In a defiant move ahead of nuclear talks, Iran has announced plans to vastly increase its pace of uranium enrichment, which can make both reactor fuel and the fissile core of warheads. Eager to avoid scuttling those negotiations, world powers are keeping their response low-key.
Iran told the Inter- national Atomic Energy Agency of its intentions last week, and the IAEA informed member nations in an internal note seen by The Associated Press on Thursday.
The brief note quoted Iran as saying new-generation IR2m “centrifuge machines ... will be used” to populate a new “unit” — a technical term for an assembly that can consist of as many as 3,132 centrifuges.
It gave no time frame. A senior diplomat familiar with the issue said work had not started, adding that it would take weeks, if not months, to have the new machines running once technicians started putting them in. He demanded anonymity because he was not authorized to divulge confidential information.
Mark Fitzpatrick, a non-proliferation expert and former senior official at the U.S. State Department, described the planned upgrade as a potential “game-changer.”
“If thousands of the more-efficient machines are introduced, the time line for being able to produce a weapon’s worth of fissile material will significantly shorten,” said Fitzpatrick, of the International Institute for Strategic Studies.
“This won’t change the several months it would take to make actual weapons out of the fissile material or the two years or more that it would take to be able to mount a nuclear warhead on a missile, so there is no need to start beating the war drums,” he said. “But it will certainly escalate concerns.”