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

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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 transit commission hopes to prioritize COVID-19 vaccines for OC Transpo workers

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Ottawa’s transit commission is pushing local and provincial health officials to recognize the role OC Transpo operators have played in keeping the city running during the COVID-19 pandemic, hoping to bump train and bus drivers in the vaccination queue amid a recent surge in coronavirus infections affecting transit workers.

More than 100 OC Transpo staff across the entire organization have tested positive for the coronavirus since the start of the pandemic, according to an update at Wednesday morning’s transit commission meeting.

Of those cases, 26 employees are currently recovering from the disease in self-isolation.

OC Transpo has seen a recent jump in COVID-19 cases, with Ottawa city council receiving reports of eight operators testing positive for the virus over a recent eight-day period.

Transit commissioner Sarah Wright-Gilbert attempted to find out how many of the total cases are traced to workplace transmission, but OC Transpo boss John Manconi said he’s been advised by medical officer of health Dr. Vera Etches that he can’t share that information for privacy reasons.

Transit operators are listed in the second priority group of essential workers as part of Ontario’s COVID-19 vaccine sequencing plans, but several commissioners speaking Wednesday wanted to get the city’s bus and train drivers bumped higher in the order.

Councillors Riley Brockington and Glen Gower both put forward motions looking to get front-line OC Transpo employees prioritization in vaccine sequencing, but others pointed out that the much-debated public health topic of who gets the vaccine and when is well beyond the scope of the transit commission.

“We are not in a position in transit commission to be decreeing, or making an edict, about what group of essential workers is more at risk than others and should be prioritized. That should be left up to public health experts,” Wright-Gilbert said.

Knoxdale-Merivale Coun. Keith Egli, who also chairs the Ottawa Board of Health, reflected on the board’s four-plus-hour meeting on Monday evening, during which vaccine sequencing and prioritizing essential workers dominated the conversation.

“Vaccine sequencing is obviously a very difficult maze to get through,” he said.

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COVID-19: Ottawa police announce end of 24-7 presence at Ontario-Quebec border

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Less than two days after the Ontario government’s latest COVID-19 restrictions came into effect, calling for non-essential traffic to be stopped at the province’s borders with Quebec and Manitoba, the Ottawa Police Service has announced it is stopping its 24-hour checkpoints.

According to a statement issued by the service Tuesday evening, the around-the-clock border checkpoints were set to end as of 8 p.m. on Tuesday in favour of rotating checkpoints across the city throughout the day until Ontario’s temporary regulations end.

“Since the onset of the border operations, the OPS has been working closely with Ottawa Public Health (OPH) along with local stakeholders and interprovincial stakeholders (the City of Ottawa, the City of Gatineau, the Ontario Provincial Police etc.) to assess any local public health, traffic and safety impacts. The assessment resulted in today’s operational changes,” the statement said.

“The operational changes announced today are designed to better ensure the health and safety of all, to minimize delays and/or hazards for travellers and to ensure essential workers can get to their places of employment on time.”

The statement also said the police service, while working to comply with the provincial order, was focused on education and enforcement actions that “support improved public health outcomes and respect the concerns of our most marginalized and racialized communities”

Officers said they will be conducting daily assessments on border crossings and that there could be further changes.

In a statement to Global News, a spokesperson for Solicitor General Sylvia Jones said that the border closures are ultimately subject to the discretion of local police enforcing the regulations.

“Local police services are best positioned to determine the operational deployments necessary to ensure the continued safety of their communities,” the spokesperson said, noting that the order’s regulations still apply to individuals entering the province.

The temporary order restricts Quebec residents from entering Ontario. If prompted, individuals must stop when directed by an enforcement officials and provide their reason for entering the province.

The main exemptions to the restrictions include if the person’s main home is in the province, if they work in Ontario, if they’re transporting goods, if they’re exercising Indigenous or treaty rights, if they need health care or if there’s a basis on compassionate grounds.

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COVID-19 vaccines in Ottawa: Nearly half of all residents in their 60s have at least one dose

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OTTAWA — Ottawa Public Health’s latest COVID-19 vaccination update shows that nearly half of all residents 60 to 69 years old have had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, a figure that has all but doubled in the past week.

OPH’s COVID-19 vaccination dashboard shows 58,000 residents 60 to 69 have had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, accounting for 49.3 per cent of that age group’s population in Ottawa. Last Wednesday, OPH reported 30,000 residents 60 to 69 had had at least one dose, which was 25.4 per cent.

As age demographics get younger, the population grows larger and the coverage by percentage may appear to grow more slowly, even if clinics are vaccinating greater numbers of people. For example, the latest figures show that 83 per cent of people aged 70 to 79 have had at least one dose. By raw population that’s 60,000 people, only slightly higher than half of all people in their 60s.

Vaccinations are open through the Ontario portal to anyone 60 and older and, this week, the AstraZeneca vaccine was approved for administration at pharmacies and primary care clinics to anyone in Ontario 40 and older.

OPH reported a new shipment this week of 25,740 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. To date, Ottawa has received 305,130 doses of COVID-19 vaccines from the provincial government.

The number of eligible residents (i.e. 16 and older) with at least one dose of a vaccine is now up to 28 per cent.

Tuesday was Ottawa’s second-busiest day for vaccinations overall, with the OPH reporting 9,729 shots administered. Last Friday saw 9,887 shots administered in a single day.

QUICK STATS

  • Ottawa residents with at least one dose: 248,668
  • Ottawa residents with two doses: 26,722
  • Percent of eligible population (residents 16 and older) with at least one dose: 28 per cent
  • Percent of eligible population (residents 16 and older) with two doses: 3 per cent
  • Percent of total population with at least one dose: 24 per cent
  • Percent of total population with two doses: 3 per cent

VACCINATION COVERAGE BY AGE FOR OTTAWA RESIDENTS WITH AT LEAST ONE DOSE

  • 10-19: 1.6 per cent (1,804 people)
  • 20-29: 8.3 per cent (13,452 people)
  • 30-39: 9.5 per cent (14,999 people)
  • 40-49: 12.9 per cent (17,350 people)
  • 50-59: 28.8 per cent (40,320 people)
  • 60-69: 49.3 per cent (58,627 people)
  • 70-79: 82.9 per cent (62,808 people)
  • 80-89: 87.5 per cent (29,358 people)
  • 90+: 89.2 per cent (7,893 people)
  • Unknown age: 2,057 people 

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