Iran has started research on the production of uranium metal, an important component used to produce nuclear weapons, a top Iranian official announced Wednesday.
Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations, Kazem Gharib Abadi, claimed the country plans to produce uranium metal at its nuclear facility in Tehran in order to develop a new type of fuel for the country’s civilian research reactor.
“R&D activities related to the design of an improved type of fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor started,” he tweeted. “Natural uranium will be used to produce uranium metal in the first stage.”
R&D activities related to the design of an improved type of fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor started. Natural uranium will be used to produce uranium metal in the first stage. @iaeaorg received the updated DIQ for Fuel Plate Fabrication Plant and conducted an inspection.
— Gharibabadi (@Gharibabadi) January 13, 2021
According to an International Atomic Energy Agency report obtained Wednesday by The Wall Street Journal (WSJ), Iran told the U.N. atomic watchdog it was installing equipment to produce uranium metal at a separate facility in the city of Isfahan.
Uranium metal is used to build the reactor core of a nuclear weapon and not typically intended for civilian applications. Iran maintains it has no intention of building nuclear weapons but the new development suggests the country is moving closer to weapons-grade operations, according to WSJ.
The announcement is also the latest violation of the 2015 nuclear deal. The agreement signed by Iran and major world power explicitly prohibits research into uranium or plutonium metal-making, according to Reuters.
Iran has moved quickly to expand its nuclear operations over the past two years after President Donald Trump withdrew from the nuclear deal in 2018 and reimposed sanctions. (RELATED: Iranian Official Threatens ‘Decisive Response’ Against Israel After Netanyahu Slams Uranium Enrichment)
The country’s legislature is dominated by hardline lawmakers and passed a law in December strengthening the government’s nuclear posture over previous objections from the more moderate President Hassan Rouhani, according to Reuters. The law reportedly included provisions for uranium metal research.
Iran’s top nuclear official, Ali Akbar Salehi, also announced last week that Iran was resuming uranium enrichment at the Fordo underground nuclear facility. Iran’s government says it plans to enrich uranium at levels of 20% or higher, far greater than the 3.67% cap imposed by the 2015 agreement.