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Iranian state media: Construction of nuclear power plant begins

CAIRO — Iran began construction of a new nuclear power plant in the southwest of the country on Saturday, Iranian state television said, amid tensions with the United States over sweeping sanctions imposed after Washington be withdrawn from the Islamic Republic’s nuclear deal with world powers.

The announcement also comes as Iran has been rocked by nationwide anti-government protests that began after a young woman died in police custody and challenged the country’s theocratic government.

The new 300-megawatt power station, known as Karoon, will take eight years to build and cost around $2 billion, the country’s national television and radio agency reported. The plant will be located in Iran’s oil-rich Khuzestan province near its western border with Iraq, he said.

The groundbreaking ceremony for the construction site was attended by Mohammed Eslami, head of Iran’s Civil Atomic Energy Organization, who first unveiled Karoon’s construction plans in April.

Iran has a nuclear power plant in its southern port of Bushehr which was commissioned in 2011 with the help of Russia, but also several underground nuclear facilities.

The Karoon construction announcement came less than two weeks after Iran said it had started producing enriched uranium at 60% purity at the underground Fordo nuclear facility. The move is seen as an important addition to the country’s nuclear program.

Enrichment to 60% purity is a short technical step away from military grade levels of 90%. Non-proliferation experts have warned in recent months that Iran now has enough 60% enriched uranium to reprocess it into fuel for at least one nuclear bomb.

The move was condemned by Germany, France and Britain, the three Western European countries that remain in the Iran nuclear deal. Recent attempts to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which eased sanctions on Iran in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program, have stalled.

Since September, Iran has been rocked by nationwide protests that have become one of the biggest challenges to its theocracy since the chaotic years following its 1979 Islamic revolution. The protests were sparked when Mahsa Amini, 22, died in custody on September 16, three days after she was arrested by Iranian vice police for violating the Islamic Republic’s strict dress code for women. Iran’s government insists Amini was not abused, but her family say her body showed bruises and other signs of beatings after her arrest

In a statement released by Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency on Saturday, the country’s national security council said around 200 people had been killed during the protests, the body’s first official word on casualties. Last week, Iranian General Amir Ali Hajizadeh reported more than 300 dead.

The conflicting tolls are lower than those reported by Human Rights Activists in Iran, a US-based organization that has been monitoring the protest closely since the outbreak. In its latest update, the group says 469 people have been killed and 18,210 others detained during the protests and the violent crackdown by security forces that followed.

The United States unilaterally withdrew from the nuclear deal – officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA – in 2018 under President Donald Trump. He reimposed sanctions on Iran, prompting Tehran to start backing away from the terms of the deal. Iran has long denied ever researching nuclear weapons, insisting its nuclear program is peaceful.

ABC News

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