The United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors were shocked last week to discover that Iran has enriched uranium to 84 percent purity — just a breath below the 90 percent purity needed for a nuclear weapon.
Two senior diplomats quoted by Bloomberg News said the IAEA is trying to clarify how Iran accumulated the highly-enriched uranium, when Tehran had previously told the agency that its centrifuges were configured to enrich uranium to a 60 percent purity – also high, and a level from which it would be a short hop to 90 percent.
The production is clearly aimed at military use, since most civilian nuclear power reactors use uranium enriched only to five percent purity.
The news comes as the IAEA is preparing its quarterly report on Iran safeguards for a March 6 meeting of the agency’s Board of Governors in Vienna.
Earlier this month, the IAEA criticized Iran for making an undeclared change to the interconnection between the two clusters of advanced centrifuges enriching uranium to 60 percent at its Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant (FFEP).
The nuclear watchdog agency discovered the change during an unannounced inspection on Jan. 21 at Fordow, an underground facility dug into a mountain.
IAEA inspectors stepped up checks after Iran announced plans three months ago to dramatically expand uranium enrichment.
Iran had already been enriching uranium to 60 percent purity for more than a year at its above-ground Natanz plant.