Iran’s underground Fordo nuclear facility outside of Qom, Iran. (Planet Labs/AP)

Tehran preparing enrichment escalation, says nuclear watchdog

Vienna: Iran is escalating its uranium enrichment further by preparing to use advanced IR-6 centrifuges at its underground Fordo site that can more easily switch between enrichment levels, a United Nations nuclear watchdog report seen by Reuters shows.

The move is the latest of several steps the country had long threatened to take but held off carrying out, until 30 of the 35 countries on the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Board of Governors backed a resolution this month criticising it for failing to explain uranium traces found at undeclared sites.

With indirect US-Iran talks on reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal long stalled, any further escalation in Tehran’s stand-off with the West risks killing off hopes of reining in the Islamic republic’s nuclear advances and lifting US sanctions against it.

IAEA inspectors verified on Saturday that Iran was ready to feed uranium hexafluoride (UF6) gas, the material centrifuges enrich, into the second of two cascades, or clusters, of IR-6 centrifuges installed at Fordo, a site dug into mountain, the confidential IAEA report to member states said.

Iran informed the IAEA on Monday (Tuesday AEST) that passivation of the cascade, a process that precedes enrichment and also involves feeding UF6 into the machines, had begun on Sunday.

Read the article by Francois Murphy in The Sydney Morning Herald.