TEHRAN, Iran — Iran will surpass the uranium stockpile limit set by Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers in the next 10 days, the spokesman for the country’s atomic agency said Monday while also warning that Iran could enrich uranium up to 20% — just a step away from weapons-grade levels.
The announcement by Behrouz Kamalvandi, timed for a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels, puts more pressure on Europe to come up with new terms for Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal.
The deal has steadily unraveled since the Trump administration pulled America out of the accord last year and re-imposed tough economic sanctions on Iran, deeply cutting into its sale of crude oil abroad and sending its economy into freefall. Europe has so far been unable to offer Iran a way around the U.S. sanctions.
The development comes in the wake of apparent attacks on oil tankers last week in the Mideast, assaults that Washington has blamed on Iran. While Iran has denied being involved, it has used mines in the past against commercial traffic around the crucial Strait of Hormuz, through which a fifth of the world’s crude oil passes.
Kamalvandi accused Europeans of “killing time” as the clock runs down.
“If this condition continues, there will be no deal” anymore, Kamalvandi said.
President Hassan Rouhani, greeting France’s new ambassador to Tehran on Monday, similarly warned that time was running out for the deal.
Tehran Will Increase Enrichment Based on Nation’s Needs
“The current situation is very critical and France and the other parties to the (deal) still have a very limited opportunity to play their historic role for saving the deal,” Rouhani said, according to his website.
Under terms of the nuclear deal, Iran can keep a stockpile of no more than 660 pounds of low-enriched uranium. Kamalvandi said that given Iran’s recent decision to quadruple its production of low-enriched uranium, it would pass the 300-kilogram limit on Thursday, June 27.
The United Nations nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, said last month that Iran still remained within its stockpile limits. The Vienna-based agency declined to comment Monday on Iran’s announcement.
Kamalvandi said Iran needs 5% enrichment for its nuclear power plant in southern Iranian port of Bushehr and it also needs 20% enrichment for a Tehran research reactor.
The nuclear deal had limited Iran to enriching uranium only to 3.67%, which is enough for power plants and peaceful purposes.
But after America’s pullout and escalated sanctions, Tehran set a July 7 deadline for Europe to come up with better terms for the deal, or it would take additional steps away from the accord, likely meaning it would boost enrichment further.
Kamalvandi enforced that stance, saying that Tehran will increase uranium enrichment levels “based on the country’s needs.”
Enriching a supply of uranium means boosting its concentration of the type of uranium that can power a nuclear reaction. That type, or isotope, is called U-235. Enrichment basically means stripping away atoms of another isotope, called U-238. Boosting its purity to 20% means removing 22 more unwanted isotopes per atom of U-235, while going from there to 90% purity means removing just four more per atom of U-235. Ninety percent is considered weapons-grade material.
That means going from 20% to 90% is a relatively quicker process, something that worries nuclear nonproliferation experts. Iran maintains its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.
Iran reached its nuclear deal with world powers in 2015, agreeing to limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions. Since President Donald Trump took office, the U.S. has steadily stripped away at the accord. Trump pulled America out of the deal in May 2018.