To mark the 40th anniversary of the 1979 Iranian student takeover of the US embassy and the start of the 444 day hostage crisis, the head of Iran’s nuclear program, Ali Akbar Salehi, announced that Tehran is now operating 60 IR-6 centrifuges. Salehi further alluded that Tehran is working on a prototype centrifuge that is 50 times faster than those allowed under the 2015 nuclear deal.
Earlier this year, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported that Iran had installed 33 IR-6 centrifuges. This means Iran is now operating double the number of advanced centrifuges than previously known by the international community.
The 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPoA) places restrictions on Iran’s use of centrifuges, the device that enriches uranium. Under the deal, Iran has been limited to operating 5,060 older-model IR-1 centrifuges, and is prohibited from using more advanced IR-6 centrifuges until 2023, when it is allowed to start to manufacture an agreed number of them without rotors (so they cannot enrich uranium).
In July, however, President Rouhani announced Iran’s plans to develop advanced IR-6 centrifuges, instructing Iran’s atomic energy agency to “abandon all the commitments that were in place regarding research and development” under the JCPoA. This move was described as “deeply concerning” by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
IR-6 centrifuges are capable of producing enriched uranium ten times faster than the IR-1, raising concerns that by starting up these advanced centrifuges, Iran further cuts into the one-year time limits experts believe Tehran would need to have enough material to build a nuclear weapon.
Concerns amongst the international community about Iran’s nuclear ambitions have heightened due to Tehran’s continued steps away from the JCPoA since July 2019, when the IAEA confirmed that the permitted 300kg cap of low enriched uranium (3.67%) had been exceeded. Just days later, Iran announced it had enriched uranium to 4.5% purity and had the ability to raise it to 20%, despite the JCPoA limit. Most recently, last month, the spokesperson for the Iranian parliament’s National Security Committee announced plans to limit access for international inspectors to Iran’s nuclear sites.
The Minister for the Middle East and North Africa, Rt. Hon. Dr Andrew Murrison MP, has condemned Iran’s actions over recent months as a “catalogue of failures by Iran to respect international law, norms and practices”.