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  1. ITV Report

Iranian president announces new step back from nuclear deal

Iran will begin injecting uranium gas into centrifuges, the country's president has said. Credit: AP

Iran’s president has announced his country will begin its next step in its gradual withdrawal from the landmark 2015 nuclear deal.

Tehran is to begin injecting uranium gas into 1,044 centrifuges, however, it is not clear if this will be used to enrich uranium, a component of nuclear weapons.

It is the country’s latest step away from its nuclear deal with world powers since US President Donald Trump withdrew from the accord more than a year ago.

The development is significant as the centrifuges previously spun empty, without gas injection, under the landmark 2015 nuclear accord.

It also increases pressure on European nations that remain in the accord, which at this point has all but collapsed.

In his announcement, President Hassan Rouhani said the centrifuges, which are at the country's nuclear facility in Fordo, would be injected with the uranium gas as of Wednesday.

President Hassan Rouhani visiting one of Iran's nuclear power plants. Credit: AP

His remarks, carried live on Iranian state television, came a day after Tehran’s nuclear programme chief said the country had doubled the number of advanced IR-6 centrifuges in operation.

There was no immediate reaction from the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog now monitoring Iran’s compliance with the deal.

The European Union has called on Iran to return to the deal, while the White House sanctioned members of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s inner circle as part of its maximalist campaign against Tehran.

Mr Rouhani stressed the steps taken so far, including going beyond the deal’s enrichment and stockpile limitations, could be reversed if Europe offers a way for it to avoid US sanctions choking off its crude oil sales abroad.

Part of Arak heavy water nuclear facilities, near the central Iranian city of Arak. Credit: AP

“We should be able to sell our oil,” Mr Rouhani said. “We should be able to bring our money into the country."

The centrifuges at Fordo are IR-1s, Iran’s first-generation centrifuge.

The nuclear deal allowed those at Fordo to spin without uranium gas, while allowing up to 5,060 at its Natanz facility to enrich uranium.

A centrifuge enriches uranium by rapidly spinning uranium hexafluoride gas.

An IR-6 centrifuge can produce enriched uranium 10 times faster than an IR-1, Iranian officials say.

Iranian scientists are also working on a prototype called the IR-9, which works 50-times faster than the IR-1, Iran’s nuclear chief Ali Akhbar Salehi said.

As of now, Iran is enriching uranium up to 4.5%, in violation of the accord’s limit of 3.67%.

Enriched uranium at the 3.67% level is enough for peaceful pursuits, such as providing energy, but is far below weapons-grade levels of 90%.

At the 4.5% level, it is enough to help power Iran’s Bushehr reactor, the country’s only nuclear power plant.

Prior to the atomic deal, Iran only reached up to 20%.

Tehran has gone from producing some 450g of low-enriched uranium a day to 5kg, Mr Salehi said.

US President Donald Trump pulled out of the nuclear deal. Credit: AP

Iran now holds over 500kg of low-enriched uranium, Mr Salehi said.

The deal had limited Iran to 300kg.

The collapse of the nuclear deal coincided with a tense summer of mysterious attacks on oil tankers and Saudi oil facilities that the US blamed on Iran.

Tehran denied the allegation, though it did seize oil tankers and shoot down a US military surveillance drone.

  • When did the tensions begin and why?

In 2015, Iran agreed a long-term deal on its nuclear programme with the US, UK, France, China, Russia and Germany.

Under the accord, Iran agreed to limit its sensitive nuclear activities and allow in international inspectors in return for the lifting of crippling economic sanctions.

It came after years of tension over Iran's alleged efforts to develop a nuclear weapon.

Iran insisted that its nuclear programme was entirely peaceful, but the international community did not believe that.

However, in 2018 Mr Trump pulled the US out of the deal which he called "terrible" and imposed more sanctions on Iran, crippling the country's economy.