Iran nuclear: IAEA inspectors find uranium particles enriched to 83.7%

Global nuclear watchdog found uranium particles that were enriched to 83.7% purity at Iran’s underground Fordo facility. This is very close to weapons-grade.

According to a BBC report, the International Atomic Energy Agency said that it is in talks with Iran “to clarify this matter”.

Iran claims that unintended fluctuations in enrichment levels could have occurred.

It has been openly enriching Uranium to 60% purity for the past two years, in violation of the 2015 nuclear agreement with world powers.

In return for lifting crippling economic sanctions, the agreement was intended to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

It has been in danger of collapse since the US-President Donald Trump unilaterally pulled out and reinstated sanctions in 2018. Iran retaliated by increasing violations of the restrictions.

Joe Biden’s administration would like to join the deal if Iran complies, but indirect negotiations at Vienna, where IAEA is located, have been stopped for over a year.

Uranium, a naturally occurring element, can be refined or enriched to have nuclear-related applications. To separate the best isotope of nuclear fission, U-235, centrifuges are used. These machines spin at supersonic speeds.

You can use low-enriched uranium to make fuel for commercial nuclear power stations. It typically contains a concentration of U235 at 3-5%.

Highly enriched uranium is of high purity and can be used in research reactors. Weapons-grade Uranium is 90% or more enriched.

Iran was required to agree to not enrich uranium above 3.67% purity, and to stop enrichment at Fordo Fuel Enrichment Station.

The US reinstated sanctions and the US began enriching to 20%. It then began producing smaller amounts of 60%-enriched material, which was a much higher level than before.

According to the IAEA’s most recent quarterly report to member countries, inspectors discovered the 83.7%-enriched Uranium particles in Fordo samples taken in January.

The Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran’s head played down the significance of this discovery, saying he expects it to be “put into rest” soon.

Mohammad Eslami, a reporter, said Wednesday that the sample was “just one particle that cannot even been seen with a microscope”. He also stressed that the “important thing” is the “volume of product stored” following enrichment according to Irna.

Iran claims its nuclear activities are peaceful. However, experts warn that these breaches could have reduced the time required for Iran to obtain enough weapons-grade Uranium to make one bomb.

Colin Kahl, a top US defense department official, told a Congressional committee hearing Tuesday that the so-called “breakout” time had been shortened to 12 months from “about 12 days”.

Experts believe that “weaponization”, which is the manufacturing of a nuclear warhead to launch a missile, would take an additional one to two more years.