Iran has multiplied the speed at which it enriches uranium but it is still far from the maximum rate possible under its nuclear deal with major powers, meaning it would be months before production ceilings are hit, diplomats who follow it say.
Against a backdrop of rising tensions with the United States, which pulled out of the 2015 deal a year ago and has since imposed ever more punishing economic sanctions against Tehran, Iran has stayed within the deal’s key limits while threatening to discard at least some of them.
Since it withdrew from the deal, Washington has reinstated its sanctions against Tehran and added new ones in a bid to isolate the Islamic Republic – an effort Iran calls “economic terrorism”.
Iran’s response has included accelerating uranium enrichment, which is allowed under the deal but shortens the time in which it will reach the deal’s cap on its stock of enriched uranium.
Inspectors from the U.N. atomic watchdog, which is policing the deal’s nuclear restrictions, told member states last week that Iran has accelerated its uranium enrichment to around 12 kg a month, roughly three times the previous rate, diplomats who attended the quarterly technical briefing said.
The watchdog’s chief Yukiya Amano confirmed the acceleration this week but declined to elaborate.
If it continues producing at that rate, Iran is likely to hit the deal’s 202.8 kg limit on its enriched uranium stock in around two months. Its stock was 174.1 kg on May 20, the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency’s last quarterly report said.
A new mode of operation enabling the acceleration was observed on May 22, the IAEA told member states, according to diplomats who attended.