Following an attack on its Natanz nuclear site, widely believed to have been carried out by Israel, Iran on Friday started enriching uranium up to 60 per cent purity, its highest level ever.
The development was announced by parliament speaker Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf, who said that Iran has increased enriching uranium to 60 per cent purity, marking a significant escalation of tensions with the United States that was reportedly hammering out a proposal to curb Iran’s nuclear capabilities.
“The will of the Iranian nation is a miracle-maker and it will defuse any conspiracy,” state television quoted Qalibaf as saying. He said the enrichment began just shortly after midnight Friday.
“We are now getting nine grams per hour,” Ali Akbar Salehi of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran said on state television, confirming the development. Salehi made the announcement after it was revealed by the speaker.
It is important to note that the initial announcement did not come from the Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran, the country’s civilian nuclear arm, and instead came from Qalibaf, known for being a hard-line politician and a former leader in the paramilitary Revolutionary Guard already named as a potential presidential candidate in Iran’s upcoming June election.
The development is likely to cast a shadow over Iran’s negotiations with world powers in Vienna over a way to include the United States back into the agreement and lift the crippling economic sanctions it faces.
Frustrated by a series of mysterious attack against its nuclear plants and nuclear scientists, Iran had vowed to increase it uranium enriching capability to 60 per cent from its previous 20 per cent.
While 60 per cent is higher than any level Iran previously enriched uranium, it is still lower than weapons-grade levels of 90 per cent.
Though analysts had then claimed that it was practically impossible for Iran to reach that level of uranium purification, they also raised alarms that if Iran managed to start enriching uranium to 60 per cent, it would be a short step from bomb fuel, which is typically considered 90 per cent or higher in purity.
Israel likely behind the sabotage at Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility
Recently, thousands of machines used to refine nuclear material were destroyed or damaged in an attack at a key site on Sunday when the facility faced a power cut. The inexplicable sabotage at Natanz, Iran’s main enrichment site, had rendered most of the centrifuges damaged and not in the condition to be used. Centrifuges play a pivotal role in the enrichment of uranium to a rarefied level.
Though Israel has not explicitly claimed responsibility of the attack on Natanz nuclear facility, it is widely believed that the sabotage took place under the directions of Tel Aviv. For months now, Israel has been diligently involved in scuttling Iran’s nuclear ambitions. According to Israeli state media, the apparent power cut at the facility was caused by an Israeli cyber operation.
Israel sees Iran’s nuclear programme as a potential threat to its existence and is determined to prevent Iran from achieving nuclear weapons expertise.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had pledged that he would not allow Iran from gaining the nuclear weapons expertise and his country had twice preventively carried out attacks on the middle-east nations to destroy their atomic programmes.