Uranium particles enriched up to 83.7% found in Iran: UN shocking report

VIENNA (AP) – Inspectors from the UN nuclear watchdog found uranium particles enriched to 83.7% at Iran’s underground Fordo nuclear site, a report seen Tuesday by The Associated Press said.

A confidential quarterly report by the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency distributed to member states could further escalate tensions between Iran and the West over its nuclear program. This is even as Tehran is already facing internal turmoil after months of protests and Western anger over sending drones carrying bombs to Russia to wage war on Ukraine.

The IAEA report speaks only of “particles”, suggesting Iran is building up a stockpile of uranium no more than 60% enriched – the level at which it has been enriching for some time.

The IAEA report describes inspectors discovering on January 21 that two cascades of IR-6 centrifuges at Iran’s Fordo facility were configured in a “significantly different” way than previously announced. The report said that the IAEA took samples the next day, which showed particles up to 83.7% purity.

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“Iran informed the agency that ‘unexpected fluctuations’ in the level of enrichment could occur during the transition period,” the IAEA report said. “Discussions are ongoing between the agency and Iran to clarify the matter.”

The IAEA report also said that “the frequency and intensity of agency verification activities will further increase” at Fordow following the discovery.

Iran’s mission to the United Nations told the AP that Massimo Aparo, a top IAEA official, visited the Islamic republic last week and investigated the alleged enrichment rate.

“Based on Iran’s assessment, the alleged enrichment percentage has been resolved between Iran and the IAEA,” the mission said. “As the IAEA report was prepared before his visit, the results of his visit are not in it and it is expected that the Director General of the IAEA will mention this in his oral report to the Board of Governors in March”.

Behrouz Kamalvandi, a spokesman for Iran’s civilian nuclear program, also sought last week to portray the detection of uranium particles enriched to that level as a momentary side effect of trying to reach a finished product of 60% purity. However, experts say such a large difference in purity, even at the atomic level, would look suspicious to inspectors.

Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal limited Tehran’s uranium stockpile to 300 kg (661 lb) and enrichment to 3.67% – enough to fuel a nuclear power plant. The unilateral US withdrawal from the accord in 2018 triggered a series of attacks and escalation by Tehran over its programme.

Iran is producing uranium enriched to 60% purity – a level for which non-proliferation experts already say Tehran has no civilian use. The IAEA report put Iran’s uranium stockpile as of February 12 at about 3,760 kg (8,289 lb) – an increase of 87.1 kg (192 lb) since its last quarterly report in November. Of that, 87.5 kg (192 lb) is enriched to 60% purity.

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