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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 9 March 2021

Iran announces new centrifuges to speed up banned nuclear programme

Tehran is testing Joe Biden's administration by shortening the 'breakout time' to achieving nuclear weapon capability

This handout satellite image provided by Maxar Technologies on January 8, 2020 shows an overview of Iran's Natanz nuclear facility, south of the capital Tehran.  AFP
This handout satellite image provided by Maxar Technologies on January 8, 2020 shows an overview of Iran's Natanz nuclear facility, south of the capital Tehran.  AFP

Iran now has two cascades of advanced centrifuges with almost four times the enrichment capacity of earlier ones running at its Natanz nuclear site, its envoy to the UN's atomic watchdog said on Tuesday.

"Thanks to our diligent nuclear scientists, two cascades of 348 IR2m centrifuges with almost four times the capacity of IR1 are now running ... successfully in Natanz," Kazem Gharibabadi said on Twitter. "Installation of two cascades of IR6 centrifuges has also been started in Fordow. There's more to come soon."

The announcement, likely intended to accelerate talks on a potential nuclear deal, could backfire on Tehran if Washington perceives the move as tantamount to blackmail, something the former administration of Donald Trump said was one of the goals of the Iranian regime.

The move to accelerate uranium enrichment has been some time in the making.

In 2019, the IAEA said Iran had begun enrichment with advanced centrifuges at an above-ground pilot plant at Natanz. A part of that site was destroyed in July, an act of sabotage that analysts and the Iranian government was conducted by Israel.

By the time of the sabotage, Iran had already started moving three cascades, or clusters, of advanced centrifuges to the underground plant. In November, the IAEA said Iran had fed uranium hexafluoride gas feedstock into the first of those underground cascades.

Iran’s Parliament also passed legislation in November mandating the accelerated enrichment of uranium to 20 per cent purity. A larger stockpile of this uranium would be required for Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon, by converting it into "weapons grade" purity. This development subsequently triggered warnings from Israel.

On January 27, Israeli General Aviv Kohavi warned that because of Iran's accelerated enrichment plans, Israel was prepared to take military action to stop further nuclear development.

"In light of this fundamental analysis, I have instructed the Israeli [military] to prepare a number of operational plans, in addition to those already in place," he said, in a speech at the Tel Aviv University Institute for National Security Studies.

Updated: February 2, 2021 06:34 PM

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