The opening ceremony of the construction site was attended by the head of Iran’s civilian Atomic Energy Organization, Mohammad Eslami, who first unveiled construction plans for Karoon in April.
Iran has a nuclear power plant at the southern port of Bushehr that went online in 2011 with Russia’s help, but also has several underground nuclear facilities.
The announcement of Karoon’s creation came less than two weeks after Iran said it had begun producing uranium enriched at 60% purity at the country’s underground Fordo nuclear facility. The move is being seen as a significant growth in the country’s nuclear programme.
The enhancement to 60% accuracy is a small, technological step from the weapons-grade level of 90%. Non-proliferation experts have warned in recent months that Iran now has enough 60%-enriched uranium to be reprocessed into fuel for at least one nuclear warhead.
The move was condemned by Germany, France and Britain, the three Western European nations that remained in the Iran nuclear deal. Recent efforts to revive Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal, which eased sanctions in exchange for curbs on Iran’s nuclear program, have stalled.
Since September, Iran has been rocked by nationwide protests, posing one of the biggest challenges to its democracy since the chaotic years of the 1979 Islamic Revolution. The protests intensified when 22-year-old Mahsa Amini died in custody on 16 September, three days after her arrest by morality police for violating the Islamic Republic’s strict dress code for women. Iran’s government says Amini was not abused, but her family says her body showed bruises and other signs of beatings after being taken into custody.
In a statement released on Saturday by the state-run IRNA news agency, the country’s National Security Council announced that some 200 people have been killed during the protests, the body’s first official word on casualties. Last week, Iranian General Amir Ali Hajizadeh put the death toll at over 300.
The protest tolls are low in comparison to the toll reported by human rights activists in Iran, a US-based organization that has been closely monitoring the protests since the outbreak. In its most recent update, the group says 469 people have been killed and another 18,210 detained in the violent security force crackdown on the protests and the aftermath.
Iranian state media also announced on Saturday that the family home of Elnaz Rekabi, an Iranian female rock climber who competed abroad with her hair uncovered, had been demolished. Iran’s official judiciary news agency, Mizan, said that the destruction of her brother’s house was due to its “unauthorized construction and land use” and that the demolition took place months before the Recabi competition. Anti-government activists say it was a targeted demolition.
Rekabi became a symbol of the anti-government movement in October after participating in a rock climbing competition in South Korea that did not feature the Islamic republic’s mandatory headscarf for female athletes. In an Instagram post the next day, Rekabi described her not wearing a hijab as “unintentional”, though it is unclear whether she wrote the post or what condition she was in at the time.
Since September, Iranian cities have registered a decline in the number of ethical police officers. The group was established in 2005 with the task of arresting people who violate the country’s Islamic dress code.
In a report published by ISNA late Saturday, Iran’s prosecutor general, Mohammad Jafar Montazeri, said the morality police had been “shut down”. He gave no further details on the status of the force, or if its shutdown was widespread and permanent.
“The judiciary continues to monitor behavioral actions at the community level,” Montezeri said.
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