Iran’s nuclear chief unveiled a new uranium enrichment facility during a live television interview Wednesday night, displaying centrifuges that can produce nuclear fuel at levels far higher than prescribed in the 2015 nuclear deal.
The TV showcase took place at the Natanz uranium enrichment center, where Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran’s nuclear agency, inaugurated a workshop that he said is capable of building 60 new-generation centrifuges a day.
Salehi said in the interview that construction began on the workshop before the nuclear deal went into force and he expects the first centrifuges to be produced within a month.
Wednesday’s unveiling was expected after Iran notified the U.N. nuclear watchdog Tuesday that it would boost its uranium enrichment capacity but remain within the limits of the nuclear agreement. The same day, Salehi hinted at the possible opening of the centrifuge workshop while announcing that Iran was preparing to ramp up uranium enrichment should the nuclear accord fall apart. (RELATED: Iran Says It Will Boost Uranium Enrichment If Europe Can’t Preserve Nuclear Deal)
Under the 2015 nuclear deal negotiated by the Obama administration, Iran, and five world powers, Tehran accepted limits on its nuclear program in exchange for relief from crippling international economic sanctions. Iran was permitted to enrich uranium up to 3.67 percent, a concentration that can be used for power generation but is far below the 90 percent needed to produce a weapon.
The deal also restricted Iran to the use of the older model IR-1 centrifuge, a 1970s Dutch design that Pakistan used to build its nuclear weapons program. Under the agreement, the Natanz facility was allowed to retain 5,060 IR-1 centrifuges, though it was designed to operate as many as 50,000.
The centrifuges featured in Salehi’s showcase were identified as IR-2M, IR-4 and IR-6 models. Western anti-proliferation experts believe they are capable of producing up to five times more enriched uranium in a year than the IR-1 centrifuge.
It was not immediately clear if the centrifuges displayed during Salehi’s presentation were functioning models.
“The IR-2M and the IR-4 have passed the research and development period and we can mass produce them, but due to the (nuclear deal), we don’t do it yet,” Salehi said, according to The Associated Press. The IR-6 has technical problems but could be mass produced after nuclear engineers solve them, he added.
Salehi’s interview comes as Iran and the European Union are trying to preserve the framework of the nuclear deal following the U.S. withdrawal from it in May. The EU has said it will protect its companies from secondary U.S. sanctions against overseas firms that continue to do business in Iran, but many large European firms have already begun to wind down their operations there.
Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned the Europeans in a speech Monday that Tehran would seek to revive its nuclear program if it could not continue to reap the economic benefits of sanctions relief.
“The Europeans expect the Iranian nation to tolerate and grapple with the sanctions, to give up their nuclear activities, which is an absolute requirement for the future of the country, and also to continue with the restrictions that have been imposed on them,” he said, according to The New York Times. “I would tell these governments that this bad dream will not come true.”
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