Iran has kicked off construction at a site located close to its uranium enrichment plant in Fordo in the country’s Qom Province, according to satellite imagery from Maxar Technologies obtained by the Associated Press (AP).
Neither Iran’s mission to the United Nations, nor the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) have commented on the matter yet.
AP claimed that the construction, which allegedly kicked off in late September, is taking place at a northwest area of the Fordo site about 90 kilometres (55 miles) southwest of the capital Tehran.
One of the photos allegedly shows what looks like a dug foundation for the facility with scores of pillars typically designed for securing buildings in earthquake zones.
The news outlet also referred to a satellite photo of the ongoing construction at the Fordo site posted by a Twitter user nicknamed Observer IL.
#Fordow Uranium Enrichment Plan #IRAN – New construction activity located in the support/R&D area, 350 meters East of the actual complex. Leveling started in September 2020. Foundation trenches were dug for a new 50x70m structure which purpose is currently unknown. #JCPOA #IMINT pic.twitter.com/k42vTZrJni
— Observer IL (@Obs_IL) December 16, 2020
The user, who only identified himself as a retired Israeli Defence Forces soldier with a civil engineering background, was quoted by AP as saying that the photo came from South Korea’s Korea Aerospace Research Institute, which confirmed the information.
This comes a few weeks after the assassination of top Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh in Absard, a city near Tehran. Senior Iranian officials immediately accused Israel of being behind the attack, while the Jewish State’s top brass has so far remained silent on the matter.
In a separate development, the IAEA argued in mid-November that Iran’s stockpile of low-enriched uranium had already reached 2,442.9kg (5,385.6lbs), more than 12 times the amount of enriched uranium allowed under the 2015 nuclear deal, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
Iran has been stockpiling uranium fuel since summer 2019, when Tehran announced it would no longer adhere to the JCPOA provisions in terms of limits on stockpiles and the allowed enrichment levels. The developments followed President Donald Trump announcing Washington’s unilateral withdrawal from the JCPOA and reinstating harsh economic sanctions against the Islamic Republic in May 2018.
Tehran has expressed cautious optimism about the prospects of Joe Biden’s presidency and Washington’s potential return to the JCPOA, but also repeatedly stated that the agreement was not open to renegotiation.
Iran is currently enriching uranium up to 4.5%, as compared to the nuclear deal’s limit of 3.67%. The Islamic Republic underscores that its uranium enrichment programme is for peaceful purposes only, while Washington insists that Tehran is looking to obtain a nuclear weapon.
The reported construction at the Fordo site comes amid ongoing Washington-Iran tensions which worsened in early January, when top Iranian general Qasem Soleimani was killed in Baghdad by a US drone strike authorised by President Trump.