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November 22, 2022 5:07 pm

UK, France, Germany: ‘No Credible Civilian Justification’ For Iranian 60% Uranium Enrichment

avatar by Andrew Bernard

A number of new generation Iranian centrifuges are seen on display during Iran’s National Nuclear Energy Day in Tehran, Iran April 10, 2021. Iranian Presidency Office/WANA (West Asia News Agency)/Handout

Iranian state media on Tuesday announced that the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran has begun enriching uranium at the underground Fordow enrichment facility to 60% purity for the first time. Iran’s SNN media outlet also said that 60% enrichment would continue at Iran’s Natanz nuclear site and that it was upgrading its centrifuges at both sites to increase production capacity. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on Tuesday confirmed that Iran had begun enriching to 60% at Fordow.

The UK, France, and Germany (the E3) issued a statement condemning the move.

“By increasing its production capabilities at Fordow and Natanz, well beyond Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) limits, and by accelerating its production of enriched uranium, Iran has taken further significant steps in hollowing out the JCPOA,” they said, referring to the limits placed on Iranian enrichment by the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. Under the provisions of the JCPOA, Iran was limited to 3.67% enrichment, with enrichment to be carried out exclusively at Natanz.

“This step, which carries significant proliferation-related risks, has no credible civilian justification,” the E3 said.

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Uranium enriched to 3-5% is the level typically used for civilian nuclear reactors. 60% pure uranium is considered to be “highly enriched”, but remains short of the approximately 90% purity required for weapons grade uranium used in nuclear weapons.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Tuesday that while he could not confirm Iran’s enrichment activities, the US was monitoring the situation closely. “Even as we’ve been engaged in diplomacy to try to see if we can get a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA, we continue to exert pressure on Iran for steps that it’s taken to strengthen its nuclear program in contravention of the JCPOA itself, as well as the steps that it’s taking in other areas that pose significant challenges, concerns to people around the world,” he said.

US officials have previously said that diplomatic efforts to return to the deal have been stalled since August.

Iran’s decision to enrich to 60% at Fordow follows an IAEA board of governors resolution introduced by the US and E3 calling on Iran to meet its legal obligations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty Safeguards Agreement. IAEA Direct General Rafael Grossi at a press conference on 16 November said of Iran’s nuclear program that there is a “mass of activity about which we don’t know anything.”

John Kirby, the US National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications, told reporters Tuesday that “all options” remain available to the President to respond to Iran’s nuclear enrichment and its ballistic missile program.

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