The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), in a report, said Iran has started manufacturing equipment it will use to produce uranium metal which can be used to construct the core of a nuclear weapon.
Iranian media says its ambassador and permanent representative to IAEA Kazem Gharibabadi tweeted that “R&D activities related to the design of an improved type of fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor started. Natural uranium will be used to produce uranium metal in the first stage.”
He said that the activity is going to be carried out in three phases, in the first stage of which metal uranium will be produced using natural uranium.
Iran has never produced uranium metal before.
The IAEA said Tehran had given no timeline for when it would do so. Still, the development brings Iran closer to crossing the line between nuclear operations with a potential civilian use, such as enriching nuclear fuel for power-generating reactors, and nuclear-weapons work, something Tehran has long denied ever carrying out.
The IAEA report to member states said Iran had indicated it plans to produce uranium metal from natural uranium and then produce uranium metal enriched up to 20% for fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor.
Iran started enriching uranium to 20%, a level it last reached before the 2015 deal, at its Fordow site buried in a mountain, on Jan 4. It had so far only gone as far as 4.5%, above the 3.67% limit imposed by the deal but still far short of the 90% that is weapons grade.
Iran denies the US accusations saying it doesn’t seek nuclear weapons and says it’s aims with nuclear energy are entirely peaceful.
The step is considered the latest breach of the 2015 nuclear agreement with six global powers as Iran presses for a lifting of US sanctions reimposed by Donald Trump in 2018.
The agreement specifically imposes a 15-year ban on Iran producing or acquiring uranium metal, a sensitive material that can be used in the core of a nuclear bomb.