Iran scraps limit on uranium enrichment

06 January 2020

Iran said yesterday it will ignore the limit on the number of uranium enrichment centrifuges agreed under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), thus withdrawing from the last operational restriction imposed by the 2015 deal. The statement, reported by the Mehr news agency, followed the US assassination of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani last week.

This is Tehran's fifth step in reducing its JCPOA commitments - originally agreed in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions - which it said "discards the last key component of the operational limitations" of the deal. As such, the country's nuclear programme "no longer faces any operational restrictions, including enrichment capacity, percentage of enrichment, amount of enriched material, and research and development." Its nuclear programme will now be developed "solely based on its technical needs", while the country's cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency will continue as before, it said. If US economic sanctions are lifted and Iran "benefits from its interests enshrined in the JCPOA", then it is "ready to return to its commitments".

The so-called E3 - France, Germany and the UK - today issued a joint statement in which President Emmanuel Macron, Chancellor Angela Merkel and Prime Minister Boris Johnson called on all parties to exercise "utmost restraint and responsibility". They said: "We specifically call on Iran to refrain from further violent action or proliferation, and urge Iran to reverse all measures inconsistent with the JCPOA," they said.

The JCPOA between Iran and China, France, Germany, Russia, UK, USA and the European Union was implemented in January 2016. Under its terms, Iran agreed to limit its uranium enrichment activities, eliminate its stockpile of medium-enriched uranium and limit its stockpile of low enriched uranium over the subsequent 15 years. The agreement, amongst other things, limited Iran to a total installed uranium enrichment capacity of 5060 operating IR-1 centrifuges at the Natanz enrichment plant, plus a further 1044 IR-1 centrifuges at the Fordow plant which would not be used for uranium enrichment purposes.

The USA subsequently withdrew from the agreement, re-imposing nuclear-related economic sanctions against Iran from November 2018.

The first step of Iran's withdrawal from the JCPOA was to increase its enriched uranium stockpile to beyond the 300 kg limit set by the JCPOA. The second step was enrichment beyond the JCPOA's limit of 3.76%, the third was the activation of 20 IR-4 and 20 IR-6 centrifuges, and the fourth was the injection of uranium gas into centrifuges at Fordow, which began in November 2019.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News