Iran announced Monday a more than tenfold increase in enriched uranium production following a series of steps back from commitments under a 2015 nuclear deal abandoned by the United States.
Iran has also developed two new advanced centrifuges, one of which is undergoing testing, said Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran.
Enriched uranium production has reached five kilogrammes per day, Salehi told reporters at the Natanz facility in central Iran in remarks broadcast by state TV.
That compares with the level of 450 grams two months ago when it abandoned a number of commitments made under a landmark 2015 nuclear deal.
Tehran decided in May to suspend certain commitments under the accord, a year after US President Donald Trump withdrew from the deal and reimposed sanctions on the Islamic republic.
Iran has so far hit back with three packages of countermeasures and threatened to go even further if the remaining partners to the deal — Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia — fail to help it circumvent US sanctions.
On July 1, Iran said it had increased its stockpile of enriched uranium to beyond a 300-kilo maximum set by the deal, and a week later, it announced it had exceeded a 3.67-percent cap on the purity of its uranium stocks.
It fired up advanced centrifuges to boost its enriched uranium stockpiles on September 7.
Salehi said Iranian engineers “have successfully built a prototype of IR-9, which is our newest machine, and also a model of a new machine called IR-s … all these in two months”.
Iran has removed all of its nuclear deal-approved IR-1 centrifuges and is only using advanced machines, leading to the sharp increase in enriched uranium production, he added.
“We must thank the enemy for bringing about this opportunity to show the might of the Islamic Republic of Iran, especially in the nuclear industry,” Salehi said.
“This is while some say (Iran’s) nuclear industry was destroyed!” he said, laughing.
Iran announced on May 8 that it no longer considered itself bound to keep to limits of stocks of heavy water and enriched uranium agreed as part of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
The move came a year after US President Donald Trump pulled out of the landmark accord between world powers and Tehran, which says it has lost patience with perceived inaction by the remaining European partners.
Tehran is now pushing those remaining signatories to keep their promise to help Iran work around biting sanctions reimposed by the US in the second half of last year.
The JCPOA permitted Iran to only enrich uranium to the level of 3.67 per cent — sufficient for power generation but far below the more than 90-per cent level required for a nuclear warhead.
Iranian officials have hinted they may go up to five per cent, the level needed to produce fuel for Iran’s only nuclear power station.
Earlier this month the IAEA confirmed that Iran had slightly exceeded the deal’s 300-kilogramme (660-pound) limit on its stockpile of low-enriched uranium.
The IAEA has scheduled a special meeting on Iran’s nuclear programme at its Vienna headquarters for Wednesday.
Iran said Sunday it was set to breach the uranium enrichment cap set by an endangered nuclear deal within hours as it seeks to press signatories into keeping their side of the bargain.
The move — involving purifying beyond the 3.67 percent allowed by the 2015 agreement — comes despite opposition from the European Union and the United States, which has quit the deal.
President Hassan Rouhani’s order to exceed the threshold would be implemented “in a few hours” after the last technical details were sorted, Iran’s Atomic Energy Organisation spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi said live on state television.
Rouhani initially flagged the Islamic republic’s intentions on May 8, exactly a year on from US President Donald Trump unilaterally abandoning the multilateral deal.
He has said the move is in response to a failure by remaining state signatories to keep their promise to help Iran work around biting sanctions reimposed by the US in the second half of last year.
French President Emmanuel Macron told Rouhani of his “strong concern” over the risk of weakening the nuclear agreement and the consequences that would follow during a telephone call Saturday, according to a statement from the Elysee Palace.
However, the two leaders agreed to “explore by July 15 the conditions for a resumption of dialogue between all parties”, the statement said, adding that Macron would consult with Iranian authorities and international partners to bring about the “necessary de-escalation” of the situation over the coming days.
It is not yet clear how far the Islamic Republic will boost enrichment.
But a top advisor to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei hinted on Friday it could reach five percent.
The 2015 deal was reached between Iran and six world powers — Britain, China, France, Germany, the United States and Russia — and saw Tehran agree to drastically scale down its nuclear programme in exchange for sanctions relief.
Washington began reimposing sanctions in August 2018 and has targeted crucial sectors including oil exports and the banking system, fuelling a deep recession.
The 3.67 percent enrichment limit set in the agreement is sufficient for power generation but far below the more than 90 percent level required for a nuclear warhead.
Rouhani has stressed that Iran’s action would be reversed if the other parties provided relief from the US sanctions.
The Iranian president has insisted that his country’s policies are not meant to “hurt (the deal), but to preserve” it.
France has warned Tehran that it would “gain nothing” by leaving the deal and has said “challenging the agreement would only increase tensions” in the Middle East.
Iran says that it is not violating the deal, citing terms of the agreement allowing one side to temporarily abandon some of commitments if it deems the other side is not respecting its part of the accord.
The diplomatic chiefs of Britain, France, Germany and the EU have said they were “extremely concerned”.
Trump, meanwhile, has warned Iran that it is “playing with fire”.
