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Iran moves nuclear centrifuges underground, exceeds limit by 12 times

November 12, 2020 at 3:38 pm

Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant in Iran on 10 November 2019 [Fatemeh Bahrami/Anadolu Agency]

Iran has moved a cascade of advanced centrifuges from a nuclear plant and enrichment site to an underground facility, in what is the country’s latest breach of the nuclear deal agreed upon five years ago, the International Atomic Energy Agency has said.

In a report released yesterday by the IAEA, Iran was seen moving the centrifuges from the Natanz nuclear facility in Isfahan on 21 October to an underground site reportedly built to withstand aerial bombardment.

The move came after an explosion at the Natanz plant in July, which Iran suspects Israel of being behind in order to cause sabotage. Following that incident, Iran informed the IAEA that it would be transferring three cascades of its advanced centrifuges from the site to an underground one.

The report detailed that of those cascades, the first which consists of IR-2m machines has been installed but has not yet been filled with the uranium hexafluoride gas that centrifuges are fed with.

According to an unnamed senior diplomat cited by the news agency Reuters, Iran “finished installing one of the three cascades and they have started installing a second cascade,” adding that they were not yet operational during their transferral underground.

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Iran’s move means that its low-enriched uranium stock has increased to 2.4 tonnes, which is 12 times higher than the limit of 202.8 kilogrammes that was agreed upon in the Iran nuclear deal of 2015.

The deal, which the US, UK, France, Germany, China, and Russia were all signatories to, saw Iran agree to heavily limit and reduce its stockpiles of enriched uranium and gas centrifuges in return for the West’s lifting of sanctions off the country. That came under increased pressure in recent years, however, after the US administration of President Donald Trump withdrew from the deal in 2018.

Iran first insisted that it will continue to stick to the terms agreed upon, but then decided last year to increase its enriched uranium and to develop centrifuges in retaliation to the fallout of the deal. Despite Iran’s renewed breaching of the deal’s terms, the IAEA assured last month that the Islamic Republic does not possess enough enriched uranium to build a nuclear bomb.

Earlier this month, however, Iran threatened a further increase in its nuclear ambitions, with its parliament approving a bill to increase the enrichment of uranium on a monthly basis. This week, the Iranian Foreign Ministry also announced that there would be no renegotiation of the terms of the deal, saying that it was too late and that the US had already betrayed it.

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