Iran to boost uranium enrichment to 20 percent ‘as soon as possible’

Iran announced on Saturday that it intends to enrich uranium up to 20 percent at its underground nuclear facility at Fordow, in accordance with a law passed in November by the Iranian parliament.

“We are like soldiers, and our fingers are on the triggers. The commander should command, and we shoot. We are ready for this and will produce [20 percent enriched uranium] as soon as possible,” said Atomic Energy Organization of Iran director Ali Akbar Salehi, according to the AP.

The Iranian legislation consists of nine articles, among which is the requirement to produce 120 kilograms (265 pounds) of 20 percent enriched uranium a year. The law also requires the activation of 1,000 IR-2M centrifuges in the underground section of the Natanz nuclear facility, the installation and activation by April 2021 of 1,000 advanced IR-6 centrifuges at Fordow and the immediate reactivation of the IR-40 Arak heavy-water reactor facility.

Iran is currently enriching uranium to 4.5 percent, in excess of the 3.67 percent stipulated by the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action nuclear deal, according to the AP.

To begin the process of enriching to 20 percent, Salehi said Iran would need to swap out the natural uranium in centrifuges at Fordow for uranium already enriched to 4 percent. This, he said, “should be done under IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] supervision,” according to the report.

The IAEA said that Iran had not specified when it planned to begin enriching to 20 percent, but added that its inspectors in Iran have “regular access” to Fordow.

The Iranian legislation calling to increase enrichment also called to expel these inspectors, but there is no indication yet that Tehran has decided to do so, said the agency.

The Iranian announcement coincides with the anniversary of the assassination of Quds Force Gen. Qassem Soleimani by the United States in Baghdad last year and amid rising U.S.-Iran tensions ahead of U.S. President Donald Trump’s exit from the White House on Jan. 20.

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