According to Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, the agency is currently conducting preliminary testing and experimentation with a new process that would allow the production of 20 percent enriched uranium. Salehi stated that the endeavor has purely civilian goals, adding that the low levels of enrichment could only fuel a civilian reactor that would produce energy. Despite, however, his assertions and the low enrichment levels – to develop a nuclear weapon, 90 percent enriched uranium is required – the restarting of the process indicates Tehran’s willingness to exit from the Nuclear Deal that was achieved with the international community back in 2015.
The United States has already withdrawn from the deal when President Donald Trump called it a sham back in May 2018.
According to Iranian state television, Salehi stated that the “preliminary activities for designing modern 20 percent (enriched uranium) fuel have begun.” He added that the Iranian nuclear agency is on the verge of being ready to begin the process.
The deal that was struck in 2015 stipulated that the Iranian government would have to store its excess centrifuges at an underground enrichment facility, which would be under constant surveillance by United Nations nuclear scientists. Moreover, Iran was allowed to retain a centrifuge that could only enrich uranium up to 3.67 percent. Before the deal, Iran was capable of enriching uranium up to 20 percent, which is the same percentage that the new process will allow.
In a previous statement, the head of Iran’s nuclear research and development had said that in case the 2015 deal was broken, Iran would not go back to the starting ground, but that “we will be standing on a much, much higher position.” Salehi also added, “We have made such progress in nuclear science and industry that, instead of reverse-engineering and the use of designs by others, we can design new fuel ourselves.”
Until now, the Iranian government hasn’t broken its part of the deal. It is still unclear if Salehi’s statements are true or meant to rattle the international community into action against what is widely seen in Europe as America’s unreasonable stance.
Interestingly, the first nuclear research reactor in the Islamic country was a gift from the U.S. government in 1967. Back then, however, Iran was a steadfast American ally under the leadership of the Shah, who was ousted during the Islamic Revolution of 1979, which began the hostilities between the two nations.