Issued by CEMO Center - Paris
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Traces of weapons-grade uranium ‘discovered inside Iran’

Tuesday 21/February/2023 - 07:19 PM
The Reference

Inspectors from the United Nations have found traces of uranium enriched to near-weapons grade at a site connected to Iran’s nuclear programme, prompting renewed concerns about possible conflict in the region.

The discovery of the uranium, purified to 84 per cent, was leaked to American news agencies yesterday evening. Although the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency refused to confirm it, Rafael Grossi, its director, said that he was “in discussions with Iran”.

Iran’s foreign ministry said that any claim it was enriching uranium to 90 per cent purity, the level needed for a nuclear weapon, was “slander”. Enrichment processes can create accidental “spikes” of variable concentrations of the resulting uranium, though 84 per cent would be considerably in excess of 60 per cent, the level which Tehran says it is reaching.

“So far, we have not made any attempt to enrich above 60 per cent,” Behrouz Kamalvandi, the head of the Iranian atomic energy organisation, said in a statement released by state media.

“The presence of particles above 60 per cent enrichment does not mean production with an enrichment above 60 per cent.”

If enrichment does reach near weapons-grade on a regular basis, it will pose a new challenge for the western response to the nuclear programme. Iran claims that it has no intention of building a nuclear weapon, but there is no known use other than military for uranium enriched above 60 per cent.

Britain and the European Union, along with Russia and China, are formally still committed to the 2015 nuclear deal, from which President Trump withdrew the United States. President Biden, with British and EU support, tried to renegotiate the deal on coming to office, but those efforts have been all but abandoned.

Iran has breached the limits of 3.67 per cent purity, set by the deal on enrichment, in retaliation for the sanction re-imposed by Trump.

The deal’s continued formal existence has held off a threat of military action against its programme so far. But with no US return in sight and enrichment continuing to ever higher levels, Israel, which has said it will never allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons, is said to be planning for a possible strike.

The US, Britain and the EU have also continued to place further sanctions on Iran for human rights abuses, especially in response to the wave of protests across the country in recent months.

France was among countries seeking more information from the IAEA. “It goes without saying that if this press information were confirmed, this would constitute a new and extremely worrying element,” Catherine Colonna, the French foreign minister, said.