Iran has enriched 24 tons of uranium, official claims

By ADAM TAYLOR | The Washington Post | Published: July 28, 2019

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Iran has enriched 24 metric tons of uranium since the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, the head of Iran's nuclear agency was reported to have told lawmakers on Sunday. The claim, if confirmed, would suggest that Iran has produced far more enriched uranium than was previously known and that it has exceeded the deal's limit many times over.

Iran's Atomic Energy Organization's Ali Akbar Salehi also said that Iran was moving to restart activity at the heavy water nuclear reactor at the Arak facility, according to multiple accounts.

Salehi made the claims during a meeting with independent members of Iran's parliament about the deal. The remarks were subsequently reported widely in Iran's state-run and semiofficial media, which cited conservative lawmakers present.

It was unclear from the reports over what period the enrichment may have happened.

Iran's uranium enrichment capabilities and its heavy water nuclear reactor were both placed under restrictions by the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, for fear that they could be used by Iran to pursue a nuclear weapons program.

Salehi's remarks came ahead of a meeting between Iran and the other remaining parties to the JCPOA - Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia - in Geneva. The Trump administration pulled the United States of the deal last year and reimposed sanctions upon Iran.

The remaining parties have struggled to keep to the deal. Over the past month, Iran has complained that it is not seeing the economic benefits it was promised from the agreement and threatened to restart prohibited parts of its nuclear program.

Uranium must be enriched to high levels to be useful in nuclear weapons. The JCPOA placed a limit on both the amount of enriched uranium Iran could possess and the level to which enriched uranium could be produced.

Iran said in early July that it exceeded the 300-kilogram limit of enriched uranium, which was subsequently confirmed by the International Atomic Energy Agency. But in Iranian media on Sunday, Salehi was reported to have said it went much further than this.

"After the JCPOA, Iran enriched 24 tons of uranium, not 300-kilograms," Gholamali Jafarzadeh, a member of parliament, quoted Salehi as saying, according to Mehr News.

Twenty-four metric tons is 24,000-kilograms.

The International Atomic Energy Agency did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Experts had deemed Arak's heavy water reactor a risk for proliferation as it could potentially allow Iran to produce weapons-grade plutonium. The nuclear deal required Iran to pour concrete into the pipes of the reactor's calandria, or core, as part of a redesign.

Salehi had said earlier during the week that the redesign of the heavy-water reactor, which was being taken in partnership with China and Britain, was making progress. Britain replaced the United States in the project after the Trump administration pulled out of the nuclear deal.

In his meeting with lawmakers on Sunday, Salehi was reported to have said that the developments were not designed for the production of nuclear weapons. "We do not intend to produce nuclear weapons because of religious reasons," Iranian member of parliament Mehrdad Lahouti quoted Salehi as saying, according to the Iranian Students' News Agency.

During an meeting with cabinet officials this week, Iranian president Hassan Rohani had said that the steps Iran had taken were "reversible" and that it remains open to a new deal.

However, Rouhani suggested that if the powers remaining in the nuclear agreement did not make concessions to Iran in 60 days, Iran would continue to make more substantial breaches.