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Ahead of IAEA visit, Iran says uranium enrichment capacity doubled

An unidentified International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspector disconnects the connections between the twin cascades for 20 percent uranium production at nuclear research centre of Natanz, some 300 kilometres south of Tehran on 20 January, 2014 [KAZEM GHANE/IRNA/AFP via Getty Images]
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspector at nuclear research centre of Natanz, some 300 kilometres south of Tehran on 20 January, 2014 [KAZEM GHANE/IRNA/AFP via Getty Images]

Iran's nuclear agency chief says the country's capacity to enrich uranium has more than doubled "in its entire history", crediting it to a bill passed two years ago, reports Anadolu Agency.

Mohammad Eslami made the remarks in a meeting with lawmakers on Saturday, praising the "strategic action law" passed by the Iranian parliament in December 2020, weeks after the assassination of top Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh.

He said the law, which required the government to ramp up uranium enrichment, proved critical in helping the country reach the unprecedented enrichment capacity.

Under the 2015 nuclear agreement, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Iran was allowed to enrich uranium only up to 3.67%.

The threshold was breached by Tehran after the US walked out of the deal in 2018, raising the enrichment level to 4.5%.

After Fakhrizadeh's assassination on the outskirts of Tehran in November 2020, the Iranian government announced plans to ramp up uranium enrichment from 4.5 to 20 % and also increased the number of advanced centrifuges.

In April 2021, Iran said it was scaling up the uranium enrichment up to 60% purity at Natanz nuclear facility in central Isfahan province. Last month, the agency announced the same measure at the underground Fordow nuclear plant in central Qom province.

READ: UN Nuclear Chief says Iran ties need to get back on track

The developments have sparked concerns in the West amid the UN nuclear watchdog's probe into uranium traces found at "three undeclared nuclear sites", which has emerged as a key sticking point in nuclear talks, with Iran insisting that the probe must be dropped.

Eslami's remarks on Saturday came a day before a delegation of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is slated to visit Tehran to discuss outstanding issues, including the agency's probe.

The visit, previously scheduled last month, was postponed after the UN agency's board of governors passed a resolution asking Iran to cooperate with its probe into uranium traces found at three" undeclared sites".

Meanwhile, the spokesperson for Iran's nuclear agency, Behrouz Kamalvandi, said during Saturday's meeting with lawmakers that the uranium enrichment has "officially reached" 60 percent purity.

While 60% enrichment is still below the 90 percent required for weapons-grade material, it has sparked concerns in the West amid growing tensions over protests in Iran and reports of drone supplies to Russia.

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