TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran will break the uranium stockpile limit set by Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers in the next 10 days, the spokesman for the country’s atomic agency said Monday, while warning that Iran has needs uranium enriched up to 20%, just a step away from weapons-grade levels.
The announcement indicated Iran’s determination to break from the landmark 2015 accord, which has steadily unraveled since the Trump administration pulled America out of the deal last year and reimposed tough economic sanctions on Iran, sending its economy into free fall.
The spokesman for Iran’s nuclear agency, Behrouz Kamalvandi, made the announcement during a news conference at Iran’s Arak heavy water facility, which was carried live on Iranian state television.
The development comes in the wake of suspected attacks on oil tankers last week in the region, attacks that Washington has blamed on Iran, and also as tensions have spiked between Iran and the United States, a year after President Trump unilaterally withdrew America for the nuclear deal.
Kamalvandi acknowledged that the country already had quadrupled its production of low-enriched uranium and said Tehran would increase uranium enrichment levels “based on the country’s needs.”
That increase could be to any level, up from 3.67%, which is the limit set by the nuclear deal.
Iran’s needs 5% enrichment for its nuclear power plant in southern Iranian port of Bushehr and it needs 20% enrichment for a Tehran research reactor, the spokesman said.
When uranium is mined, it typically has about 140 atoms of this isotope for every atom of U-235. Refining it to a purity of 3.67%, the level allowed by the nuclear deal, means removing 114 unwanted atoms of U-238 for every atom of U-235.
U-238 is more stable than U-235; the instability of U-235 atoms makes it possible to destroy them completely in an atomic explosion: to convert their mass into energy.
Boosting its purity to 20% means removing 22 more unwanted isotopes per atom of U-235, while going from there to 90% purity means removing just four more per atom of U-235, Kamalvandi said. Ninety percent is considered weapons-grade material.
Going from 20% to 90% is a relatively quicker process, something that worries nuclear nonproliferation experts.