The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) says that Iran began enriching uranium at its Natanz nuclear facility with a cascade of advanced IR-4 centrifuges.
IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi told the Agency’s members on Monday that Iran had “begun feeding a newly installed cascade of 174 IR-4 centrifuges” to enrich uranium hexafluoride gas up to 5 percent purity,” the Vienna-based organization said on Wednesday, confirming an earlier report by Reuters.
“On 15 March 2021, the Agency verified that Iran began feeding the cascade of 174 IR-4 centrifuges already installed at FEP (Fuel Enrichment Plant) [near Natanz] with natural UF6,” Grossi said in his report to member states, referring to uranium hexafluoride, the form in which uranium is fed into centrifuges for enrichment.
Iran has also indicated that it now plans to install a second cascade of IR-4 centrifuges at the FEP but installation of that cascade has yet to begin, the report said.
Iran has already increased the number of IR-2m machines, which are far more efficient than the IR-1, installed at the Natanz plant.
“In summary, as of 15 March 2021, Iran was using 5,060 IR-1 centrifuges installed in 30 cascades, 522 IR-2m centrifuges installed in three cascades and 174 IR-4 centrifuges installed in one cascade, to enrich natural UF6 up to 5% U-235 at FEP,” the IAEA report said, referring to the fissile purity of uranium.
The IAEA had reported on March 8 that Iran has started enriching uranium with a third cascade, or cluster, of advanced IR-2m centrifuges at its Natanz nuclear facility.
"On 7 March 2021, the Agency verified ... that: Iran had begun feeding natural UF6 into the third cascade of 174 IR-2m centrifuges," the UN nuclear agency said. "The fourth cascade of 174 IR-2m centrifuges was installed but had yet to be fed with natural UF6; installation of a fifth cascade of IR-2m centrifuges was ongoing; and installation of a sixth cascade of IR-2m centrifuges had yet to begin."
Back in May 2018, former US president Donald Trump pulled Washington out of the multilateral nuclear agreement, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), reached between Iran and major world states in 2015 and adopted the so-called maximum pressure campaign against Iran with the declared aim of forcing Tehran to negotiate a new deal.
Iran remained fully compliant with the JCPOA for an entire year but as the remaining European parties failed to fulfill their end of the bargain, Tehran began in May 2019 to scale back its JCPOA commitments under Articles 26 and 36 of the accord covering Tehran’s legal rights.
In one of its latest steps away from the deal, Iran on January 4 announced the beginning of the process to enrich uranium to 20-percent purity at Fordow to reciprocate the American withdrawal and the European failure.
The spokesman for the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI), Behrouz Kamalvandi, said in January that the country can easily enrich uranium to levels above 20 percent, even to 90 percent purity.
Russia urges US to lift Iran sanctions
Reacting to the report, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov told the Sputnik news agency that “we take it seriously, we are concerned. We have been calling and we keep calling on all the sides to exercise restraint.”
He said Washington should take steps, including the removal of sanctions it has imposed on Tehran, to improve the situation.
“They should eventually make progress in lifting sanctions. A certain impetus is needed. But so far, we only see the expansion of the sanctions list targeting Iran,” the Russian diplomat said.
Therefore, he added, Iran pursues the policy of gradually reducing compliance with its voluntary obligations under the JCPOA and keeps scaling up its nuclear activities.
Ryabkov stressed the importance of complying with the agreements reached between Iran and the IAEA during Grossi’s February visit to Tehran.
“It is important to use this moment to try to compile a certain road map for improving the situation in general. I will tell you once again that a positive impetus by the US would be extremely important,” he added.
Moscow calls on Tehran as well to “exercise restraint and not to follow the logic of escalation,” he concluded.