Global Affairs

Iran Announces Development of Next-Generation Centrifuges, Deepening Concerns Over ‘Freeze’ Agreement Details

Iran is constructing what the Associated Press describes as ‘a new generation of centrifuges’ able to enrich uranium at a faster pace, potentially shortening the amount of time it would take Tehran to convert its enriched nuclear stockpile to weapons-grade purity, per statements made by Iranian nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi and conveyed by the wire:

Iran’s nuclear chief said the country is building a new generation of centrifuges for uranium enrichment but that they need further tests before they can be mass produced, apparently trying to counter hard-liner criticism of its nuclear deal with world powers.

Ali Akbar Salehi’s comments appeared aimed at showing the country is moving ahead with its nuclear program into order to fend off criticism by Iranian hard-liners, who have denounced the deal, calling it a surrender in the face of Western pressure. The government of new President Hassan Rouhani says the deal recognizes Iran’s right to enrich uranium.

Skeptics have countered that Iran is moving ahead with its nuclear program because the country’s leaders want to move ahead with its nuclear program. The latter interpretation would be in line with statements from both Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani committing to pushing ahead with Iran’s atomic activities in the context of international negotiations designed to curb that work, which is widely suspected of including clandestine weaponization dimensions.

The AP also noted that the JPA ‘does not stop [Iran] from developing centrifuges.’

The agreement additionally permits Tehran unlimited enrichment of uranium to 3.5% purity – arguably the most difficult hurdle to clear on the path to creating weapons-grade material – as long as that material is stored in an oxide form unsuitable for further enrichment. It would take Iran only weeks, however, to convert that oxide into material that can be enriched further. Salehi’s announcement, if confirmed, would position the Iranians to use the deal’s six-month negotiation period to increase their stockpile of enriched uranium and to increase the technology they have on hand to quickly enrich that stockpile further.

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