The IAEA report says discussions are ongoing with Iran about near-weapons-grade enrichment

The UN nuclear watchdog is in discussions with Iran over the origin of uranium particles enriched to 83.7% purity, very close to weapons grade, at the Fordow enrichment facility, a report from the watchdog seen by Reuters confirmed on Tuesday.

Diplomats said last week that the agency had found the traces at the Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant (FFEP), where Iran enriches uranium to up to 60% purity. The weapon rate is around 90%. Although peaks in enrichment levels can occur and this may have been random, this peak is relatively large.

The traces were found in the product of the two interconnected cascades, or clusters, of advanced centrifuges at Fordow that enrich up to 60%. The International Atomic Energy Agency rebuked Iran in an earlier report for making significant changes to these cascades without informing it.

“Regarding the origin of the particles enriched above 60% U-235, identified after the implementation of the new cascade configuration at FFEP, discussions with Iran are still ongoing,” the confidential IAEA report to member states said.

“Iran informed the agency that ‘unintended fluctuations in enrichment levels may have occurred during the transition period at the time of commissioning of (60%) product (November 2022) or during replacement of the feed cylinder,'” it added.

In Washington on Tuesday, a US Defense Department official told a congressional committee that Iran could make enough fissile material for one nuclear bomb in “about 12 days”.

Under Secretary of Defense Colin Kahl made the comment at a House hearing when he was pressed by a Republican lawmaker on why the Biden administration had sought to revive the deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

“Because Iran’s nuclear progress since we left the JCPOA has been remarkable. Back in 2018, when the previous administration decided to leave the JCPOA, it would have taken Iran about 12 months to produce a bomb’s worth of fissile material. Now it would take about 12 days,” Kahl, the third-ranking Defense Department official, told lawmakers.

“So I think there’s still the perception that if you could resolve this issue diplomatically and put limits back on their nuclear program, that’s better than the other options. But right now, the JCPOA is on hold,” Kahl added.

The IAEA report also said Iran’s stockpile of uranium enriched to 60%, which is produced at two sites, had grown by 25.2 kg to 87.5 kg since the previous quarterly report. The total stockpile of uranium enriched to that and lower levels is estimated at 3,760.8 kg, the report says.

According to IAEA terminology, around 42 kg of uranium enriched to 60% purity is a “significant amount”, defined as “the approximate amount of nuclear material from which the possibility of producing a nuclear explosive device cannot be ruled out.”

However, a senior diplomat warned that in practice it would take more than 55kg of uranium enriched to 60% to make one bomb because some material is wasted during enrichment.

Iran denies ever seeking nuclear weapons and says it only wants to master nuclear technology for civilian use.

A second quarterly report on a year-long investigation into traces of uranium found at three undeclared sites in Iran, also due before next week’s meeting of the IAEA’s 35-nation board, will not be issued until later this week, diplomats say. so.

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