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Iran enriches to 20pc with new centrifuges

TEHRAN, IRAN (AP) – Iran announced on Sunday that it has begun enriching uranium up to 20 per cent using sophisticated centrifuges at its underground Fordo nuclear plant, state TV reported, an escalation that comes amid a standoff with the West over its tattered atomic deal.

That Tehran is enriching uranium up to 20 per cent purity – a technical step from weapons-grade levels of 90 per cent – with a new set of its most advanced centrifuges at a facility deep inside a mountain deals yet another blow to the already slim chances of reviving the accord.

Spokesman for Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization Behrouz Kamalvandi said uranium enriched to 20 per cent was collected for the first time from advanced IR-6 centrifuges on Saturday.

He said Iran had informed the United Nations (UN) nuclear watchdog about the development two weeks ago.

Centrifuges are used to spin enriched uranium into higher levels of purity. Tehran’s 2015 nuclear agreement with world powers had called for Fordo to become a research-and-development facility and restricted centrifuges there to non-nuclear uses.

Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency Rafael Mariano Grossi speaks with Deputy Head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran Behrouz Kamalvandi at Imam Khomeini Airport in Tehran, Iran. PHOTO: AP

Iran had previously told the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that it was preparing to enrich uranium through a new cascade of 166 advanced IR-6 centrifuges at its underground Fordo facility. But it hadn’t revealed the level at which the cascade would be enriching.

The IAEA, the UN’s nuclear watchdog, told The Associated Press that it had verified on Saturday that Iran was using a set-up that allowed it to more swiftly and easily switch between enrichment levels.

In a report to member states, Director General Rafael Grossi described a system of “modified sub-headers”, which he said allowed Iran to inject gas enriched up to five per cent purity into a cascade of 166 IR-6 centrifuges for the purpose of producing uranium enriched up to 20 per cent purity.

Iran did not comment on the latest IAEA finding.

Nuclear talks have been at a standstill for months. The United States special envoy for Iran Robert Malley described the latest round of negotiations in Qatar as “more than a little bit of a wasted occasion”.