Iran began enriching uranium to a fissile purity of 20 percent at the Fordo nuclear site near the holy Shiite city of Qom, diplomatic sources said Monday, bringing it closer to further refining uranium to the 90 percent purity required for nuclear weapons.
For months, Tehran has said it was planning to move its highest-grade uranium refinement work to Fordo from the plant at Natanz, since the former offers better protection against any enemy attacks. It now has. The Fordo facility is a hardened tunnel built next to a military complex and protected by air defense missile batteries and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. According to Iran’s nuclear chief, Fereidoun Abbasi: “the enemy doesn’t have the ability to damage it.” Of course, that is one of Israel and America’s greatest concerns.
Satellite image of the Fordo site under construction in 2009.
The news of activity at Fordo comes as tension between Iran and the U.S. is on the rise. On December 31, President Obama signed into law new sanctions against Iran that cuts off foreign financial institutions from the U.S. economy if they do business with Iran’s central bank, Bank Markazi, through which about half of Iran’s oil transactions are routed. In response, Iran threatened to take action if a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier moves into the Gulf. Last month, Tehran threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz, and shortly thereafter held naval exercises. Its next round of drills will practice closing the Strait of Hormuz, an Iranian lawmaker recently said.
Those looking for positive payouts from America’s diplomatic engagement with Iran will no doubt be disappointed. A rocky road lays ahead.