Iran says it exercised “strategic patience” for a year after the US withdrawal, waiting for the other signatories to make good on promised economic benefits.
But on May 8, Tehran announced it would no longer respect two key limits — a 1.3-ton maximum for heavy water reserves and a cap of 300 kilogrammes on its low-enriched uranium stockpile.
The IAEA has in recent days confirmed that Iran has breached the limit of 300 kilogrammes and has scheduled a special meeting on Iran’s nuclear programme for July 10.
Also on May 8, Tehran gave a 60-day ultimatum — a deadline that expires Sunday — to deal partners to help it circumvent US sanctions, on pain of abandoning two more nuclear commitments.
One was the enrichment cap. The other was a freeze on construction of a heavy water reactor.
Rouhani referenced the reactor Wednesday, telling critical powers “according to you, (this) is dangerous and can produce plutonium”.
Europe has sought to salvage the nuclear deal by setting up a payment mechanism known as INSTEX which is meant to help Iran skirt the US sanctions.
But Rouhani has dismissed the mechanism as “hollow” because it has not facilitated purchases of Iranian oil.
French President Emmanuel Macron called on Iran Tuesday to “immediately” reduce its enriched uranium reserves, a day after Tehran announced it had breached limits under a 2015 nuclear deal to retaliate against new US sanctions.
In a statement, Macron said he had “noted with concern” Iran’s overstepping of the limit set in the 2015 deal with world powers and called on Iran “to immediately reverse this overshoot and abstain from any other measure that would undermine its nuclear obligations”.
Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, said Tuesday that the Iranian plan to increase its nuclear enrichment capacity was aimed at producing nuclear weapons to be used against Israel.
“Two days ago, Ayatollah Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, stated his intention to destroy the State of Israel,” Netanyahu said in a video posted on social media.
“Yesterday he explained how he would do it — by unlimited enrichment of uranium to create an arsenal of nuclear bombs.”
“We’re not surprised,” Netanyahu said in the video from Paris, where he was to meet French President Emmanuel Macron.
“We won’t let Iran obtain nuclear weapons.”
Iran on Monday notified the International Atomic Energy Agency of its plan to open a centre for the production of new centrifuges to be used for uranium enrichment, according to the head of the Iranian Atomic Energy Organisation, Ali Akbar Salehi.
Salehi stressed the announcement did not mean they will start assembling the centrifuges, and “does not violate the (2015 nuclear) agreement” between Tehran and world powers.
Under the 2015 agreement, Iran can build parts for the centrifuges as long as it does not put them into operation within the first decade.
On Sunday, Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called Israel a “malignant cancerous tumour” that should be removed.
Netanyahu was visiting European leaders to discuss Iran’s regional involvement and nuclear programme, both seen by the Jewish state as grave threats.
European powers have been scrambling to preserve the 2015 nuclear deal since US President Donald Trump announced Washington’s withdrawal from the treaty last month.
At least 12 people have been killed and more than 36,000 made homeless in Niger due to flooding caused by heavy seasonal rainfall, the government said.
Floods are an annually recurring problem in the West African country during the rainy season when overflowing streams and rivers sweep away homes and destroy crops, leaving victims without shelter and creating food shortages later on.
“Heavy precipitation recorded in six regions caused flooding and serious damage,” the office of Niger’s prime minister, said in a statement late on Friday. “Evaluations by the civil protection services uncovered 12 deaths.”
The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), citing government figures, said that 36,441 people had lost their homes in the floods as of August 21.
“The rains are continuing and the damage could require the deployment of more means in terms of emergency food and non-food assistance and tents,” OCHA said in a statement.
Largely desert Niger, one of Africa’s newest oil producers, a leading producer of uranium, remains one of the world’s least developed countries.
The Nigerian President, Goodluck Jonathan, has reaffirmed Nigeria’s commitment to the global fight against the threat of nuclear terrorism, but said that Nigeria, under his leadership, will continue to pursue efforts to harness nuclear energy and technology for socio-economic development.
In his statement to the third Global Security Summit which opened at The Hague in the Netherlands on Monday, President Jonathan upheld the view that international and regional cooperation efforts should be based on the principle of maintaining a balance between nuclear non-proliferation obligations and the inalienable right of States to the peaceful uses of nuclear energy for development purposes.
“While this is important, we would also like to draw attention to the need to maintain the highest standards of nuclear safety and security in establishing peaceful nuclear facilities,” the President said.
He told the gathering that in keeping with Nigeria’s commitment to the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons and the peaceful use of nuclear technology, the Federal Government had submitted an executive bill to the National Assembly to accommodate the country’s obligations under international treaties on nuclear safety and security.
“Nigeria accords high priority to all global efforts towards ending the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery, including nuclear weapons. To this end, Nigeria has since the last Summit in Seoul, strengthened the legal framework for fighting terrorism through the adoption in 2013, of an amendment to its Terrorism (Prevention) Act, thus ensuring the implementation of more robust counter-terrorism measures.
