February 20, 2023 | Flash Brief

Iran Enriching Uranium to Near Weapons-Grade

February 20, 2023 | Flash Brief

Iran Enriching Uranium to Near Weapons-Grade

Latest Developments

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has detected Iran’s enrichment of uranium to 84-percent purity at the Fordow underground facility, Bloomberg News reported on Sunday. This purity level marks the highest achieved by the Islamic Republic, though the exact quantity of 84-percent enriched uranium currently in Iran’s possession remains unknown. Uranium enriched to at least 90 percent is considered atomic weapons-grade. Since 2021, Tehran has curtailed some IAEA monitoring at Iran’s enrichment facilities, and the Bloomberg story does not make clear how the IAEA detected Iran’s enrichment to 84 percent.

Expert Analysis

“That Iran is enriching uranium to near weapons-grade and the IAEA has limited means to detect it is a direct result of the West’s diplomacy-without-leverage approach, which has permitted Tehran to gallop to the nuclear threshold with impunity. Washington must take the lead on penalizing and deterring Iran’s atomic advances, reapplying maximum economic pressure, and demanding greater transparency by Tehran.”Andrea Stricker, Deputy Director of FDD’s Nonproliferation and Biodefense Program

“Make no mistake, maximum deference and pulled punches against Iran’s nuclear escalation has led to this. These moves leave little room for the Biden administration to continue its current course on Iran and for resurrection of the 2015 nuclear deal.”Behnam Ben Taleblu, FDD Senior Fellow

Iran’s Atomic Advances

Since entering office in January 2021, the Biden administration has presided over numerous qualitative Iranian nuclear advances, as Tehran capitalized on reduced pressure and the West’s fruitless effort to restore the 2015 nuclear deal, or Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

In January 2021, Iran resumed 20 percent enrichment at Fordow for the first time since the JCPOA’s finalization. In April 2021, Tehran enriched uranium to 60 percent purity. The same year, Iran also produced uranium metal, a material used in nuclear weapon cores. Over the course of 2021 and 2022, Iran installed thousands of fast advanced centrifuges for uranium enrichment. Iran’s breakout time, or the amount of time it requires to make weapons-grade uranium (WGU) for a nuclear weapon, now stands at weeks to produce WGU for four atomic bombs.

Fordow Is a Growing Proliferation Concern

It is no surprise that Tehran would experiment with producing near-WGU at Fordow, particularly if it thought the IAEA would not detect it. Last month, Iran also failed to notify the IAEA when it changed an enrichment configuration at Fordow, a violation of Tehran’s IAEA safeguards agreement, which requires the regime to declare such nuclear activities.

Washington Must Shift Course

Iran is unlikely to abandon its efforts to creep toward becoming a nuclear threshold state. The Biden administration should therefore abandon its policy of seeking the JCPOA’s resurrection and embrace broad multilateral pressure against the Islamic Republic. This includes working with transatlantic partners to issue a resolution of censure at the next IAEA Board of Governors meeting, which takes place in mid-March. The United States and Europe must also refer Iran’s nuclear file back to the UN Security Council, where they should trigger the “snapback” of previous UN sanctions resolutions.

Related Analysis

Exploiting America’s Declining Pressure: Iran’s Nuclear Escalation Over Time, by Behnam Ben Taleblu and Andrea Stricker

From ‘Maximum Pressure’ to ‘Minimal Resistance,’ by Behnam Ben Taleblu and Andrea Stricker

If Europe Wants to Sanction Iran, It Knows What to Do, by Richard Goldberg and Andrea Stricker


International Organizations Iran Iran Global Threat Network Iran Nuclear Israel Nonproliferation