Iran injects gas in new centrifuges as atomic deal unravels
Dubai: Iran injected uranium gas into centrifuges at its underground Fordo nuclear complex early Thursday, taking its most-significant step away from its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.
Tehran meanwhile also acknowledged blocking an official from the International Atomic Energy Agency from visiting its nuclear site at Natanz last week, the first known case of a United Nations inspector being blocked amid heightened tensions over its atomic programme.
These latest steps put additional pressure on Europe to offer Iran a way to sell its crude oil abroad despite the US sanctions imposed on the country since President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew America from the nuclear deal over a year ago. The gas injection began after midnight at Fordo, a facility built under a mountain north of the Shiite holy city of Qom, the Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran said. A UN official from the IAEA witnessed the injection, it said. The centrifuges ultimately will begin enriching uranium up to 4.5 per cent, which is just beyond the limits of the nuclear deal, but nowhere near weapons-grade levels of 90 per cent.
Fordo's 1,044 centrifuges previously spun without uranium gas for enrichment under the deal, which saw Iran limit its uranium enrichment in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions. The deal had called for Fordo to become "a nuclear, physics and technology center." Iran acknowledged Fordo's existence in 2009 amid a major pressure campaign by Western powers over Tehran's nuclear program.