Nuclear chief: 30 more advanced centrifuges fired up
Iran announced Monday an over-tenfold rise in enriched uranium production following a series of steps back from commitments under a 2015 multinational nuclear deal initially ditched by the United States.
Iran has also developed two new advanced centrifuges, one of which is undergoing testing, said Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Atomic Energy Organization of Iran.
Enriched uranium production has reached five kilograms per day, Salehi told reporters at the Natanz facility in central Iran in remarks broadcast on national TV.
That compares with the level of 450 grams two months ago when it dropped a number of commitments made under Iran’s landmark 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.
Tehran decided in May to suspend certain obligations under the accord, a year after US President Donald Trump withdrew from the deal and reimposed sanctions on the Islamic Republic.
Iran has so far hit back with three packages of countermeasures and warned it would go even further if the remaining signatories to the deal – Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia – particularly the Europeans, fail to help it circumvent US sanctions.
But so far, European nations have been unable to offer Iran a way to help it sell oil abroad as it faces strict US sanctions.
On July 1, Iran said it had increased its stockpile of enriched uranium to beyond a 300-kilo maximum set by the deal, and a week later, it announced it had exceeded a 3.67-percent cap on the purity of its uranium stocks.
More new centrifuges spin
Salehi also said Iran has doubled the number of advanced centrifuges it operates, calling the decision a direct result of Trump's withdrawal from the agreement.
Salehi pushed a button on a keyboard to start a chain of 30 IR-6 centrifuges at the Natanz nuclear facility, increasing the number of working centrifuges to 60.
"With the grace of God, I start the gas injection," the US-trained scientist said.
The nuclear deal limited Iran to using only 5,060 first-generation IR-1 centrifuges to enrich uranium by rapidly spinning uranium hexafluoride gas.
Iran fired up advanced centrifuges to boost its enriched uranium stockpiles on September 7.
Salehi said Iranian engineers "have successfully built a prototype of IR-9, which is our newest machine, and also a model of a new machine called IR-s ... all these in two months".
The IR-9, he said, works 50-times faster than the IR-1.
Iran has removed all of its nuclear deal-approved IR-1 centrifuges and is only using advanced machines, leading to the sharp increase in enriched uranium production, he added.
"We must thank the enemy for bringing about this opportunity to show the might of the Islamic Republic of Iran, especially in the nuclear industry," Salehi said.
"This is while some say (Iran's) nuclear industry was destroyed!" he said, laughing.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani will announce further steps away from the accord sometime soon, government spokesman Ali Rabiei separately said Monday. An announcement had been expected this week.
Iran has threatened in the past to push enrichment back up to 20%.
Meanwhile, the European Union said on Monday it's still committed to the Iran nuclear deal.
Maja Kocijancic, a spokeswoman for the European Commission, said that the deal "is a matter of our security, not just the region or Europe but globally."
But she said the EU's commitment to the deal "depends on the full compliance by Iran."
AFP and AP contributed to this story.