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Nuclear chief: Iran advances technology to enrich uranium | Iran News





The head of Iran’s nuclear programme Ali Akbar Salehi has announced that the Islamic Republic has broken new ground on nuclear technology, with scientists taking the first steps to design a modern process  for 20 percent uranium enrichment, a move Iranian observers say is a warning to the US and Europe.   

In an interview with state news agency, IRIB, Salehi said on Sunday that Iranian scientists are “on the threshold” of modernising the mechanism to produce 20 percent uranium.

“This is distinct from the previous 20 percent fuel produced, and we can provide fuel to any reactor similar to the Tehran reactor,” Salehi said.

‘Death to America’: Iranians say it is only a rallying call

“Right now, designing a reactor has become very possible for our scientists,” he said without elaborating on the purpose of such enrichment. 

Enriching uranium at 20 percent is considered above the requirement for nuclear energy production, but still well below the 80 to 90 percent enrichment required for a nuclear weapon.

Under the 2015 nuclear deal, which Iran and world powers signed, Tehran significantly scaled back its nuclear enrichment and gave up its pursuit of nuclear weapons. Its enrichment of uranium for civilian purposes was also restricted at 3.5 percent, and limited only to 300 kg of uranium. Tehran has always denied seeking nuclear weapons.

In exchange, international sanctions against the country were lifted, allowing it to sell oil and gas to the world market.

According to the latest report by UN nuclear inspectors, Iran continues to abide by the regulations of the deal.

But Iran has come under intense economic and political pressure after US President Donald Trump abandoned the agreement in May 2018.

Trump also decided to reimpose US sanctions in August and November, effectively cutting Iran’s vital link to the international trade.

More serious action coming?

Mohammad Hashemi, a Tehran-based journalist and political observer, said Salehi’s statement on Sunday hints that Iran is preparing to take more serious action, while leaving the possibility that it could abandon the deal, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

“Since the conclusion of 2015 accord, Iranian officials have always reiterated that Tehran can restore all aspects of its nuclear programme that it has agreed to limit under the deal in a short period, if the agreement is violated,” Hashemi told Al Jazeera.

In recent days, Pompeo has vowed to confront Iran’s activities in the region [Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/Reuters]

Now that Trump has pulled out of the deal, and Europe is hesitating to “stand up against Trump”, Tehran is making good on its threat, he said.

“Otherwise, by failing to do so they have to provide the [Iranian] public with appropriate reasons and explanations why they have failed to fulfill their promises” when they signed the deal.

In recent days, the US government has ramped up its campaign against Iran. In a speech in Cairo on Thursday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo vowed to confront Iran in the region. 

Tehran had hoped to enjoy economic windfall from the deal, and revive its long ailing economy. Since the US withdrawal and the reimposition of sanctions, however, Iran’s currency has lost significant value and the country is facing inflation and high unemployment.    

From rhetoric to reality: The return of US sanctions on Iran

Siavash Fallahpour, a foreign policy reporter based in Tehran, noted that for now, the action announced by Salehi is “just a warning”.

“Iran doesn’t want to withdraw from the deal,” and there is no evidence of such move for now, Fallahpour told Al Jazeera.

He said it is more of a message to European countries, “because they didn’t do anything reliable” for the Rouhani administration, which is “under pressure” by the opposition in the country.

Iran has said that it will continue to stay in the deal, as long as it will reap some financial benefits.

But in the past, Salehi was also repeatedly quoted as saying that Tehran only needs a short period to ramp up its uranium enrichment if the nuclear deal collapses. 

“If we make the determination, we are able to resume 20 percent enrichment in five days,” he said in August 2017.

In June 2018, Salehi also announced that Iran began work to build advanced centrifuges at its Natanz facility. He also told Iran’s state TV a month later that the effort to acquire uranium has resulted in a stockpile of as much as 950 tonnes.


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Ottawa families give mixed reviews for online schooling





So, how’s it going with online school? Families reached by CBC Ottawa seem to have mixed reviews. 

Masuma Khan is a mother of two. Her seven-year-old, Hana Wyndham in Grade 2, is attending French immersion virtual school. Masuma is grateful it’s an option, but can’t help notice a lot of down time.

“There’s a lot of, ‘are you on mute?’ In terms of the amount of learning that’s actually happening, it does seem to be not that high,” said Masuma.

Parents who kept their children at home this fall are in the minority, but they still form a significant chunk of families in Ottawa.

In the city’s largest school board, the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB), about 27 per cent of elementary students and 22 per cent of high school students chose online learning. The Ottawa Catholic School Board says roughly a quarter of its students are online.

For Masuma, the decision to keep her daughter home was complex: extended family members are immunocompromised and she worried the in-person learning environment would be unpleasant because of precautions. She also felt her daughter might benefit from being supported at home.

“She doesn’t necessarily enjoy school. I also found out during the pandemic that she was being bullied [last year],” said Masuma. “So I thought, why not try from home?”

To help her daughter socialize face-to-face with other kids, Masuma enrolled Hana in Baxter Forest School, an alternative education program where kids spend most of their time outside, one day a week. Hana also attends virtual Arabic classes two days a week after school. 

Masuma’s husband and Hana share the living room work space, and Masuma admits he does the lion’s share of helping their daughter stay on task. There is a possibility that he’ll be required to return to his office in the new year.

“When he goes back to work … it’s probably going to be a little bit more difficult.”

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No school closures after Christmas holiday break, says Ontario education minister





Ontario elementary and secondary schools will not close for an extended winter break, says Education Minister Stephen Lecce.

Closures aren’t needed given Ontario’s “strong safety protocols, low levels of (COVID-19) transmission and safety within our schools,” Lecce announced Wednesday afternoon. He said he had consulted with Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams and the province’s public health measures advisory table.

That ended speculation about school buildings remaining closed in January for a period of time after the Christmas break.

Earlier in the week, Lecce told reporters the government was considering having students spend “some period out of class” in January, perhaps switching to online learning.

In a statement, Lecce said that even though rates of community transmission of COVID-19 are increasing, “schools have been remarkably successful at minimizing outbreaks to ensure that our kids stay safe and learning in their classrooms.”

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Windy start to the week in Ottawa





OTTAWA — It’s a blustery Monday in the capital with wind gusts of up to 50 km/hour expected throughout the day.

Environment Canada is forecasting a high of 4 C with a 60 per cent chance of showers or flurries before the wind dies down later this evening.

There’s a chance of flurries on Tuesday as well with a high of -1 C. The overnight low will dip to an unseasonal -9 C.  

Wednesday’s high will be just -5 C with lots of sunshine.

Seasonal temperatures return for the rest of the week..

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