Nuclear Program Tensions Surge as Iran Starts Advanced Centrifuges

Nuclear Program Tensions Surge as Iran Starts Advanced Centrifuges

After coming under fire for its nuclear program, Iran has begun operating additional cascades of sophisticated centrifuges and intends to add more in the upcoming weeks, the UN’s atomic watchdog reported on Friday. The actions were dubbed “nuclear escalations” by the US.

Iran’s nuclear program, which currently enriches uranium to levels close to those of weapons-grade and has enough stockpile to produce several nuclear bombs if it so chooses, is further advanced by the spinning up of more centrifuges.

But the IAEA’s statement contained no indication that Iran intended to increase its enrichment levels in the midst of broader tensions between Tehran and the West as the Israel-Hamas conflict rages in the Gaza Strip.

Iran has started feeding uranium into three cascades of sophisticated IR-4 and IR-6 centrifuges at its enrichment facility in Natanz, according to the IAEA, which said that its inspectors confirmed this on Monday. To enrich uranium more quickly, a series of centrifuges called cascades spins together uranium gas.

Iran has been enriching uranium in those cascades to a purity of up to 2% thus far. Iran currently enriches uranium to a maximum of 60%, which is just a small technical step below 90% levels needed for weapons.

Additionally, Iran intends to build eight cascades of IR-6 centrifuges at its nuclear complex in Fordo and eight cascades of IR-2m centrifuges at Natanz. These centrifuge classes all enrich uranium more quickly than Iran’s standard IR-1 centrifuges, which continue to be the mainstay of the nation’s nuclear program.

Tehran did not accept the verdict right away. But it comes after Iran threatened to respond after the IAEA Board of Governors voted earlier this month to reprimand the country for not collaborating fully with the organization.

Matthew Miller, a spokesperson for the State Department, criticized the choice right away.

“Iran aims to continue expanding its nuclear program in ways that have no credible peaceful purpose,” Miller stated. “These planned actions further undermine Iran’s claims to the contrary. If Iran implements these plans, we will respond accordingly.”

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Miller did not go into detail about possible actions that the US and its allies could take. But Washington and other countries have already imposed harsh economic sanctions on Iran, which have severely damaged its economy and caused the value of the rial to plummet in recent years.

Following the United States’ unilateral withdrawal from the agreement in 2018, Iran has pursued nuclear enrichment at levels just below that of weapons-grade technology, which led to the collapse of its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.

Iran has not yet started a weapons program, according to assessments from U.S. intelligence agencies and others.

Iran has promised to permit the IAEA to visit its nuclear sites in order to verify that its program is benign as a signatory to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.

Aside from that, Tehran committed to further IAEA monitoring as part of the 2015 nuclear agreement. But for years it has restricted access to the sites for inspectors and failed to provide comprehensive answers to queries on other locations where radioactive material has already been discovered.

Rafael Mariano Grossi, the director-general of the IAEA, visited Iran in May with the goal of increasing inspections, but Iran’s position hasn’t changed significantly in the eyes of the public.

All of this is happening while the Islamic Republic seems to be attempting to lessen the threat that the United States poses to it following the launch of an unprecedented strike on Israel.

The attack, which was a retaliation for a rumored Israeli strike that killed two Guard generals and others in Damascus, Syria, on April 1, has brought an ongoing covert conflict between Israel and Iran into the open.


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