An Iranian factory has started to produce rotors for up to 60 centrifuges a day, upping the stakes in a confrontation with the United States over the Islamic Republic’s nuclear programme.
The announcement by the head of Iran’s atomic agency on Wednesday came a month after Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei ordered agencies to prepare to increase uranium enrichment capacity, if the nuclear deal with world powers falls apart after Washington’s withdrawal.
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Under terms of the 2015 agreement, which was also signed by Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany, Iran agreed to curb its nuclear programme in exchange for sanctions relief.
The other signatories have scrambled to save the accord, arguing it offers the best way to stop Iran from developing a nuclear bomb.
Iran has said it will wait to see what the other powers will do, but signalled it is ready to get its enrichment activities back on track. It has regularly said its nuclear programme is just for electricity generation and other peaceful projects.
Ali Akbar Salehi, head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, said the new factory did not in itself break the terms of the agreement.
“Instead of building this factory in the next seven or eight years, we built it during the negotiations but did not start it,” said Salehi, according to state media.
“Of course, the [supreme leader] was completely informed and we gave him the necessary information at the time. And now that he has given the order, this factory has started all of its work.”
The factory would have the capacity to build rotors for as many as 60 IR-6 centrifuges a day, he added.
Last month, Salehi announced Iran began working on infrastructure for building advanced centrifuges at its Natanz facility.
Salehi also told state TV on Wednesday the effort to acquire uranium has resulted in a stockpile of as much as 950 tonnes.
He said Iran imported 400 tonnes since the 2015 landmark nuclear deal, bringing its stockpile to between 900-950 tonnes – up from 500 tonnes.
Salehi said that’s enough for Iran to reach its longtime goal of 190,000 centrifuge machines to enrich uranium.
The nuclear accord limits Iran’s uranium enrichment to 3.67 percent, enough to use in a nuclear power plant but far lower than the 90 percent needed for an atomic weapon.