Iran launches nuclear enrichment at underground Fordow plant, IAEA confirms

Iran launches nuclear enrichment at underground Fordow plant, IAEA confirms
VIENNA (Reuters) – Iran has begun enriching uranium at its underground Fordow site in the latest breach of its deal with major powers, the U.N. nuclear watchdog confirmed on Monday, adding that Tehran’s enriched uranium stock has continued to grow.

Iran is contravening the deal’s limits on its nuclear activities step by step in response to Washington’s withdrawal from the accord last year and its renewed sanctions on Tehran. Tehran says it can quickly undo those breaches if Washington lifts its sanctions.

In a quarterly report, the International Atomic Energy Agency policing the deal confirmed Iran’s announcement last week that it had begun enriching uranium at its Fordow site buried inside a mountain, something prohibited by the deal. “Since 9 November…, Iran has been conducting uranium enrichment at the plant,” said the confidential IAEA report, obtained by Reuters.

Iran’s stock of enriched uranium has increased, to 372.3 kg, well above the deal’s 202.8 kg cap. The maximum fissile purity to which Iran has enriched uranium so far, however, remains 4.5 %, above the deal’s 3.67% cap but still well below the 20% Iran has achieved before and the 90% required for atomic bomb fuel.

Iran has continued to enrich with centrifuge machines other than its most basic model, the IR-1, which is not allowed under the deal, the IAEA report added. It has enriched with more advanced centrifuges and even installed small numbers of centrifuges not mentioned in the deal, the report showed.

Iran said last week it was working on a advanced prototype of centrifuge that could enrich 50 times as fast as the IR-1, deemed by experts as antiquated and prone to breakdown.

(Reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

Iran holding IAEA inspector was ‘outrageous provocation’: U.S.

Iran holding IAEA inspector was ‘outrageous provocation’: U.S.
By Francois Murphy

VIENNA (Reuters) – The European Union and United States expressed concern on Thursday at Iran’s holding of an inspector from the U.N. nuclear watchdog last week, with the U.S. envoy to the agency calling it an “outrageous provocation” that must have consequences.

Reuters first reported on Wednesday that Iran had held the inspector and seized her travel documents in what appears to be the first incident of its kind since Iran’s nuclear deal with major powers was struck in 2015.

Iran confirmed that it prevented the inspector from gaining access to its main uranium-enrichment facility at Natanz. Its envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency told reporters that it was because she tested positive for traces of explosives but then no longer did after going to the toilet while waiting for a further search, which prompted further investigation.

“The detention of an IAEA inspector in Iran is an outrageous provocation,” the U.S. ambassador to the IAEA, Jackie Wolcott, said in a statement https://vienna.usmission.gov/iaea-board-of-governors-u-s-statement-on-safeguards-matters-in-iran to an emergency meeting of the IAEA’s 35-nation Board of Governors.

“All Board members need to make clear now and going forward that such actions are completely unacceptable, will not be tolerated, and must have consequences.”

The European Union said it was “deeply concerned” by what happened. Iran’s ambassador to the IAEA said the inspector was repatriated and Tehran had asked that she be removed from the list of designated inspectors. The IAEA declined to comment.

“We understand that the incident was resolved and call upon Iran to ensure that no such incidents occur in the future,” an EU statement said.

Acting IAEA chief Cornel Feruta, who will be succeeded by Argentina’s Rafael Grossi next month, called Thursday’s board meeting to discuss the incident and Iran’s failure to give a convincing explanation for uranium traces found at a site in Tehran.

Feruta told Iran in September that “time is of the essence” in addressing the IAEA’s questions on how it found the traces on samples taken in February at the undeclared site, which Iran has said was a carpet-cleaning facility.

The EU and United States called on Iran to cooperate with the IAEA in explaining the traces of uranium that was processed but not enriched. A U.S. official said there were also signs of “activities consistent with sanitization” by Iran there.

“Time was of the essence in September; now that time is up,” Wolcott, the U.S. envoy, said in her statement.

(Reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by Alex Richardson and Giles Elgood)

Iran says it has breached 2015 nuclear deal’s stockpile limit

FILE PHOTO: Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif sits for an interview with Reuters in New York, New York, U.S. April 24, 2019. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri/File Photo

By Parisa Hafezi and Francois Murphy

DUBAI/VIENNA (Reuters) – Iran has breached the limit of its enriched uranium stockpile set in a 2015 deal with major powers, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Monday, according to the ISNA news agency, defying a warning by European co-signatories to stick to the deal despite U.S. sanctions.

Zarif confirmed that Iran had exceeded the relevant limit of 300 kg of uranium hexafluoride (UF6), but Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said Iran’s steps to decrease its commitments to the nuclear deal were “reversible”.

The International Atomic Energy agency (IAEA) said that its inspectors were verifying whether Iran had accumulated more enriched uranium than allowed.

“Our inspectors are on the ground and they will report to headquarters as soon as the LEU (low-enriched uranium) stockpile has been verified, a spokesman for the U.N. agency said.

Enriching uranium to a low level of 3.6% fissile material is the first step in a process that could eventually allow Iran to amass enough highly-enriched uranium to build a nuclear warhead.

Last Wednesday, the IAEA verified that Iran had roughly 200 kg of low-enriched uranium, just below the deal’s 202.8 kg limit, three diplomats who follow the agency’s work told Reuters. A quantity of 300 kg of UF6 (uranium hexafluoride) corresponds to 202.8 kg of LEU.

After talks on Friday in Vienna, Iran said European countries had offered too little in the way of trade assistance to persuade it to back off from its plan to breach the limit, a riposte to U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision last year to quit the deal and reimpose economic sanctions.

Mousavi urged them on Monday to step up their efforts. “Time is running out for them to save the deal,” state TV quoted him as saying.

The deal between Iran and six world powers lifted most international sanctions against Iran in return for restrictions on its nuclear work aimed at extending the time Iran would need to produce a nuclear bomb, if it chose to, from roughly 2-3 months to a year.

ISRAEL WORRIED

Iran says its nuclear program is solely for peaceful purposes, including generating power. Its regional adversary Israel, which Iran does not recognize, says the program presents it with an existential threat.

Joseph Cohen, head of the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad, urged the international community to stop Iran from “stepping up enrichment”.

“Just imagine what will happen if the material stockpiled by the Iranians becomes fissionable, at military enrichment grade, and then an actual bomb,” he told the Herzliya security conference before Zarif’s announcement.

“The Middle East, and then the entire world, will be a different place. Therefore, the world must not allow this to happen.”

In May, Washington piled pressure on Tehran by ordering all countries to halt imports of Iranian oil, and tensions have been growing in the Gulf ever since.

Washington has dispatched extra forces to the Middle East, and U.S. fighter jets came within minutes of conducting air strikes on Iran last month after Tehran downed an unmanned American drone.

In a speech on Monday broadcast on state TV, Iranian Zarif said: “Iran will never yield to pressure from the United States … If they want to talk to Iran, they should show respect …

“Never threaten an Iranian … Iran has always resisted pressure, and has responded with respect when respected.”

Trump has called for negotiations with Iran with “no preconditions”, but Tehran has ruled out talks until the United States returns to the nuclear pact and drops its sanctions.

(Additional reporting by Babak Dehghanpisheh in Geneva; Francois Murphy in Vienna, Jeffrey Heller in Jerusalem; Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

No indication North Korean nuclear activities stopped

FILE PHOTO: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un provides guidance with Ri Hong Sop (3rd L) and Hong Sung Mu (L) on a nuclear weapons program in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang September 3, 2017. KCNA via REUTERS/File Photo

VIENNA (Reuters) – The U.N. nuclear watchdog said it did not find any indication that North Korea had stopped its nuclear activities, adding to doubts about the country’s willingness to abandon its arsenal.

“The continuation and further development of the DPRK’s nuclear program and related statements by the DPRK are a cause for grave concern,” the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said in a report published late on Monday.

The report, which refers to the country’s official name Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, is to be submitted to the IAEA’s board meeting next month.

