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Iran eliminates some nuclear weapons potential
nuclear proliferation

Iran eliminates some nuclear weapons potential

17.03.2022 From our online archive
A third of Iran's highly enriched uranium stocks converted for medical uses, monitors say
Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian at a press conference in Moscow on Tuesday
Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian at a press conference in Moscow on Tuesday
Photo credit: AFP

Iran has started converting a third of its highly enriched uranium stockpile into material used to produce medical isotopes, potentially reducing tensions amid efforts to revive its landmark nuclear agreement with world powers. 

International Atomic Energy Agency monitors verified that Iran began on March 11 irradiating part of its stockpile of uranium enriched to 60% to produce molybdenum targets, according to a two-page restricted document circulated late Wednesday among diplomats in Vienna and seen by Bloomberg. The process renders the material useless for weapons. 

“They’ve taken it out of the pipeline,” said Robert Kelley, a U.S. nuclear-weapons engineer who formerly directed inspections for the world’s nuclear watchdog. “It’s no longer suitable for further enrichment or weapons.”

The Islamic Republic’s stockpile of 60% enriched uranium had prompted international concern because the IAEA said it’s technically indistinguishable from the 90% purity typically used in weapons. 

Monitors published the report amid a pause in negotiations aimed at salvaging the 2015 accord that reined in Iran’s atomic activities in exchange for sanctions relief. It follows the release of two British-Iranian prisoners on Wednesday and suggests another Iranian step toward addressing some of the most immediate concerns over its nuclear activities. 

Historically, medical isotopes have been produced with 90% enriched uranium -- a process that persists in some countries -- but has been gradually replaced with lower levels in order to reduce proliferation risks. 

Though Iran has effectively de-weaponized part of its stockpile, it’s not clear that its engineers will now be able to use the product to efficiently produce medical isotopes, according to Kelley, raising questions over Iran’s original intentions. 

Iran maintains that its nuclear program is for civilian uses and has repeatedly denied that it aims to develop a bomb. 

“The production of highly enriched uranium up to 60%, have no credible peaceful purpose,” said Louis Bono, the U.S. envoy to the IAEA last week in a statement. 

©2022 Bloomberg L.P.

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