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Iran’s nuclear fuel production plummets after the Natanz explosion

Iran’s nuclear fuel production has plummeted in recent weeks, the UN Atomic Energy Agency reported on Monday. Its major nuclear facility In April, Tehran accused Israel.

The drop in production detailed in the International Atomic Energy Agency’s confidential report distributed on Monday was the result of an incident that shut down Natanz’s power supply and destroyed hundreds of centrifuges, machines that concentrate uranium. Gives the first substantive insight into.

Israel declined to comment on one of several incidents that occurred at Iran’s nuclear facilities in the last 18 months. Tehran accused Israel of planning an attack on Israel. Weakens the start of talks in Vienna Involving Iran and the United States Recovery of the 2015 nuclear agreementFormer President Donald Trump Withdrew from the agreement with the United States in 2018..

According to the IAEA, Iran’s enriched uranium stockpile increased by an estimated 273 kilograms in the three months to 22 May. The Natanz incident occurred on April 11, the middle of the reporting period.

The agency also reported on May 24 that there were 20 cascades of centrifuges operating at the Natanz fuel enrichment plant, a sharp decrease from before the April accident.

Iran’s total stockpile is currently estimated at about 3,241 kilograms, about 16 times the stockpile allowed by the 2015 agreement. Experts say it is likely to be enough nuclear material for up to three nuclear weapons when refined to weapons-grade levels.

Iran begins responding to the Natanz case Produces 60% concentrated uranium For the first time, by installing a more advanced centrifuge on site, which is close to the weapon level.

Iran says it is not trying to make nuclear weapons, but looking at its major facilities shows that it has the potential to develop technology for making nuclear weapons. The WSJ is analyzing Tehran’s ability to reach new milestones in uranium enrichment and limit access to inspectors.Photo Illustration: George Downs

The IAEA said in its report that Iran produces only 2.4 kilograms of 60% enriched uranium. The stockpile of 20% enriched uranium reached 63 kilograms. The rest is low-concentration material.

At the time of the Natanz case, Iran downplayed the damages inflicted. Ali Akbar Salehi, head of Iran’s nuclear power agency, said the country’s enriched uranium production is on the rise. Iran has also introduced more sophisticated centrifuges to increase production rates.

However, some Israeli and Western officials say the incident could have serious implications for Iran’s medium-term production and maintain Iran’s enrichment capacity at low levels throughout most of the year. The efficiency of the machine Iran is using to replace a damaged centrifuge is questionable.

Last week, IAEA Secretary-General Rafael Grossi said he was “extremely concerned” about the expansion of Iran’s nuclear program, saying that only countries producing nuclear weapons were enriching uranium to 60% levels. T.

Biden administration officials said the progress of Iran’s nuclear program underscores the need to resume nuclear development. 2015 tradingIt imposes strict but temporary restrictions on Iran’s nuclear activities.

Iran responded late to the Trump administration’s decision in July 2019 to raise uranium stockpiles beyond the permissible levels of the 2015 agreement, abandon the agreement and impose economic sanctions on Tehran.

Western officials say Iran’s nuclear program is designed to lift sanctions on the Biden administration and put pressure on Iran’s terms to restore the 2015 agreement. President Biden has set a return to the agreement as a foreign policy goal.

Discussions began in April on the path for the United States and Iran to return to an agreement. There is still no agreement on what sanctions the United States will maintain and what steps Tehran will take to withdraw its nuclear program, but discussions have been postponed beyond the mid-May target deadline. Yes.

On Monday, Iran’s chief negotiator at the talks, Abbas Araguchi, said parties, including the United States, Iran, Russia, the United Kingdom, France and Germany, could immediately suspend talks to talk in the capital. .. Diplomat.

With less than three weeks left for Iran’s presidential election, there is growing concern that talks may be postponed soon.

In another report issued Monday, the IAEA criticized Iran’s lack of cooperation for the discovery of undeclared nuclear material in several parts of Iran since the fall of 2019. ..

This issue could lead to new tensions between Iran and institutions, even if the nuclear deal is restored. Critics of the agreement said the undeclared material is part of a set of evidence that Iran has not closed its nuclear weapons options and has maintained materials, documents and equipment generated from past work. It states that there is.

Officials said Iran was unable to provide a real answer backed by a document to answer the question under investigation.

Iran’s IAEA ambassador said on Twitter Monday night that Iran had “made the utmost effort” to work with the agency and hoped that the investigation would be completed as soon as possible.

“The lack of clarification of the agency’s questions will seriously affect the agency’s ability to guarantee the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program,” the agency said in a report.

Write to Lawrence Norman laurence.norman@wsj.com

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Iran’s nuclear fuel production plummets after the Natanz explosion

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