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Iran initiates production of uranium metal enriched up to 20%

Iran has initiated the production of uranium metal enriched up to 20% U-235, according to a Reuters report published on 7 July 2021, based on a confidential document submitted by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to its Board of Governors.

The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), commonly known as the Iran nuclear deal, prohibits production of uranium metal until 2025 and research and design (R&D) activities on uranium metal production until 2020. In May 2019, Iran began incremental violations of the JCPOA terms following the United States' withdrawal from the agreement in May 2018.

In response to Iran's latest JCPOA violation, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom (the E3) expressed “grave” concerns. The E3 also argued that Iran had “no credible civilian need for uranium metal R&D and production, which are key steps in the development of a nuclear weapon”. They also warned that by further violating the terms of the JCPOA, Iran is “threatening a successful outcome” at the Vienna talks, despite completion of six rounds of negotiations.

Meanwhile, on 6 July, US Department of State spokesperson Ned Price stated his concerns about Iran's decision to conduct “experiments that have value for nuclear weapons research”. Price also emphasised that such actions would not provide Iran with “any leverage in negotiations”.

Notably, Iran's decision was not unexpected as Tehran has indicated its interest in R&D related to uranium metal production since early 2019. In May 2019, Iran informed the IAEA that it intended to conduct a “feasibility study” on a “new type up to 20% enriched fuel” for the Tehran Research Reactor (TRR). Iran claims that it depends on the TRR for the production of radiopharmaceuticals.

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