would start enriching uranium at higher level.

Earlier last week, the head of the International Atomic Energy Association said Iran has followed through on its threat to accelerate production of enriched uranium, departing from his usual guarded language to say he was worried about increasing tension.

"Yes, (the) production rate is increasing," Yukiya Amano told reporters, citing the latest measurements collected by IAEA inspectors in Iran, when asked if enriched uranium production had accelerated since the agency's last quarterly report, which found Iran compliant with the nuclear deal as of May 20. He declined to say how much it had increased by.