The Head of the Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran (AEOI), Ali Akbar Salehi, said on 8 September that Iran is constructing more advanced nuclear facilities in Natanz.
He made the remarks on the sidelines of the meeting of the National Security and Foreign Policy Commission of the Iranian Parliament regarding the steps taken to reduce Iran's nuclear obligations under the July 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) between the P5+1 group of countries (the USA, UK, France, Russia, and China plus Germany) in which Iran had agreed to limit its nuclear development in return for the lifting of sanctions. However, in May 2018, US President Donald Trump pulled Washington out of the JCPOA and reimposed stringent sanctions and Iran, in turn, began to reduce its commitments under the agreement.
“We are carrying out the operation in two stages,” said Salehi. “In the initial phase, we started the preliminary work in supplying equipment and setting up a series of advanced centrifuge production sheds.” He added that in the wake of sabotage at the enrichment facility in Natanz in July, Iran had decided to build a more advanced facility within the mountains around Natanz and that the process is already underway.
On 6 September, AEOI spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi said Iran had stopped a large number of cyber-attacks targeting its nuclear facilities. In a press release reported by news agencies, Kamalvandi said that the July explosion at Natanz was the result of a terrorist attack.
Kamalvandi also said that the AEOI was already completing the production of advanced centrifuges. “The IR-6, IR-8, and IR-9 centrifuges are being well tested and we are currently in the process of completing research,” he told ISNA. “These centrifuges are becoming more efficient day by day, and if decided, it will be possible to industrially produce these machines.”
He also referred to a recent report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on Iran’s nuclear activity, saying the report was in line with Iran’s expectations. In its quarterly report on the Safeguards Agreement with Iran on 4 September, the IAEA said Iran had granted the agency's inspectors access to one of the two sites agreed for verification purposes following IAEA director general Rafael Grossi’s talks in Tehran in late August.
Referring to the report’s confirmation that Iran’s stockpile of heavy water was below the 130t limit agreed by the JCPOA, Kamalvandi noted, Iran has had a good sale of its surplus heavy water. “Even before the JCPOA, we announced that we would export our surplus heavy water; we did not say we wouldn’t produce more than 130 tons.” Noting that the product has drawn the attention of foreign buyers in the research and medical sectors, he said, “We have gained tens of millions of dollars through the sales of heavy water under the current circumstance.”
In a separate report also issued on 4 September, the IAEA said Iran's stockpile of low enriched uranium (LEU) now stands at more than ten times the limit set by the JCPOA. The limit was set at 300kg of enriched uranium in a particular compound form, which is the equivalent of 202.8kg of uranium. Iran's stockpile now stands at over 2105kg, the report said. However, this is still well below the amount Iran had accumulated before the 2015 deal.
Tehran is enriching up to a fissile purity of 4.5%, which while above the deal's 3.67% limit is still far short of the 20% higher-enriched level it achieved before the deal. Commenting on the IAEA report, Kamalvandi noted: “At the moment, we have more than 3 tonnes of enriched uranium available to us, and I can say that, at the current rate, we can produce between 250 to 300 kilograms a month, which equals the output capacity we had before the JCPOA was signed.” He added that Iran can quickly increase its production output thanks to its new-generation centrifuges.