The Atomic Energy Agency: We found uranium in Iran close to the levels of making a nuclear bomb

(CNN) — Uranium particles enriched to near bomb-grade levels have been found at an Iranian nuclear facility, according to the United Nations’ International Atomic Energy Agency, as the United States warns that Tehran’s ability to build a nuclear bomb is accelerating.

In a report seen by CNN, the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed that uranium particles enriched to 83.7% purity – close to the 90% enrichment levels needed for a nuclear bomb – were found at the Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant, a nuclear facility. Underground lies about 20 miles northeast of Qom.

The report says that in January, the International Atomic Energy Agency took environmental samples from the Fordow plant, which showed the presence of highly enriched uranium particles, with a purity of 83.7%.

The report added that the International Atomic Energy Agency later informed Iran that these results “contradict the level of enrichment at the Fordow plant announced by Iran and asked Iran to clarify the origin of these particles.”

Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium has also increased by as much as 60% from 25.2kg to 87.5kg since the last quarterly report, according to a confidential IAEA report.

A senior US military official said Iran could produce “one bomb’s worth of fissile material” in “about 12 days”.

The IAEA report said that discussions with Iran to clarify the matter continue, noting that “these events clearly indicate the IAEA’s ability to detect and report changes in the operation of Iran’s nuclear facilities.”

In an exclusive interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Tuesday, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian did not directly respond to a question about the uranium enrichment reports.

Amir Abdollahian said that the Deputy Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Massimo Aparo, had visited Iran twice in the past weeks, and that the Director General of the Agency, Rafael Grossi, had been invited to visit the country.

Abdollahian explained, “We have a roadmap with the IAEA. On two occasions, Mr. (Massimo) Aparro, deputy to Mr. (Rafael) Grossi, came to Iran in the past few weeks, and we had constructive and fruitful negotiations. We also invited Mr. Grossi to come and visit Iran.” Soon. Therefore, our relationship with the International Atomic Energy Agency is on the right track.”

Last year, Iran removed all IAEA equipment previously installed for monitoring activities related to the nuclear deal, known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

The IAEA report stated that this step had “adverse effects on the IAEA’s ability to provide assurances regarding the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear programme.”

A US State Department spokesman said on Tuesday that the IAEA report could constitute a “very serious development”.

“We are in close contact with our allies and partners in Europe and the region, as we await further details from the International Atomic Energy Agency on this potentially very dangerous development,” the spokesperson added.

“Iran’s nuclear progress since” the Trump administration withdrew the United States from the 2015 nuclear deal “has been remarkable,” Undersecretary of Defense for Political Affairs Colin Kahl said Tuesday, adding that in 2018, when the United States withdrew, “it would have taken Iran takes about 12 months to produce one fissile material and one fissile material bomb.

“Now it will take about 12 days,” he said.

In September 2022, more than a year of indirect negotiations between the United States and Iran to try to restore the 2015 nuclear deal collapsed. Tensions between the two countries boiled over after Iran cracked down on protests across the country, and with Tehran supplying drones to Russia in the Ukraine war.

Cal said on Tuesday that the deal was “frozen”.

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