Iran has begun enriching uranium near weapons-grade levels, according to a report released Wednesday by the UN nuclear watchdog, bringing Tehran closer to becoming a nuclear power.
The International Atomic Energy Agency, or IAEA, said in its report that Iran produced uranium particles enriched to 83.7% purity at its Fordo fuel enrichment plant south of Tehran.
In a separate statement, US allies France, Germany and the United Kingdom issued stern warnings over Iran’s nuclear activities.
“The full range of findings outlined by the director-general’s report is alarming: Iran continues its unprecedented and serious nuclear escalation,” Corinne Kitsel and Götz Schmidt-Brehme, the British and German ambassadors to the nuclear watchdog, respectively, said in the statement.
He cited a report prepared by IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi. NBC News reviewed a copy of the report on Wednesday.
“This is grossly inconsistent with the level of enrichment declared by Iran, and Iran has not yet convinced us that this was due to ‘unexpected fluctuations’,” the joint statement said.
Reuters and other outlets had previously reported the IAEA finding, citing Grossi’s report. The Iranian government did not respond to requests for comment, but Tehran told the agency that the reported high level of enrichment was an “unexpected fluke”.
Iran has said it is not interested in acquiring nuclear weapons.
Laura Holgate, the US ambassador to the IAEA, said in a statement that “no other country in the world uses uranium enriched to 60 percent of what Iran claims today,” and yet Tehran says it has been “misrepresented by others”. is aimed.”
“The reality remains that Iran continues to differentiate itself through its actions,” she said. “Iran must cease its nuclear provocations and continue taking steps that pose a serious proliferation risk.”
A spokesman for the National Security Council said the White House has reviewed the IAEA report and is in contact with US allies and partners in the region.
According to the World Nuclear Association, a lobbying group for the nuclear industry, weapons-grade uranium is enriched to about 90%. Nuclear reactors that produce energy, which Iran has maintained has an essential interest in enriching uranium, typically require fuel that is only enriched to 3-5%.
Beyond enrichment, Iran had expanded its stockpile of 5%, 20% and 60% enriched uranium “to new heights,” the joint statement said, pointing to findings in the report. The country also installed new centrifuges that would “significantly increase Iran’s enrichment capacity” and continued further work on the production of uranium metal.
Iran seemed to be abiding by the terms of the nuclear deal brokered by the US and its allies until the Trump administration pulled out of the deal. Within the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, Iran committed to enriching uranium to just 3.67% for 15 years, getting rid of its medium-enriched uranium stockpile, reducing its low-enriched uranium to 98%, and reducing its gas agreed to cut. Centrifuge by two thirds to 13 years.
NBC News reported in November that Iran has increased uranium enrichment at its Fordo facility to 60% purity, a major step toward achieving weapons-grade nuclear material. The report was released days after foreign governments accused Tehran of failing to cooperate with a UN probe into its past nuclear actions.
Since President Joe Biden took office in 2021, the administration has tried to revive the nuclear deal, but talks stalled last year.
Foreign Minister Antony Blinken said during a November visit to Qatar, “Iran has chosen to incorporate extraneous issues into its effort to revive the JCPOA for a number of reasons.”
Trump administration officials were optimistic about scrapping the deal. Speaking about the decision in 2018, then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the US would “make sure Iran has no path to a nuclear weapon – not now, not ever.”
According to John Wolfstall, who led nonproliferation policy on then-President Barack Obama’s National Security Council, based on enrichment levels Tehran is now weeks away from having the capability to build a bomb, and it can quickly learn how to build a warhead. To paste is a missile.
He said that America’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal means that Washington and its allies will not be able to know whether Iran produces nuclear weapons.
“I don’t think anyone will tell you now, ‘We are pretty confident that we can determine whether Iran has made the insane move to a nuclear weapon,'” Wolfstall said.
Iran has not yet begun the work necessary to build a nuclear weapon, according to a report released Wednesday by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, but it appears likely to do so if the U.S. Economic sanctions have not been lifted.
“Iran has focused on improving the accuracy, firepower and reliability of its missiles,” the report said.
It said Iran’s work on space launch vehicles shortens the timeline for an intercontinental ballistic missile if it decides to develop one because they both use similar technologies.
Last month, Iran demonstrated on national television its new long-range cruise missile, which can travel more than 1,000 miles. Tehran says its missile program is only for defense and deterrence.