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Iran says it is producing half a kilo of 20% enriched uranium every day

The head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, Ali Akbar Salehi, said Monday that the country was producing almost 500 grams of uranium enriched to 20 percent purity a day, after beginning to do so earlier this month in breach of the 2015 nuclear accord.

Salehi told the Khamenei.ir website, the official site of Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, that nuclear scientists “are producing 20 grams every hour, meaning that practically, we are producing half a kilo every day.”

Salehi said that if other parties to the deal return to it, “we will return to our undertakings too.”

He called for the removal of US sanctions against the Islamic Republic imposed due to its nuclear program and other rogue activities such as its ballistic missile program.

Uranium enriched to 20% is a short technical step away from weapons-grade 90% enrichment.

The foreign ministers of the European signatories to the deal — Germany, France and Britain — warned Saturday that the Iranian activity “has no credible civil justification” and have called on Tehran to adhere to the accord.

The countries pressed Iran to back off its plan to develop uranium metal, calling it “the latest planned violation” of its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers. The goal of the deal is to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear bomb, something Iran insists it does not want to do.

“Iran has no credible civilian use for uranium metal,” they said in a joint statement. “The production of uranium metal has potentially grave military implications.”

On Thursday, the IAEA said Iran had informed it that it had begun installing equipment for the production of uranium metal. It said Tehran maintains its plans to conduct research and development on uranium metal production are part of its “declared aim to design an improved type of fuel.”

Iran reacted to the European statement Sunday by saying it had informed the UN nuclear watchdog nearly two decades ago of its plans for the “peaceful and conventional” production of uranium metal. It also said it provided updated information to the agency two years ago about its plans to produce silicide advanced fuel.

The statement said uranium metal is an “intermediate product” in the manufacture of uranium silicide, a fuel used in nuclear reactors that is safer and has more power capability than uranium oxide-based fuel, which Iran currently produces.

The three European nations signed the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran — which prohibited research and production of uranium metal — alongside the US, Russia and China.

US President Donald Trump in 2018 unilaterally withdrew the US from Iran’s nuclear deal, in which Tehran had agreed to limit its uranium enrichment in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions. After the US then ramped up sanctions, Iran gradually and publicly abandoned the deal’s limits on its nuclear development.

US President-elect Joe Biden, who was vice president when the deal was signed during the Obama administration, has said he hopes to return the US to the deal.

Header: This photo released November 5, 2019, by the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, shows centrifuge machines in the Natanz uranium enrichment facility in central Iran. (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran via AP, File)

Source: AP and TOI