The Iranian flag. Picture: REUTERS/LEONHARD FOEGER
The Iranian flag. Picture: REUTERS/LEONHARD FOEGER

Tehran — Iran is able to produce 8kg to 9kg of uranium enriched to 20% each month, a top official said on Tuesday, in the first detailed account of a major extension to the country’s nuclear programme that has stoked tensions in the region.

Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of the Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran, told state TV the agency would be able to stockpile the annual target of 120kg set by parliament.

The organisation has enough fuel to run the centrifuges producing the 20% uranium at its Fordow facility for five years, he added.

Iran restarted production of the more highly enriched uranium on Monday as it pushes back against sweeping US economic penalties, alarming western signatories to the 2015 deal that had curbed enrichment activities in return for sanctions relief.

The move provided ammunition for regional foes, led by Israel, that say the Islamic Republic is intent on building nuclear weapons.

Iran has long denied any military dimension to its atomic programme and insists that its activities are for civilian purposes. It has continued to allow stringent UN inspections called for in the nuclear pact, which world powers sought because they were suspicious of Iran’s ambitions.

Even when Iran does gain a stockpile of 20% enriched uranium, it would still be a way from accumulating all the components required for a weapon.

Uranium must be enriched to 90% to build warheads, though lesser levels would be considered significant steps towards that capability. Iran started breaching enrichment levels in July 2019 in response to US President Donald Trump leaving the nuclear deal and reimposing sanctions.

Fordow is an underground nuclear facility that Iran had been turning into a research centre after halting enrichment there under the terms of the 2015 deal.

Bloomberg 

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