IAEA chides Iran for undeclared change to Fordow uranium enrichment setup

IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi holds a news conference in Vienna
IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi holds a news conference on the opening day of a quarterly meeting of his agency's 35-nation Board of Governors in Vienna, Austria, November 16, 2022. REUTERS/Lisa Leutner


VIENNA, Feb 1 (Reuters) - The U.N. nuclear watchdog criticised Iran on Wednesday for making an undeclared change to the interconnection between the two clusters of advanced machines enriching uranium to up to 60% purity, close to weapons grade, at its Fordow plant.

The International Atomic Energy Agency found the change during an unannounced inspection on Jan. 21 at the Fordow Fuel enrichment Plant (FFEP), a site dug into a mountain where inspectors are stepping up checks after Iran said it would dramatically expand enrichment.

Fordow is so sensitive that the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and major powers banned enrichment there. Since the United States pulled out of the deal in 2018 and re-imposed sanctions against Iran, the Islamic Republic has breached many of the deal's restrictions on its nuclear activities.

In a confidential report to member states seen by Reuters, the IAEA did not say how the interconnection between the two cascades of IR-6 centrifuges had been changed except that "they were interconnected in a way that was substantially different from the mode of operation declared by Iran (to the IAEA)".

In a public statement summarising that confidential report, the IAEA said its chief Rafael Grossi "is concerned that Iran implemented a substantial change in the design information of FFEP in relation to the production of high-enriched uranium without informing the Agency in advance."

"This is inconsistent with Iran's obligations under its Safeguards Agreement and undermines the Agency’s ability to adjust the safeguards approach for FFEP and implement effective safeguards measures at this facility."

The IAEA has had regular access to Fordow to carry out verification activities like inspections and it is in talks with Iran on stepping up those activities, the report said.

"The Agency and Iran have continued their discussions. The Agency has increased the frequency and intensity of its verification activities at FFEP. However, some other safeguards measures are still required and are being discussed with Iran," the report added.

Reporting by Francois Murphy Editing by Mark Heinrich

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.