IAEA: Iran moves centrifuge production underground

The building of a new subterranean workshop to make parts for uranium-enriching machines at the Islamic Republic’s Natanz nuclear facility was revealed by International Atomic Energy Agency Director Rafael Grossi.

By Erin Viner

The workshop has been set up in “one of the halls” at the Fuel Enrichment Plant (FEP), the United Nations Nuclear Watchdog chief said during a news conference yesterday. Other diplomatic sources say the plant is roughly three floors below ground.

Until now Iran had used the FEP only for enrichment at Natanz, the only facility permitted by the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) to produce enriched uranium, albeit limited to only first-generation IR-1 centrifuges that are significantly less efficient than Tehran’s more advanced models.

“They said that it is ready to operate,” IAEA Chief Inspector, Massimo Aparo, said of the complex.

Machines are now used at the site brought from a now-closed TESA Karaj Complex west of Tehran, that suffered what Iran says was a sabotage attack by Israel last June.

“Due to the terrorist operation against the TESA Karaj complex, we had to tighten security and relocate a significant part of the centrifuge machines to a safer location,” Iranian media cited Atomic Energy Organization of Iran Spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi as saying.

He blamed the lack of attention shown by the IAEA for Israeli “vicious operations” against Iran’s nuclear facilities.

The IAEA informed its member states two weeks ago that Iran had moved the machines to Natanz without specifying where at the vast facility they were being placed.

The latest moves by Iran come amid stalled negotiations with world powers in Austria aimed at reviving the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action that former US President Donald Trump reneged on it 2018 over the belief that Tehran had violated the pact in pursuit of developing atomic bombs. .The Islamic Republic then breached various restrictions the deal imposed on its nuclear activities, like caps on the purity to which it enriches uranium, its stockpile of enriched material, and uranium enrichment at the FEP and other sites.

While the Vienna Talks appeared close to reaching an agreement last month, the negotiations stalled over last-minute demands from Moscow, as well as insistence by Tehran that Washington remove Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) from its Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) blacklist.

Israel has consistently warned that its arch-foe will try to secure a windfall in sanctions relief at the talks, without sufficiently rolling back its quest to obtain atomic bombs.

Iranian officials have repeatedly called for Israel’s annihilation.

Israel reserves the right to act to protect itselfIsraeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has stressed, including consideration of a  “Plan B” military strikes on Iranian nuclear facilities.