Iran has now exceeded its internationally-agreed stockpile limit of low-enriched uranium, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and the International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed Monday, breaching a key tenet of the 2015 nuclear deal that the President Donald Trump administration abandoned last year.
The move comes amid rapidly escalating tensions between Washington and Tehran and against the backdrop of an Iranian economy buckling under the weight of U.S. sanctions, which had previously been lifted under the Obama-era deal in exchange for limits on the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program.
Zarif said Iran has surpassed 300kg (661 pounds) of uranium hexafluoride (UF6), the equivalent of 202.8kg of low-enriched uranium, Iran’s limit under the nuclear deal. Uranium enriched to the low level of 3.67% fissile material, allowed under the deal, is the initial step in a complex process that could, over time, enable Iran to accumulate enough highly-enriched uranium to build a nuclear warhead, according to experts.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi, however, said that Iran’s breaches of the deal were “reversible”.
But what does exceeding a certain amount of low-enriched uranium actually mean? How much closer does this bring Iran to nuclear bomb-making capability?
Nuclear experts interviewed by CNBC say this is far less threatening than it sounds.
“Even once Iran crosses the 300kg threshold, they are still a long way off from having a stockpile sufficient to produce a bomb,” Anne Harrington, professor of international relations and a specialist in nuclear nonproliferation at Cardiff University in Wales, told CNBC in an email.
That’s because low-enriched uranium is only 3.67% U-235 — the uranium isotope needed to create a nuclear weapon — and is impractical for use in a weapon, Harrington explained. “At 3.67% they would need to stockpile approximately three times the current limit to have enough material for one bomb, and that material would need to be further enriched.”