Iran has produced first batch of Uranium enriched to a purity level of 60% at Shahid Ahmadi Roshan nuclear facility.
Production of 60% enriched uranium is currently 9 grams per hour. The enrichment was completed in two days, Ali Akbar Salehi, head of Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, was quoted as saying by Iranian state media.
The 20% enrichment which was already underway at the facility continues in parallel with the 60% enrichment, he said, adding “the Natanz site is still standing and moving forward vigorously.”
Iran’s ambassador to the IAEA had said that enriching Uranium Hexafluoride (UF6) up to 60% was done in two cascades of IR-4 and IR-6 centrifuges in Natanz, adding, “This will improve significantly both the quality and quantity of radiopharmaceutical products.”
The production of radiopharmaceuticals is possible even with 20% enrichment, but “as the richness increases, our efficiency increases and the amount of Molybdenum also increases, while the production time becomes shorter and the process easier”, Salehi explained. Molybdenum has many civilian uses including in medical imaging. It is also used as a catalyst in the refining of petroleum and an alloying agent in steel.
Iran’s enrichment comes less than week after Natanz facility was attacked. It caused power supply to fail damaging an unspecified number of centrifuges.
President of Iran Hassan Rouhani said Wednesday the decision to boost Uranium enrichment was a response to arch-foe Israel’s “nuclear terrorism” against its Natanz facility. Israel has neither confirmed nor denied involvement but local media, citing intelligence sources, said it was a sabotage operation by the Mossad spy agency.
Olli Heinonen, an ex-deputy director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, stressed jumping from 60% to 90% in a week was theoretical, comparing it to the month or so needed to go from 20% to 60%. Enrichment at 20% is already a relatively short technical step away from weapons-grade levels of 90%.
At 60% purity, Friday’s announcement marked the highest level to which Iran has enriched uranium. In January, it began enriching to 20%, a decade after its decision to begin enriching to that level nearly brought an Israeli strike targeting its nuclear facilities — tensions that only abated with the 2015 nuclear deal. Under that accord, Tehran was prohibited from enriching uranium beyond 3.67%.
The announcement came days after an attack at Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility that Iran has blamed on Israel, which damaged or destroyed thousands of centrifuges. Analysts have said the explosion that hit Natanz’s power supply is believed to have set back Iran’s ability to enrich uranium at large amounts by long months.
State TV referred to the decision to enrich to 60% as a “show of power against terrorist roguery.” Mahmoud Vaezi, the chief of staff for Iran’s president, similarly said it sent the message that Iran’s atomic program ”will not be stopped through the assassination of nuclear scientists and sabotage in nuclear facilities.”
The incident at Natanz and the Iranian decision to ramp up enrichment levels came amid ongoing talks in Vienna that are aimed at finding a way for the United States to reenter the nuclear agreement and have Iran comply again with its limits. The accord, from which former president Donald Trump withdrew the US in 2018, prevented Iran from stockpiling enough high-enriched uranium to be able to pursue a nuclear weapon in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.
The latest round of diplomatic negotiations aimed at ensuring the US’s return to the accord lasted for roughly two hours on Thursday afternoon, with Russia’s ambassador to the UN in Vienna, Mikhail Ulyanov, tweeting afterwards that the “general impression is positive.”
Israeli officials, led by Netanyahu, have adamantly opposed the US returning to the nuclear deal, putting Jerusalem at odds with the new White House administration.
Iran’s supreme leader on Wednesday dismissed initial offers being made at the talks in Vienna, describing them as “not worth looking at.”
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