Iran announces it begins enriching uranium to 20%

Iran said Monday that it has started enriching uranium to 20% at an underground nuclear facility. You need to reach levels of 90% to use it in military practices.

It comes amid escalating tensions with the United States and marks the largest breach of the 2015 nuclear deal that the Middle Eastern country reached with several countries.

Iran’s decision to start enriching uranium to 20% a decade ago nearly sparked an Israeli attack on its nuclear facilities, tensions that only diminished with the 2015 agreement. Resuming enrichment to 20% could see it return to reach a critical point in relations between the two countries.

President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew the United States from the Iran nuclear deal with world powers in 2018. In the time since then there have been a series of incidents that have escalated tensions between the two countries.

Iran’s parliament recently passed a bill aimed at increasing uranium enrichment to pressure Europe to provide sanctions relief. It also serves as pressure before the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden, who has said he is willing to re-enter the nuclear deal.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) did not immediately confirm Iran’s announcement, but said last week that Tehran had informed the watchdog that it planned to take the step.

Shielded by mountains, the Iranian Fordo nuclear base is surrounded by anti-aircraft guns and other fortifications. It is the size of a football field, large enough to house 3,000 centrifuges, but small enough to make US officials suspect it had a military purpose when they exposed the site publicly in 2009.

The 2015 deal promised Iran to agree to limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for sanctions relief. He also called for Fordos to become a research and development facility.

Under Iran’s former hardline president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Tehran began enrichment at the 20% level. Israel, which has its own undeclared nuclear weapons program, feared that Tehran was building an atomic bomb.

Israel, which under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government has continued to criticize Iran’s nuclear program, did not offer any immediate comment on Saturday.

Until now, Iran had enriched uranium to 4.5%, violating the agreement’s limit of 3.67%. Experts say Iran now has enough low-enriched uranium reserves for at least two nuclear weapons if it decides to create them. Iran has long maintained that its nuclear program is peaceful.