Iran’s state TV reported Sunday that construction has begun on a second nuclear power reactor at its Bushehr plant amid heightened tensions over Tehran’s collapsing nuclear deal with world powers.
Authorities began pouring concrete for the base of the reactor on Sunday in the presence of journalists in Bushehr, some 700 kilometers (440 miles) south of Iran’s capital, Tehran.
Bushehr relies on 4.5% enriched uranium, which Iran is producing in violation of its 2015 nuclear deal. That violation and others come after US President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew America from the accord over a year ago.
Bushehr’s first reactor came online in 2011 with the help of Russia. This new reactor similarly will be built with Russian help.
Iran said Saturday it is now enriching uranium to five percent, after a series of steps back from its commitments under the nuclear pact. The deal set a 3.67 percent limit for uranium enrichment but Iran announced it would no longer respect it.
“Based on our needs and what we have been ordered, we are currently producing five percent,” Atomic Energy Organization of Iran spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi told a press conference.
He said Iran has the “capacity to produce five percent, twenty percent, sixty percent, or any percentage” of enriched uranium, a claim often repeated by Tehran.
Uranium enrichment is the sensitive process that produces fuel for nuclear power plants but also, in highly extended form, the fissile core for a warhead.
The current five percent level exceeds the limit set by the accord but is less than the 20 percent Iran had previously operated and far less than the 90 percent level required for a warhead.
In its fourth step away from the agreement, Iran resumed enrichment at the Fordow plant south of Tehran on Thursday, with engineers feeding uranium hexafluoride gas (UF6) into the plant’s mothballed enrichment centrifuges.
Iran was already enriching uranium at another plant in Natanz.
Tehran emphasizes the measures it has taken are swiftly reversible if the remaining parties to the deal — Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia — find a way to get around US sanctions.
On July 1, Iran said it had increased its stockpile of enriched uranium to beyond a 300-kilogram maximum set by the deal, and a week later, it announced it had exceeded the enrichment cap.
The third move had it firing up advanced centrifuges on September 7 to enrich uranium faster and to higher levels.
Iran said Thursday it had canceled an IAEA nuclear inspector’s accreditation after she triggered an alarm last week at the entrance to the Natanz uranium enrichment plant. The alarm during a check at the entrance to the plant in central Iran had raised concerns that she could be carrying a “suspect product” on her, Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization said in a statement posted online.
Iran alleged that the UN inspector tested positive for suspected traces of explosive nitrates and was therefore denied entry. The International Atomic Energy Agency said it disputed Iran’s account, without elaborating. The IAEA said Thursday that her treatment was “not acceptable.”