The head of Iran’s nuclear programme, Ali Akbar Salehi, said on Sunday that Iran has begun “preliminary activities for designing” modern 20% (enriched uranium) fuel for its 50-year-old research reactor in Tehran.
The announcement presents a new danger to the nuclear deal, and follows Iran’s announcement in June that it will increase its nuclear enrichment capacity within the limits set by the 2015 agreement.
Under the deal, Iran was allowed to enrich its uranium to no more than 3.67%. This low-level enrichment means that the uranium can be used to fuel a civilian reactor but is still far off the 90% needed to produce a weapon.
“We have made such progress in nuclear science and industry that, instead of reverse-engineering and the use of designs by others, we can design by others, we can design new fuels ourselves,” state broadcaster IRIB quoted Ali Akbar Salehi, (Head of the Atomic Agency of Iran). “We are at the verge” of being ready, he said, without elaborating.
Ali Akbar Salehi said that Iran could resume enriching uranium to 20% purity – understood as well above the level suitable for fuelling civilian power plants – if it fails to see the economic benefit of the 2015 deal that curbed its nuclear programme.