Iran Claims Production of Enriched Uranium Is Exceeding Expectations

Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif speaks at the Islamic World Forum in Kuala Lumpur on August 29, 2019. (Photo by Mohd RASFAN / AFP) (Photo credit should read MOHD RASFAN/AFP/Getty Images)
MOHD RASFAN/AFP/Getty Images

Iranian state media reported Thursday that production of 20 percent enriched uranium — the last level before leaping to weapons-grade material — has far exceeded expectations.

Iranian officials predicted they would be able to produce 120 kilograms of enriched uranium per year, but the current pace of production is about 70 percent above that goal.

Iranian parliamentary speaker Mohammed Bagher Qalibaf announced the production of more than 17 kilograms of 20 percent enriched uranium in less than one month on state television, praising the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) for its efforts.

Behrooz Kamalvandi, a spokesman for AEOI, confirmed Thursday that Iran has now accumulated approximately 17 kilograms of 20 percent enriched uranium.

“It’s not only the enrichment. We have achieved a lot in the field of radiopharmaceuticals, yellowcake production, and oxygen,” he added, insisting that all of the uranium will be used for peaceful purposes.

Iran’s decision to begin enriching uranium to 20 percent at the beginning of January was seen as the worst of an increasingly severe series of Iranian violations of the nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). 

The 2015 nuclear agreement prohibited Iran from enriching uranium at its secret Fordow nuclear facility for 15 years, but centrifuges at Fordow are currently humming away, upgrading much less dangerous 4.1 percent uranium to the 20 percent level. From there, it is considered a relatively simple process to boost 20 percent enriched uranium to the 90 percent level required by nuclear bombs.

Iran has threatened to continue enriching uranium unless the United States removes all of the sanctions imposed after President Donald Trump withdrew from the JCPOA in 2018. Iran has also threatened to ban inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the U.N. nuclear watchdog, beginning next month.

“Our measures are fully reversible upon FULL compliance by ALL,” as Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif put it on Twitter.

“If they issue an order, Iran too will issue an order, not more. If they return to their commitments, we will also return to our commitments,” Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on the day of U.S. President Joe Biden’s inauguration.

“The window is closing. If the new administration does not meet its obligations and remove sanctions in short order, it will destroy the possibility for engagement within the nuclear agreement,” Iranian ambassador to the United Nations Majid Takht-Ravanchi threatened this week. 

The Biden administration has indicated it will not consider rejoining the JCPOA unless Iran “comes back into full compliance with its obligations,” as Secretary of State Antony Blinken said.

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