Iran is increasing its stockpile of highly enriched uranium

VIENNA (AP) — The U.N. atomic watchdog said Thursday it believes Iran has further increased its stockpile of highly enriched uranium and criticized Tehran for continuing to bar agency officials from accessing or monitoring Iranian nuclear facilities.

In its quarterly report, the International Atomic Energy Agency said that according to its assessment, as of Oct. 22, Iran has an estimated 62.3 kilograms (137.3 pounds) of uranium enriched to 60 percent fissile purity. This represents an increase of 6.7 kg since the last IAEA report in September.

This enrichment to 60% purity is a short, technical step away from 90% weapon quality levels. Non-proliferation experts have warned in recent months that Iran now has enough 60% enriched uranium to reprocess it into fuel for at least one nuclear bomb.

The IAEA report, seen by The Associated Press, also estimated that as of Oct. 22, Iran’s stockpile of all enriched uranium was 3,673.7 kilograms — down 267.2 kilograms from the last quarterly report in September.

The Vienna-based IAEA said it was unable to verify the exact size of Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium because of Tehran’s restrictions on UN inspectors last year and the removal of the agency’s monitoring and surveillance equipment in June at facilities in Iran.

It has been nearly two years since IAEA officials had full access to monitor Iran’s nuclear facilities and five months since the monitoring equipment was removed.

The IAEA’s assessment comes as efforts to revive Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, which eased sanctions on Iran in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program, have stalled.

The United States unilaterally withdrew from the nuclear deal – officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA – in 2018 under then-President Donald Trump. He reimposed sanctions on Iran, prompting Tehran to begin backing away from the terms of the deal.

The IAEA said in its report that Iran’s lack of cooperation would have a “significant impact” on the agency’s ability to restore its knowledge of Iran’s activities since its cameras were removed in June.

“Any future basis for … verification and monitoring activities of the JCPOA would take considerable time to establish and would have a degree of uncertainty,” the report said. “The longer the current situation persists, the greater this uncertainty becomes.”

A separate report, also seen by the AP, said IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi is “gravely concerned” that Iran has yet to address the agency’s investigation into man-made uranium particles found at three undeclared sites in the country. The issue has become a key sticking point in talks on a renewed nuclear deal.

Grossi met with Mohammad Eslami, vice president and head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Agency, in late September to discuss the issue. The second report on Thursday noted that IAEA officials will travel to Tehran for a technical visit by the end of November.

That meeting, the IAEA report said, “should be aimed at effectively clarifying and resolving” the remaining safeguards issues.

The IAEA has been seeking answers from Iran to its questions about the particles for years. U.S. intelligence agencies, Western nations and the IAEA have said Iran ran an organized nuclear weapons program as far back as 2003. Iran has long denied it ever sought nuclear weapons, insisting its nuclear program is peaceful.

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