Iran set off national security alarm bells on Tuesday morning after its government announced that it would begin injecting gas into the centrifuges at Fordow, an underground nuclear facility built to withstand U.S. airstrikes.
“We know it’s possible they’ll make a fuss,” said Iranian president Hassan Rouhani. “However, whenever they fulfill their obligations, this step of ours will be reversible.”
It was a blow to the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign, which was supposed to force Iran to accept a “better deal” than the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) regulating its nuclear program. But the Iranian action was also a blow to the JCPOA itself, making it harder to walk back into the 2015 international deal.
The JCPOA, signed by U.S. President Barack Obama and five other world leaders, stated that “Iran will refrain from any uranium enrichment and uranium enrichment [research and development] and from keeping any nuclear material at Fordow for 15 years.” Instead, the mountain laboratory was supposed to become “a nuclear, physics and technology center” for producing “stable isotopes” that cannot be used as nuclear fuel.
By injecting uranium hexafluoride gas into the centrifuges at Fordow, Iran is breaking a key part of the deal—and beginning the process to enrich uranium, which can be used as nuclear fuel.
In fact, Iranian nuclear energy head Ali Akbar Salehi recently announced during a press conference unveiling a new line of uranium centrifuges that Iran had accumulated over 1,700 kilograms of enriched uranium, nearing its pre-JCPOA level of 2,300 kilograms.
“Iran has no credible reason to expand its uranium enrichment program. It is a clear attempt at nuclear extortion that will only deepen its political and economic isolation,” a U.S. State Department official told the National Interest. “Secretary [Mike] Pompeo has made clear that the right amount of uranium enrichment for the world’s top sponsor of terrorism is zero. We will continue to impose maximum pressure on the regime until it abandons its destabilizing behavior, including proliferation-sensitive work.”