By Francois Murphy
VIENNA, Feb 10 (Reuters) – Iran has carried out its plan to produce uranium metal, the U.N. atomic watchdog confirmed on Wednesday, despite Western powers having warned Iran that would breach their 2015 nuclear deal as uranium metal can be used to make the core of an atom bomb.
Iran began breaching its nuclear deal with major powers step by step in 2019 in response to U.S. President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the deal the previous year and Washington’s reimposition of sanctions on Tehran.
Iran has in recent months accelerated those breaches of the deal’s restrictions on its atomic activities, potentially complicating efforts to bring the United States back into the deal under President Joe Biden.
A law passed in response to the killing of its top nuclear scientist in November, which Tehran blames on its foe Israel, called for steps including opening a uranium metal plant. Iran told the International Atomic Energy Agency in December it planned to produce uranium metal fuel for a research reactor.
“Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi today informed IAEA Member States about recent developments regarding Iran’s R&D activities on uranium metal production as part of its stated aim to produce fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor,” the IAEA said in a statement.
Wednesday’s report, seen by Reuters, and a previous one said that Iran planned to carry out research on uranium metal using natural uranium before moving on to uranium metal enriched to 20%, the level it is enriching uranium to now, short of the 90% that is weapons grade.
“The Agency on 8 February verified 3.6 gram of uranium metal at Iran’s Fuel Plate Fabrication Plant (FPFP) in Esfahan,” the IAEA statement added.
France, Britain and Germany, all parties to the deal, last month said they were “deeply concerned” and that Iran’s uranium metal production had no civilian credibility but potentially serious military implications.
The 2015 deal’s central aim was to extend the time Iran would need to produce enough fissile material for a nuclear bomb to at least a year from roughly 2-3 months. Iran, however, denies ever pursuing nuclear weapons and says it only wants to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.
U.S. intelligence agencies and the IAEA believe Iran had a secret, coordinated nuclear weapons programme that it halted in 2003.
(Reporting by Francois Murphy Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Howard Goller)