Iran has made 'substantial change' at nuclear site, says UN

IAEA says Iran failed to notify watchdog of modifications at Fordow enrichment plant

(FILES) A file handout picture released by Iran's Atomic Energy Organization on November 6, 2019, shows the interior of the Fordow (Fordo) Uranium Conversion Facility in Qom, in the north of the country. Iran has started the process to enrich uranium to 20 percent purity at its Fordow (Fordo) facility, state media reported, going well beyond the threshold set by the 2015 nuclear deal. - === RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO / HO / ATOMIC ENERGY ORGANIZATION OF IRAN" - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS ===
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The UN's nuclear watchdog has expressed concern over Iran's continuing breaches of a 2015 agreement with world powers, accusing Tehran of significantly changing designs at a key nuclear plant.

Details of a visit by an International Atomic Energy Agency delegation to Iran were revealed in an unreleased report seen by Reuters on Wednesday.

Rafael Grossi, the IAEA chief, “is concerned that Iran has implemented a substantial change in the design information” at the Fordow nuclear plant without informing the agency in advance, the report said.

Two IR-6 uranium enrichment cascades were interconnected in a manner “substantially different” from what Iranian officials had declared to the IAEA, it added.

Tehranh has refused to yield to IAEA member states calls to explain traces of highly-enriched uranium at undeclared sites. In November, it announced it would increase its stockpile of uranium and install several advanced centrifuges, including the IR-6, at Fordow and Natanz.

Weeks later, Iranian officials said an IAEA delegation would visit the country, but analysts had little faith it would lead to compliance from Tehran.

Iran only informed the agency of the change at Fordow after the inspection on January 16, the report said.

The IAEA has not held back on criticism of Tehran and said the new measure undermines it ability to put safeguards in place at the site.

Iran has expanded its uranium enrichment since 2018, after former president Donald Trump withdrew the US from the 2015 nuclear deal known as the JCPOA.

The watchdog has assessed that the country now possesses a large stockpile of uranium enriched to 60 per cent — one step away from being able to produce an atom bomb.

While it would still face several hurdles in producing one, the UK has previously warned that Iran is moving quickly to procure nuclear weapons — with its breakout time reduced to “a matter of weeks.”

Nuclear programme 'never more advanced'

Talks to revive the nuclear deal have made no progress, increasing the chances of further attacks on Iranian military and nuclear sites, analysts have told The National.

Israel is suspected of being behind a drone attack on a military plant in Isfahan on Sunday, and has repeatedly warned of Iran's growing nuclear threat.

On Tuesday, Britain's foreign secretary James Cleverly said Iran's nuclear programme has “never been more advanced.”

“The option of engaging more usefully with JCPOA is in the hands of the Iranians — they have spectacularly failed to grasp that opportunity,” he said in the House of Commons.

Tehran is also facing scrutiny over its crackdown against anti-government protesters, who have been killed in their hundreds since rallies began in September.

Instagram and Facebook will remain blocked in the country, President Ebrahim Raisi has said, prolonging measures imposed since the first protests broke out after the death of Mahsa Amini.

He said the platforms “were at the root of the insecurity in the country” and will only be allowed to operate if they have a legal representative in the country.

Iran often restricts internet access during periods of protest.

Other platforms have been blocked, including, Twitter, YouTube, Telegram and TikTok.

Updated: February 02, 2023, 1:42 PM