Iran set to produce uranium metal, a key material used in nuclear weapons, UN watchdog says

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Iran has begun work on an assembly line to produce a key material used in nuclear warheads, the International Atomic Energy Agency said in a confidential report released to member states on Wednesday.

According to the report, allegedly viewed by the Wall Street Journal, the Islamic republic informed the United Nations watchdog agency that in coming months it was planning to manufacture equipment it will use to produce uranium metal at a site in Isfahan.

The Wall Street Journal story noted that the development was a significant one since uranium metal can be used to construct the core of a nuclear weapon. Here’s more from the story:

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Iran hasn’t made uranium metal so far, senior Western officials said. The IAEA said Tehran had given it no timeline for when it would do so. Still, the development brings Iran closer to crossing the line between nuclear operations with a potential civilian use, such as enriching nuclear fuel for power-generating reactors, and nuclear-weapons work, something Tehran has long denied ever carrying out.

Iran’s ambassador to the IAEA, Kazem Gharib Abadi, said Wednesday on Twitter that Iran would produce uranium metal, saying it would allow the development of a new fuel for the Tehran civilian research reactor. Iran has said it would take four to five months to install the equipment to produce a uranium powder from which uranium metal is made.

The move will likely add to rising tensions between the United States and Iran in the early days of President-elect Joe Biden’s term, as production of uranium metal is strictly prohibited by the Iran nuclear agreement forged in 2015 when Biden was vice president.

President Trump withdrew the U.S. from the agreement in 2018, but Iran is still part of the international agreement that also includes the U.K., France, Germany, China, and Russia. On the campaign trail last year, Biden signaled that he was open to re-entering the nuclear deal.

Iran appears to be testing the boundaries of late perceiving that the incoming Biden administration will be much more lenient.

In December, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani bragged he has “no doubt” the administration under Biden will “bow” to Iran by rejoining the nuclear deal and lifting sanctions reimposed on them by Trump.

Only a few days later, satellite photos obtained by the Associated Press appeared to show new construction underway at Iran’s underground nuclear site at Fordo, another breach of the agreement.

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