Iran's former nuclear chief who is a member of parliament says the Islamic Republic should produce plutonium in addition to enriching uranium to 90 percent.
Fereydoun Abbasi, a member of parliament’s energy committee, said Saturday that Iran should enrich uranium not just to 60 percent – the highest level reached at present – but to 90 percent and more. Uranium enriched to 90 percent is only used for producing nuclear bombs.
But what appeared to be a direct threat amid nuclear talks with the West was Abbasi’s statement that Iran should also produce plutonium.
“Western countries must be afraid of plutonium in Iran. We want plutonium for energy production, not weapons, and it must be available in the country,” he said, adding that “we must keep the enriched materials.” Abbasi went on to say that Iran must do these things publicly and under the supervision of the agency.
Indirect talks between the United States and Iran since April 2021 to revive the Obama-era Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) has reached a critical stage, as Iran has hardened its position in recent days and insists on its remaining demands.
Tehran is asking for US guarantees both for the durability of a new agreement and on issues related to sanctions. In addition, Tehran also is demanding an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) probe into its past undeclared activities to be closed.
Production of plutonium by Iran was banned outright under the JCPOA in 2015. According to the accord, a plutonium heavy water reactor that Tehran was building in Arak was dismantled and its core filled with concrete. Plutonium produced from uranium reactor spent fuel is the easiest path to making nuclear bombs.
Abbasi had earlier said that the highly enriched uranium fissile material should be used “both for scientific research and for making nuclear fuel for submarines.”
On September 1, another lawmaker and a commander in Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, Mohammad Esmail Kowsari said, "We can turn the 60% enrichment rate into 93%, which means an atomic bomb, and although we are not looking for this, we have the ability to do it if the other side is slow to move" to revive the landmark nuclear accord.
Iran began in 2019 enriching uranium beyond the 3.67 percent cap set by the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action), the year after the US left the 2015 deal and imposed ‘maximum pressure’ sanctions. There are no civilian uses for 90-percent-enriched uranium including research and medical isotopes which would need up to 20-percent enriched uranium. Iran also has no nuclear submarines and 90 percent is widely considered weapons grade fissile material.
In its nuclear brinksmanship since early 2021, Iran has also severely restricted monitoring by the IAEA by first denying real-time access and then disconnecting cameras and special equipment. In this period, it is believed Tehran has accumulated enough enriched uranium to easily take a leap to 90-percent enriched fissile material enough for one or two nuclear bombs.