U.S. President Donald Trump said in an interview with Reuters on Monday he believed North Korea had taken specific steps toward denuclearization and that he would “most likely” meet again with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Trump held a landmark summit with Kim on June 12, at which the North Korean leader agreed in broad terms to work toward denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.

However, the country has given no indication it is willing to give up its weapons unilaterally as the Trump administration has demanded.

“As the agency remains unable to carry out verification activities in the DPRK, its knowledge of the DPRK’s nuclear program is limited and, as further nuclear activities take place in the country, this knowledge is declining,” the IAEA said.

Between late April and early May there were indications of

the operation of the steam plant that serves a radiochemical laboratory, the report said. However, the duration of the steam plant’s operation was not sufficient to have supported the reprocessing of a complete core from the experimental nuclear power plant reactor.

Dismantling Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program and verifying it would be a large and complex task. The IAEA has said it is best placed to verify a deal.

(Reporting by Kirsti Knolle; Editing by David Holmes)

Iran says it might reconsider cooperation with U.N. nuclear watchdog

Head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization Ali-Akbar Salehi attends the opening of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) General Conference at their headquarters in Vienna, Austria September 18, 2017.

By Bozorgmehr Sharafedin

LONDON (Reuters) – Iran said on Monday it might reconsider its cooperation with the U.N. nuclear watchdog if the United States failed to respect its commitments in the nuclear deal Tehran struck with world powers in 2015.

U.S. President Donald Trump must decide by mid-January whether to continue waiving U.S. sanctions on Iran’s oil exports under the terms of the nuclear pact that eased economic pressure on Tehran in exchange for limits on its nuclear program.

In October, Trump refused to certify that Iran was complying with the deal, also known by its acronym JCPOA, even though the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said it was.

“If the United States does not meet its commitment in the JCPOA, the Islamic Republic of Iran would take decisions that might affect its current cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA),” Iran’s nuclear chief, Ali Akbar Salehi, was quoted as telling IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano in a phone call.

The IAEA is an international organization that seeks to promote the peaceful use of nuclear energy, and is scrutinizing Iran’s compliance with the agreement.

Supporters of the deal insist that strong international monitoring will prevent Iran from developing nuclear bombs. Iran has denied that it is seeking nuclear weapons.

Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi said on Monday that Tehran “would not prejudge the decision that America would take on January 13,” but said it was ready for all possible outcomes and “all options were on the table”.

Deputy foreign minister Abbas Araghchi said world powers should be ready for a possible U.S. withdrawal from the deal.

“The international community might come to this conclusion that the United States will withdraw from the JCPOA in the next few days,” Araghchi was quoted as saying by the state news agency IRNA.

“The international community must be ready for this development,” Araghchi added, warning that such a decision would affect stability in the region.

Trump is weighing whether the pact serves U.S. security interests, while the other world powers that negotiated it – France, Germany, Britain, Russia and China – still strongly support it.

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said in September that the United States should consider staying in the Iran deal unless it were proven that Tehran was not abiding by the agreement or that it was not in the U.S. national interest to do so.

(Reporting by Bozorgmehr Sharafedin; Editing by Robin Pomeroy, William Maclean)

U.S. and Iran argue over inspections at nuclear watchdog meeting

U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry attends the opening of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) General Conference at their headquarters in Vienna, Austria September 18, 2017.

By Shadia Nasralla

VIENNA (Reuters) – The United States and Iran quarreled over how Tehran’s nuclear activities should be policed at a meeting of the U.N. nuclear watchdog on Monday, in a row sparked last month by Washington’s call for wider inspections.

Key U.S. allies are worried by the possibility of Washington pulling out of a 2015 landmark nuclear deal under which Iran agreed to curb its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions against it being lifted.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley last month called for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to inspect a wider range of sites in Iran, including military ones, to verify it is not breaching its nuclear deal with world powers. Her remarks were rejected by a furious Tehran.

“We will not accept a weakly enforced or inadequately monitored deal,” U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry told the IAEA General Conference, an annual meeting of the agency’s member states that began on Monday.

He did not say whether he thought the deal was currently weakly enforced.

