Iran has started the process to enrich uranium to 20% purity at the Fordo facility, government spokesman Ali Rabiei said on Monday.“The process for producing 20 percent enriched uranium has started at Shahid Ali-Mohammadi Enrichment Complex (Fordo),” Rabiei told IRNA.
“The process of gas injection to centrifuges started a few hours ago and the first product of uranium hexafluoride (UF6) gas will be available in a few hours,” Rabiei added, according to Reuters.
“The process has started after taking measures such as informing the UN nuclear watchdog.”
Rabiei said President Hassan Rouhani had given the order for the move at the Fordo facility.
Iran informed the International Atomic Energy Agency last week that it planned to take the step.
The IAEA said Monday, “Agency inspectors have been monitoring activities” at Fordo and its director-general Rafael Mariano Grossi planned to issue a report to member-nations of the UN organization, according to AP.
Uranium enrichment to 20% purity is the latest and most important suspension of nuclear commitments by Iran under the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.
Iran started dropping parts of its commitments in 2019 in response to US President Donald Trump’s dramatic withdrawal from the accord in May 2018, with the US imposing tough economic sanctions on Tehran.
Tensions have heightened between Iran and the US in the waning days of the Trump administration.
The 2015 deal saw Iran agree to limit its enrichment in exchange for sanctions relief.
US President-elect Joe Biden has said he is willing to reenter the nuclear deal.
The other signatories to the deal – China, France, Germany, Russia and Britain – have been playing for time, in advance of Biden’s inauguration as US president on January 20.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas has said the change of administration in the US means that there is “a last window” for progress that “shouldn’t be wasted”.
The European Union on Monday said that Iran’s enrichment program would be a “considerable departure” from the deal, AFP reported.
Mikhail Ulyanov, the Russian permanent representative to international organizations in Vienna, said Monday Iran’s enrichment step “remains reversible within possible normalization of the situation around” the nuclear deal.
“There is nothing to overdramatize. The nuclear program remains fully transparent and verifiable. We should focus on means to restore comprehensive implementation of the nuclear deal,” he tweeted.
Iran’s decision comes after Iran’s Parliament approved a bill that calls for the production and storage of “at least 120 kilograms per year of 20% enriched uranium” and to put an end to the IAEA inspections if Iran does not receive the benefits promised under its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.
The law was passed following the assassination in late November of Iranian nuclear physicist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh near Tehran. Iran blamed Israel for the assassination.
Before the bill became law, Rouhani opposed it as “detrimental to the course of diplomatic activities.”
Rabiei said that the government’s stance toward the law is clear, “but the government considers itself bound to carry out the law.”
The parliamentary motion was criticized by the other signatories to the accord who called on Tehran not to “compromise the future”.
According to the latest IAEA report available, published in November, Tehran was previously enriching uranium to levels greater than the limit provided for in the 2015 Vienna agreement (3.67%) but not exceeding the 4.5% threshold, and still complied with the agency’s strict inspection regime.