Iran is to double the number of advanced centrifuges it operates, breaking further away from its collapsing 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, the country announced on Monday. Iran claims the decision is a direct result of President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the agreement.
Iran says it now has a prototype centrifuge that works 50 times faster than those allowed under the deal.
The announcement came as demonstrators across the country marked the 40th anniversary of the 1979 U.S. Embassy takeover that started a 444-day hostage crisis.
With the start up of these advanced centrifuges, Iran further cuts into the one year that experts estimate Tehran would need to have enough material for building a nuclear weapon, if it chose to manufacture one.
While Iran has long insisted its program is for peaceful purposes, Western fears about its work led to the 2015 agreement that saw Tehran limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.
Tensions are said to have recently been on the rise between the United States and Iran, following mysterious attacks on oil tankers near the Strait of Hormuz, the shooting down of a U.S. military drone by Iran, and other incidents that have occurred in the Middle East, reported Politico.
Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, claims Tehran has upped its production of low-enriched uranium from one pound per day to 11 pounds per day.
According to CNN, Salehi said, “Today we are launching the 30-series chain of IR6 centrifuge machines.”
“The number of centrifuges we have installed during these two months is about 15 new generation centrifuges, which is a huge achievement,” he added.
Video footage released by Iran shows Salehi dramatically pushing a button on a keyboard to start a chain of 30 IR-6 centrifuges at Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility, increasing the number of working centrifuges to 60.
“With the grace of God, I start the gas injection,” he said.
The nuclear deal limits Iran to using only 5,060 first-generation IR-1 centrifuges to enrich uranium. Salehi also announced that scientists were working on a prototype he called the IR-9, which works 50-times faster than the IR-1.
Iran is currently enriching uranium to 4.5 percent, in violation of the accord’s limit of 3.67 percent. Enriched uranium at the 3.67 percent level is enough for peaceful pursuits but is far below weapons-grade levels of 90 percent. At the 4.5 percent level, it is enough to help power Iran’s Bushehr reactor, the country’s only nuclear power plant.
Meanwhile Monday, state television aired footage of demonstrators gathered in front of the former U.S. Embassy in downtown Tehran as well as from other cities across the country celebrating the anniversary of the hostage crisis.
“Thanks to God, today the revolution’s seedlings have evolved into a fruitful and huge tree that its shadow has covered the entire” Middle East, said Gen. Abdolrahim Mousavi, the commander of the Iranian army.
U.S. military presence has increased across the Mideast, which includes stationing troops in Saudi Arabia for the first time since the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.