Iran has begun installing advanced centrifuges which would allow it to increase the enrichment levels of its uranium stocks, the International Atomic Energy Agency has announced.
In a statement released Monday, the UN nuclear watchdog confirmed that it had been able to verify on September 7 "that the following centrifuges were either installed or being installed...: 22 IR-4, one IR-5, 30 IR-6 and three IR-6s," with "IR" referring to Iran's centrifuge equipment.
Compared to IR-1, the older generation of Iranian centrifuge equipment, the IR-4 is said to be capable of producing enriched uranium five times as fast, while the IR-6 can produce it ten times as fast.
According to the IAEA, the centrifuges were installed at the Natanz nuclear facility, with "all of the installed centrifuges...prepared for testing with UF6 (uranium hexaflouride), although none of them were being tested with UF6 on 7 and 8 September 2019."
"In addition, in a letter to the [IAEA] dated 8 September, Iran informed the Agency that it would reinstall the piping at two R&D lines to accommodate a cascade of 164 IR-4 centrifuges and a cascade of 164 IR-2m centrifuges," the statement noted.
Later Monday, Cornel Feruta, acting head of the IAEA, called on Iran to respond to the watchdog's questions on the state of the country's nuclear programme, saying that in his recent meetings with Iranian officials, he had "stressed" to them "the need for Iran to respond promptly to Agency questions related to the completeness of Iran's safeguards declarations."
"Time is of the essence," Feruta said.
The IAEA's statement follows remarks by Iranian Atomic Energy Organisation spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi late last week in which he confirmed that Tehran will be using more advanced and rapid centrifuges, and said that Iran has the capacity to enrich uranium to 20 percent - the same level the country had been reaching before signing the JCPOA.
On Thursday, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini that Tehran remained ready to continue talks with the remaining JCPOA signatories, despite proceeding to the third stage of rolling back its obligations under the deal earlier this month.
Under the terms of the JCPOA, Iran is limited to no more than 660 pounds of uranium with a concentration of U-235 of no more than 3.67 percent. Iran formally breached the terms of the deal in July when it began producing uranium at 5 percent enrichment levels. Tehran has warned that it would continue to reduce its commitments until the other signatories fulfil their promises to help the country overcome the tough banking and energy sanctions imposed on Iran by Washington, which was a party to the treaty until its unilateral withdrawal from it in May 2018.
Iran's enrichment levels remain well below those required for a nuclear weapon. For example, the uranium used in the nuclear bomb the United States dropped on Hiroshima during the Second World War had a U-235 enrichment level of about 80 percent. At present, scientists say 'weapons grade' uranium requires a U-235 concentration of 85-90 percent or above.
Despite the reduction of its commitments under the JCPOA, Iran maintains that it has no intention of pursuing nuclear weapons technology. Last month, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said his country "has never wanted nuclear weapons." Earlier this summer, Maj. Gen. Hossein Salami, a senior Islamic Revolutionary Guard commander known for his firebrand rhetoric against Israel and the United States, nevertheless said that Iran would not pursue nuclear weapons, saying such arms "have no place in Islam," and that "Islam never approves of weapons of mass destruction."