In July 2019, Iran began to explicitly violate the July 2015 nuclear agreement. The recent International Atomic Energy Agency report (March 3, 2020) addressed the following breaches by Iran on uranium enrichment:
Iran pledged to reduce the number of centrifuges in the Natanz enrichment plant to 5,060 IR-1 units and to limit its uranium enrichment to 3.67 percent. However, as of July 8, 2019, it began to enrich up to 4.5%.The agreement demands that the Fordow underground uranium enrichment facility, containing 2,710 IR-1 centrifuges, including 696 active centrifuges, be converted into a “Nuclear Research, Physics and Technology” center with 1,044 centrifuges cut off from the UF6 feed pipeline (UF6, or uranium hexafluoride, is a uranium-fluorine compound fed in a gaseous state into centrifuges for enrichment).
However, on Nov. 9, 2019, uranium enrichment was renewed at Fordow, with 1,044 units in operation, including those intended for stable isotope separation.
The agreement stipulates that the amount of uranium Iran is permitted to enrich to 3.67% is limited to 300 kg (661 pounds) of UF6 (the uranium content of which is 202.8 kg, or 447 pounds). But as of Feb. 19, 2020, the amount of uranium enriched at Natanz and Fordow totaled 1,020.9 kg (2,251 pounds), or more than five times the allowed amount. Of that amount, 806.3 kg (1,777 pounds) was enriched to 4.5% and 214.6 kg (473 pounds) to 3.67%.
On Sept. 7, 2019, Iran began to violate the limit to which it had agreed regarding the operation of advanced, high-enriching centrifuges. Contrary to the agreement, Iran is enriching uranium with about 400 centrifuges of advanced models (IR-2m, IR-4 and IR-6). The enrichment capacity of the IR-6 centrifuge is over eight times that of the IR-1.
The latest IAEA report says the agency continues to liaise with Iranian authorities regarding IAEA inspections of natural (non-enriched) uranium particles of an anthropogenic (i.e., man-made) source from an undeclared Iranian site: the warehouse in Turkuzabad, a suburb of Tehran, which was unveiled by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a speech to the UN General Assembly on Sept. 27, 2018.
According to the BBC on March 3, the IAEA dispatched a document to several member states claiming that Iran had rejected a request to allow inspection access to three other unidentified sites as well. According to the document, the inspectors want to find out if natural uranium is being used at any of the sites from which they are being barred. At another site, the IAEA says there have been activities that are “consistent with efforts to sanitize part of the location.”
Iran’s violations of the nuclear agreement — its raising of the uranium enrichment rate to 4.5% and accumulation of uranium in excess of the 300 kg UF6 limit — do not currently have a military aspect. This is because uranium enriched to less than 5% is suitable solely as fuel for nuclear reactors and cannot be used for nuclear weapons (for which enrichment to at least 90% is required). Iranian officials claim these violations are meant to pressure the European Union into neutralizing the sanctions imposed on Iran by the United States.