Iran has started enriching its uranium to 20 percent purity at an underground facility in breach of the 2015 nuclear deal.
Tehran announced that it had resumed weapons-grade enrichment at the secretive Fordow complex today, in contravention of the Obama-era deal which says enrichment must be kept below 3.67 percent.
Nuclear weapons typically use uranium enriched to 90 percent but the 20 percent figure is significant because it moves the compound into the category of highly enriched uranium (HEU) which means it can be used in weapons.
Government spokesman Ali Rabeie announced today: ‘A few minutes ago, the process of producing 20% enriched uranium has started in Fordow enrichment complex.’
Fordow nuclear enrichment facility, located around 80 miles south of Tehran, surrounded by a double-ring of steel, guard towers and Russian-made S-300 missile systems
The facility is surrounded by a ring of steel and guard towers which cut through the rugged terrain – towards the top of the image a road can be seen leading inside which branches off, one route heading to a building with a white roof and another to the underground bunker
A zoomed in map showing the entrance through the perimeter fence to the top left and further tunnel entrances positioned in the top right section of the mountain range
Tunnels are used to access the heart of the facility which is packed with over 1,000 centrifuges used for nuclear production
Trump held an Oval Office meeting last month where he was ‘talked out of’ launching strikes on Iran after a UN report showed a massive increase in nuclear stockpiles in breach of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) which Trump abandoned in 2018.
Defence sources told The New York Times that Trump asked for options on a bombardment – likely to have targeted Iran’s foremost nuclear facility, Natanz.
Before today’s announcement Iran had been flouting restrictions imposed by the nuclear deal which it still holds with Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia.
Last month Tehran vowed to ‘automatically’ return to its commitments under the 2015 deal if Joe Biden lifts sanctions imposed over the past two years.
Analysts claim that Trump’s ‘maximum pressure’ policy has squeezed Iran so hard that it might make it easy for Biden to get them to agree to terms.
But the latest provocation could dash Democrat hopes that the US returns to the Obama-era deal, which they believe is the best way to deter Iran from making a nuclear bomb.
Biden’s allies believe that Trump’s aggression has only made the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran more likely.
Trump’s outgoing administration has been building a ‘wall of sanctions’ against Iran for its appalling human rights record, support for terror groups like Hezbollah and its nuclear activities.
The Fordow nuclear enrichment facility, located around 80 miles south of Tehran, was never re-purposed as was promised in the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
Iranian nuclear scientists can rapidly produce weapons-grade levels of nuclear enrichment within the deep underground corridors of the facility.
The plant is buried in a mountain range, originally under the command of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard, it is heavily fortified by a ring of steel fencing with guard towers every 80ft.
Russian-made S-300 missile systems were installed four years ago and it has become a hot-spot of activity as satellite imagery reveals intensifying construction, according to the Institute for Science and International Security.
The U.S. Air Force has B-2 stealth bombers armed with the 33,000lb ‘bunker buster,’ but experts fear the plant could be indestructible.
Trump has called the Obama-era JCPOA ‘the worst deal in history’ and experts say that Iran disingenuously entered into the agreement, never actually interested in downgrading its nuclear facility at Fordow (pictured: President Hassan Rouhani, left, and Trump, right)
Tunnels are used to access the lair which is packed with more than 1,000 centrifuges used in nuclear production.
It was built in 2002 under the ‘Amad Plan’ – Iran’s nuclear weapons program – but its discovery by Western intelligence forced Tehran to convert it to a power plant in 2009.
And in 2016, the JCPOA decreed that it be converted into a ‘nuclear, physics and technology centre,’ but it is now a key asset in what the Trump administration calls ‘nuclear extortion.’
Trump has called the Obama-era JCPOA ‘the worst deal in history,’ and according to the Institute for Science and International Security, ‘there is little reason to believe that Iran ever intended any meaningful conversion of the Fordow tunnel complex.’