Iran nuclear deal: Fordo uranium centrifuges to be injected with gas

Tuesday - 05/11/2019 15:00
AFP / On Monday, the Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran unveiled advanced centrifuges at Natanz
AFP / On Monday, the Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran unveiled advanced centrifuges at Natanz
Iran will begin injecting gas into centrifuges used to enrich uranium at its underground Fordo facility on Wednesday, rolling back another commitment under a 2015 nuclear deal.

President Hassan Rouhani said the step was reversible if world powers party to the accord upheld their commitments.

Enriched uranium can be used to make reactor fuel but also nuclear weapons.

This is the fourth step taken by Iran since July in response to US sanctions reinstated by President Donald Trump.

Under the accord, Iran agreed to limit its sensitive nuclear activities and allow in international inspectors in return for the lifting of crippling economic sanctions.

Mr Trump abandoned it last year because he wanted to force Iran to negotiate a new agreement that would place indefinite curbs on its nuclear programme and also halt its development of ballistic missiles. But Iran has so far refused.

The other parties to the deal - the UK, France, Germany, China and Russia - have tried to keep it alive. But the sanctions have caused Iran's oil exports to collapse and the value of its currency to plummet, and sent its inflation rate soaring.

Iran has insisted its nuclear programme is entirely peaceful.

Before 2015, the country had two enrichment facilities - Natanz and Fordo - where uranium hexafluoride gas was fed into centrifuges to separate out the most fissile isotope, U-235.

The deal saw Iran agree to only produce low-enriched uranium, which has a 3-4% concentration of U-235, and can be used to produce fuel for nuclear power plants. Weapons-grade uranium is 90% enriched or more.

Graphic showing how a uranium enrichment centrifuge works

Iran also agreed to install no more than 5,060 of the oldest and least efficient centrifuges at Natanz until 2026, and not to carry out any enrichment at Fordo until 2031. The 1,044 centrifuges there were supposed to spin without uranium hexafluoride gas being injected.

In a speech broadcast on state television on Tuesday, Iran's president announced: "Starting from tomorrow, we will begin injecting gas at Fordo."

Mr Rouhani did not say whether the step, which will be carried out under the surveillance of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), would lead to the production of enriched uranium.

But Iran's envoy to the IAEA, Kazem Gharibabadi, later informed the agency in a letter that uranium hexafluoride would be the gas injected into the centrifuges.

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