“Nigeria’s ratification of some international treaties and conventions in the realm of nuclear safety, security and safeguards has necessitated the review of the Nigerian Nuclear Regulatory Authority Act resulting in the recent decision of the Government to submit a new Bill to Parliament for consideration and passage into law in order to accommodate our obligations under these instruments.
“The instruments include the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Materials and its amended version of 2005, the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism. The intention of the bill is to ensure the fulfilment of Nigeria’s international and national Nuclear Safety, Security, Safeguards and radiation protection obligations, by domesticating the international treaties. The bill is presently awaiting passage by the National Assembly.
“Furthermore, as part of the outcome of the second Nuclear Security Summit held in Seoul, South Korea in 2010, States Parties were urged on voluntary basis, to embark on the process of converting their reactors from the use of Highly Enriched Uranium to Lowly Enriched Uranium. Consequently, Nigeria is working in collaboration with the United States of America and China for the conversion of Nigeria’s limited stock of Highly Enriched Uranium used in its research reactor to Lowly Enriched Uranium,” President Jonathan said.
The Nigerian President stressed that the main objectives of the Nuclear Security Summit was to reduce the amount of dangerous nuclear materials in the world by preventing materials that could be used to produce nuclear weapons from falling into the hands of terrorists and unauthorised non-state actors.
More Nuclear Security
He reiterated Nigeria’s support for the immediate commencement and early conclusion of negotiations on a “non-discriminatory, multi-lateral and internationally and effectively verifiable treaty banning the production of fissile materials for nuclear weapons”.
President Jonathan also commended the United Nations Secretary-General, Mr Ban Ki Moon for establishing a Group of Governmental Experts which will begin work in Geneva next week on the proposal.
“Nigeria shares the view that fewer nuclear weapons translate into more nuclear security while at the same time reducing the risk of proliferation.
“But it is even more important that States, as represented at this Summit, demonstrate the necessary political will to embark on the path towards the ultimate goal of total and complete nuclear disarmament under strict and effective international control,” Jonathan concluded.
He thanked the Prime Minister of the Netherlands, Mr Mark Rutte, for hosting the summit and commended President Barack Obama, who was present at the opening ceremony, “for his continued leadership of this important project”.
Other world leaders participating in the summit include President Xi Jinping of China, Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, President Francois Hollande of France, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan, the President of South Korea, Ms Park Geun-hye and the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Mr Ban Ki Moon.
President Goodluck Jonathan on Sunday arrived Incheon Airport, South Korea to attend the Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul where global safety and how to shield nuclear materials from terror groups will be discussed.
Mr Jonathan who arrived the airport at 8.20pm Korean time (about 12.30pm Nigerian time) and was received by the Nigerian Delegation in the country led by the Ambassador Desmond Akawo, the Ambassador of Nigeria to Korea was accompanied by his wife Dame Patience, the Delta state governor, Emmanuel Uduaghan and the governor of Taraba state governor, Danbaba Suntai.
The other officials in the President’s entourage are the Ministers for Power, Barth Nnaji, Science and Technology, Ita Ewa Henshaw, Housing, Ama Pepple and Transport, Senator Idris Umar.
Mr Jonathan opened the Nigerian-Korea Investment and business forum at the Korean Chamber of Commerce building before heading for the opening ceremony of the Nuclear Security summit in Seoul which is largely restricted to 56 heads of State and three private companies.
Already, the United States of America’s President, Barrack Obama and most of the Heads of State expected at the event have arrived South Korea ahead of the Security summit which will hold at the Conference Exhibition Centre (CEOX), a centre adjudged to having the highest level of security screening and alert.
Journalists accredited to cover the event are restricted to the International Media Centre while roads to the venue are to be closed to traffic through the duration of the event. The Colour of accreditation cards automatically screen off those not expected to pass certain points.
Mr Jonathan will devote the entire Tuesday to talks on nuclear safety and how to protect nuclear materials from getting into the wrong hands which will pose greater threat to the world.
However, the Nuclear Industry Summit which held earlier agreed to de-emphasise processing Highly enriched uranium for civilian purposes but to concentrate technology on even reversing from High grade to low grade enriched Uranium and to screen off civilian access to grades that were not for civilian purposes.
They also agreed to empower any new entrant into the nuclear class who seeks their assistance and after meeting the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) standards and prescriptions.
Mr Jonathan will on Wednesday attend breakfast meeting with the Nigerian community in South Korea where he is expected to brief them on efforts by his administration to lift Nigeria through policy implementation to a developed economy by building infrastructure and solicit their support to attain development in their various areas of competence.
He will thereafter return to Abuja on the same Wednesday.
The summit in South Korea will be the second in its series, coming after the first edition hosted by Mr Obama in Washington D.C from April 12 to 13, 2010.
Coming almost a year after the Fukushima Daiishi nuclear disaster in Japan, it will seek to advance global shared objectives in nuclear disarmament, nuclear proliferation, peaceful and safe use of nuclear energy, and security of employing nuclear power as a viable source of energy, among others.