Photo Credit: Atomic Energy Organization of Iran
The building that was damaged by a fire at the Natanz uranium enrichment facility, July 2, 2020

Iran announced Tuesday that it will begin enriching uranium to 60 percent purity starting Wednesday (April 14), according to a report by Reuters.

The move brings the uranium much closer to the 90 percent purity used in nuclear weapons.

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Civilian nuclear power plants generally require uranium enriched to 3 to 5 percent purity for their operations.

In recent months Iran already had raised its enrichment of uranium to a 20 percent purity, considered to be “highly enriched” and a major step towards enriching the fissile material to military-grade purity.

Chief Iranian nuclear negotiator Abbas Araqchi said in making the announcement that Iran will also introduce 1,000 more centrifuges at its Natanz uranium enrichment facility.

Speaking from Vienna, Araqchi also said the United Nations’ International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) had been informed of the decision, according to Iran’s Press TV.

Iranian Atomic Energy Organization spokesperson Behrouz Kamalvandi added, “From tonight, practical preparations for 60 percent enrichment will begin in Natanz; 60 percent uranium is used to make a variety of radiopharmaceuticals,” according to the semi-official FARS news agency.

The Natanz facility was hit by an explosion this past Sunday that reportedly set the Iranian drive towards a nuclear weapon back by at least nine months.

Araqchi’s announcement came the day after Iran accused Israel of attacking the Natanz facility, one of Tehran’s key nuclear development sites, and vowed revenge for the “sabotage” which knocked out the power grid in the centrifuge production halls.

“I assure you that in the near future more advanced uranium enrichment centrifuges will be placed in the Natanz facility,” Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said in Tehran at a joint news briefing with his visiting Russian counterpart.

It also precedes the resumption of parallel talks taking place in Vienna with the goal of reviving Iran’s 2015 JCPOA nuclear deal with world powers, which relieved sanctions against Iran in exchange for a promise to reduce its nuclear technology activities.

The United States, a key participant in that agreement, withdrew from the deal in 2018 after repeated and largely unreported violations of the deal, which capped the permissible uranium enrichment level at 3.67 percent.

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Hana Levi Julian is a Middle East news analyst with a degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from Southern Connecticut State University. A past columnist with The Jewish Press and senior editor at Arutz 7, Ms. Julian has written for Babble.com, Chabad.org and other media outlets, in addition to her years working in broadcast journalism.