Iran ‘to break uranium stockpile limit in ten days’ amid tensions

Iran will break the uranium stockpile limit set by Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers in the next ten days, the spokesman for the country’s atomic agency said.
Behrouz Kamalvandi speaks to the media, in Tehran, Iran. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)Behrouz Kamalvandi speaks to the media, in Tehran, Iran. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)
Behrouz Kamalvandi speaks to the media, in Tehran, Iran. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Behrouz Kamalvandi also warned that Iran could enrich uranium up to 20 per cent - just a step away from weapons-grade levels.

The announcement, timed for a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels, puts more pressure on Europe to come up with new terms for Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal.

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The deal has steadily unravelled since the Trump administration pulled America out of the accord last year and reimposed tough economic sanctions on Iran, deeply cutting into its sale of crude oil abroad and sending its economy into freefall.

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Europe so far has been unable to offer Iran a way around the US sanctions.

The development comes in the wake of apparent attacks on oil tankers last week in the Middle East, assaults that Washington has blamed on Iran.

While Iran has denied being involved, it has used mines in the past against commercial traffic around the crucial Strait of Hormuz, through which a fifth of the world’s crude oil passes.

“If this condition continues, there will be no deal” anymore, Mr Kamalvandi said.

President Hassan Rouhani, greeting France’s new ambassador to Tehran, similarly warned that time was running out for the deal.

“The current situation is very critical and France and the other parties to the (deal) still have a very limited opportunity to play their historic role for saving the deal,” Mr Rouhani said, according to his website.

Under terms of the nuclear deal, Iran can keep a stockpile of no more than 300kg (660lbs) of low-enriched uranium.

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Mr Kamalvandi said that given Iran’s recent decision to quadruple its production of low-enriched uranium, it would pass the 300kg limit on 27 June.

The United Nations nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, said last month that Iran still remained within its stockpile limits.

The Vienna-based agency declined to comment on Iran’s announcement.

Mr Kamalvandi said Iran needs 5 per cent enrichment for its nuclear power plant in the southern Iranian port of Bushehr and it also needs 20 per cent enrichment for a Tehran research reactor.

The nuclear deal had limited Iran to enriching uranium only to 3.67 per cent, which is enough for power plants and peaceful purposes.

But after America’s pullout and escalated sanctions, Tehran set a 7 July deadline for Europe to come up with better terms for the deal, or it would take additional steps away from the accord, probably seeing it boost enrichment further.

Mr Kamalvandi enforced that stance, saying that Tehran will increase uranium enrichment levels “based on the country’s needs”.

Enriching a supply of uranium means boosting its concentration of the type of uranium that can power a nuclear reaction.

That type, or isotope, is called U-235.

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Enrichment basically means stripping away atoms of another isotope, called U-238.

When uranium is mined, it typically has about 140 atoms of this unwanted isotope for every atom of U-235.

Refining it to a purity of 3.67 per cent, the level now allowed by the nuclear deal, means removing 114 unwanted atoms of U-238 for every atom of U-235.

Boosting its purity to 20 per cent means removing 22 
more unwanted isotopes per atom of U-235, while going from there to 90 per cent purity means removing just four more per atom of U-235, he noted.

Ninety per cent is considered weapons-grade material.

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