“The United States … strongly encourages the IAEA to exercise its full authorities to verify Iran’s adherence to each and every nuclear-related commitment under the JCPOA,” Perry added, referring to the deal by its official name — the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

Perry was speaking shortly after the General Conference formally approved the appointment of Yukiya Amano, a 70-year-old career diplomat from Japan, to a third term as IAEA director general.

U.S. President Donald Trump has called the accord “the worst deal ever negotiated” and has until mid-October to make a decision that could lead to Washington reimposing sanctions on Iran.

Iran’s nuclear chief, Ali Akbar Salehi, told the meeting in Vienna that Washington had made “a host of unjustifiable peculiar demands with regard to the verification of our strictly peaceful nuclear program”.

“We remain confident that the (IAEA) will resist such unacceptable demands and continue to execute the agency’s … role with strict objectivity, fairness and impartiality,” he said. Salehi also criticized what he called “the American administration’s overtly hostile attitude”

The IAEA has the authority to request access to facilities in Iran, including military ones, if there are new and credible indications of banned nuclear activities there, but diplomats say Washington has yet to provide such indications.

Amano often describes his agency’s work as technical rather than political and has declined to comment on Haley’s remarks about inspections. In a speech on Monday, however, he defended the deal as an important step forward.

“The nuclear-related commitments undertaken by Iran under the JCPOA are being implemented,” Amano said. “Iran is now subject to the world’s most robust nuclear verification regime.”

 

(Writing by Francois Murphy; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

 

U.N. nuclear watchdog criticises Iran for overstepping deal limit

An Iranian flag flutters in front of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) headquarters in Vienna, Austria,

VIENNA (Reuters) – Iran must stop repeatedly overstepping a limit on its stock of a sensitive material set by its landmark deal with major powers, the U.N. nuclear watchdog said on Thursday.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which is policing the deal, said in a report last week that Iran had slightly exceeded the 130-tonne soft limit on its stock of heavy water for a second time since the deal was put in place in January.

Officials from the six other countries that signed the deal, including the United States, have expressed frustration over the breach and said the limit should be seen as firm.

Iran’s overstepping of the 130-tonne threshold also raises questions about how U.S. President-elect Donald Trump – who has strongly criticized the deal and said he will “police that contract so tough they (the Iranians) don’t have a chance” – would handle any similar case once he takes office.

“It is important that such situations should be avoided in future in order to maintain international confidence in the implementation of the JCPOA,” IAEA chief Yukiya Amano said in the text of a speech to his agency’s Board of Governors, using the acronym for the deal’s full name, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

Last week’s report said Amano had expressed “concerns” to Iran over its stock of heavy water, a material used as a moderator in reactors like Iran’s unfinished one at Arak, which had its core removed and made unusable under the deal.

The agreement places restrictions on Iran’s atomic activities – monitored by the IAEA – in exchange for the lifting of international sanctions against the Islamic Republic.

Rather than setting a strict limit on heavy water as it does for enriched uranium, the deal estimates Iran’s needs to be 130 tonnes and says any amount beyond its needs “will be made available for export to the international market”.

“Iran has … made preparations to transfer a quantity of heavy water out of the country,” Amano said, without saying when the transfer would take place. “Once it has been transferred, Iran’s stock of heavy water will be below 130 metric tonnes.”

(Reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by Gareth Jones)

Mexican Truck Containing Radioactive Material Stolen

A truck containing dangerous radioactive material was stolen from a gas station near Mexico City on Monday.

Officials with the International Atomic Energy Agency said Mexican officials informed them of the theft in a statement Wednesday.

The truck contained radioactive cobalt-60 from a hospital in Tijuana that was being transported to a waste disposal site. The IAEA said the material was properly shielded for safety when the truck was stolen but that it’s impossible to know if the thieves have breached that shielding.

“Whoever has or finds the equipment is urged not to open or damage it, as in these cases it can cause severe health problems,” the agency said.

Intelligence officials say that in the wrong hands the material could be used to make a “dirty bomb”.

A massive search is underway in six Mexican states and Mexico City. The white Volkswagen truck has been shown on TV and in newspapers with phone numbers for citizens to call if they spot it.