IAEA confirms Iran breached enriched uranium stockpile

Introduction :-

Iran has breached the limit on its stockpile of low-enriched uranium set under a 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, IAEA has confirmed. The International Atomic Energy Agency said its inspectors had verified the 300kg (660lb) cap had been exceeded. Iran stepped up production of enriched uranium, used to make reactor fuel but also potentially nuclear bombs.

It said it was responding to sanctions reinstated by the US after President Donald Trump abandoned the deal. The UK and Germany have called on Iran to reverse its decision because it would bring consequences and the deal allows for re-imposition of sanctions that were lifted in return for limiting nuclear activities, while the US said its strategy of "maximum pressure" would continue.

About IAEA :-

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is the world's central intergovernmental forum for scientific and technical co-operation in the nuclear field. It works for the safe, secure and peaceful uses of nuclear science and technology, contributing to international peace and security and the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals. Headquartered in Vienna, Austria.

The U.S. Ratification of the Statute by President Eisenhower, 29 July 1957, marks the official birth of the International Atomic Energy Agency.The IAEA was created in 1957 in response to the deep fears and expectations generated by the discoveries and diverse uses of nuclear technology.

About JCPOA :-

The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) is a detailed, 159-page agreement with five annexes reached by Iran and the P5+1 (China France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) on July 14, 2015.

What has Iran said?

Iranian state media cited Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif as confirming on Monday that the limit on its stockpile of uranium enriched to 3.67% concentration - the level required for civilian nuclear power - had been breached. Our next step will be enriching uranium beyond the 3.67% allowed under the deal," he said. The Europeans have failed to fulfil their promises of protecting Iran's interests under the deal.

But Mr Zarif also stressed that Iran's measures were "reversible" if the Europeans began abiding by their commitments.

What is enriched uranium?

Enriched uranium is produced by feeding uranium hexafluoride gas into centrifuges to separate out the most suitable isotope for nuclear fission, called U-235.

Under the nuclear deal, Iran is only permitted to produce low-enriched uranium, which has a 3-4% concentration of U-235, and can be used to produce fuel for nuclear power plants. The deal also restricted Iran to stockpiling no more than 300kg of the low-enriched uranium.

Weapons-grade uranium is 90% enriched or more. A stockpile of 1,050kg, however, could be further enriched later into enough material to build one bomb, according to the Arms Control Association.

Iran strongly denies any intention to build nuclear weapons.

Why has Iran breached the stockpile limit?

In May, after the US ended exemptions from penalties for countries still importing Iranian oil – and those exchanging surplus Iranian low-enriched uranium for ore concentrate – Iranian President Hassan Rouhani announced that it would no longer comply with the 300kg enriched uranium cap.

Mr Rouhani also gave the five countries still party to the deal - the UK, France, Germany, China and Russia - until 7 July to meet their commitment to shield Iran from the sanctions' effects.

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani says world powers have failed to abide by their commitments
If they failed, he said, Iran might start enriching uranium beyond 3.67% concentration, and also halt the redesign of a heavy-water nuclear reactor at Arak.

Why does this matter?

  1. The nuclear deal is likely to collapse if Iran is found to be in "material breach" as a result of violating the stockpile limit or other restrictions on uranium enrichment.
  2. After 30 days, any of the other parties would be able to "snap back" the UN sanctions lifted under Security Council Resolution 2231, which endorsed the deal. Such a step cannot be vetoed.
  3. Iran's threat to enrich uranium beyond 3.67% is also a major concern from a proliferation standpoint.
  4. Iran insists its nuclear programme is peaceful, but experts say 20% enriched uranium is most of the way to weapons-grade uranium. That is because going from uranium's natural state of 0.7% concentration of U-235 to 20% takes approximately 90% of the total effort required to get to weapons-grade.
  5. The Arak reactor is also a proliferation risk because if it is not redesigned it will produce spent fuel containing plutonium, which could be used for a nuclear bomb.

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