UN Report on Iran's Past Nuclear Program

December 2, 2015
In a report completed in December 2015, the U.N. nuclear watchdog concluded that Iran had worked on a “range of activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device,” despite its denial of any work on a nuclear weapons program. It reported that the most “coordinated” work was done before 2003. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) noted, however, that “these activities did not advance beyond feasibility and scientific studies, and the acquisition of certain relevant technical competences and capabilities.” The long-awaited assessment said Tehran continued some activities until 2009 but that there was no “credible information” that the Islamic Republic had engaged in research or development of a nuclear weapons program since then. The report was framed as an assessment, suggesting that the watchdog couldn’t issue an unequivocal ruling, according to the Associated Press. On November 26, IAEA chief Yukiya Amano had warned that the report would “not be black and white.” The following are some key takeaways.
 
  • The IAEA did not find indications of an undeclared nuclear fuel cycle in Iran, beyond those activities declared by Tehran.
  • A range of activities relevant to the development of nuclear weapons were conducted before the end of 2003 as a “coordinated” effort.
  • Some activities took place until 2009, but they did not advance beyond feasibility and scientific studies, and the acquisition of some capabilities.
  • Tehran did not answer one quarter of the 12 specific questions or documents it was asked about.
  • The agency interviewed nuclear experts in Iran, but they were not identified in the report.  
  • At the Parchin complex, where the IAEA suspected nuclear experimental work took place in 2000, Iran extensively altered the site and “seriously undermined the Agency’s ability” to come to a definitive conclusion about past activities. 
 

Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi said that the report confirmed Iran’s full cooperation with the IAEA. “Therefore, all measures over the past issues have completely concluded and PMD has been left behind,” he said, according to the Iranian mediaHe also said that a nuclear bomb had not and will not be part of Iran’s defense doctrine. The report was part of the roadmap signed by Amano and Iranian nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi on July 14, the same day as the nuclear deal was announced. It was intended to wrap up nearly a decade of U.N. probing suspicions about the possible military dimensions of Iran’s program. Key excerpts from the report are below, followed by reactions from nuclear experts. 

 
Overall Assessment
 
76. This overall assessment results from the analysis of all the information available to the Agency in relation to each of the 12 areas, as set out in the 2011 Annex.
 
77. Based on all the information available to the Agency relating to nuclear material acquisition, including from the particular verification activities specified under the Framework for Cooperation (including the managed access to the Gchine mine) and the JPA, the Agency has not found indications of an undeclared nuclear fuel cycle in Iran, beyond those activities declared retrospectively by Iran. The Agency assesses that any quantity of nuclear material that may have been available to Iran under the AMAD Plan would have been within the uncertainties associated with nuclear material accountancy and related measurements.
 
78. Based on all the information available to it relating to nuclear components for an explosive device, the Agency has found no indications of Iran having conducted activities which can be directly traced to the ‘uranium metal document’ or to design information for a nuclear explosive device from the clandestine nuclear supply network.
 
79. The Agency assesses that explosive bridgewire (EBW) detonators developed by Iran have characteristics relevant to a nuclear explosive device. The Agency acknowledges that there is a growing use of EBW detonators for civilian and conventional military purposes. The Agency also assesses that the multipoint initiator (MPI) technology developed by Iran has characteristics relevant to a nuclear explosive device, as well as to a small number of alternative applications.
 
80. Information available to the Agency in relation to hydrodynamic testing indicated that Iran made and installed a large cylinder at the Parchin military complex in 2000. Other information indicated that this cylinder matched the parameters of an explosives firing chamber featured in publications of the foreign expert. The information available to the Agency, including the results of the analysis of the samples and the satellite images, does not support Iran’s statements on the purpose of the building. Activities implemented under the Road-map have established that the cylinder is not in the main building of interest. The Agency assesses that the extensive activities undertaken by Iran since February 2012 at the particular location of interest to the Agency seriously undermined the Agency’s ability to conduct effective verification.
 
81. Based on all the information available to the Agency on modelling and calculations, including from the implementation of the Road-map, the Agency assesses that Iran conducted computer modelling of a nuclear explosive device prior to 2004 and between 2005 and 2009. The Agency notes, however, the incomplete and fragmented nature of those calculations. The Agency also notes the applicability of some hydrodynamic modelling to conventional military explosive devices.
 
82. The Agency has verified the existence in Iran of two of the workshops referred to in the alleged studies documentation on the integration into a missile delivery vehicle, but has not received any other information on this area since the 2011 Annex.
 
83. The Agency has not received information additional to that contained in the alleged studies documentation on conducting a test or on fuzing, arming and firing systems since the 2011 Annex.
 
84. The Agency assesses that, before the end of 2003, an organizational structure was in place in Iran suitable for the coordination of a range of activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device. Although some activities took place after 2003, they were not part of a coordinated effort.
 
85. The Agency’s overall assessment is that a range of activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device were conducted in Iran prior to the end of 2003 as a coordinated effort, and some activities took place after 2003. The Agency also assesses that these activities did not advance beyond feasibility and scientific studies, and the acquisition of certain relevant technical competences and capabilities. The Agency has no credible indications of activities in Iran relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device after 2009.
 
Summary
 
86. All the activities contained in the Road-map were implemented in accordance with the agreed schedule. Iran provided explanations in writing and related documents on past and present outstanding issues, the Agency submitted questions on ambiguities relating to Iran’s explanations and technical- GOV/2015/68 Page 15 expert meetings were held. The Agency conducted safeguards activities at particular locations of interest to the Agency, including at the Parchin site, and a wrap-up meeting was held. The implementation of the Road-map facilitated a more substantive engagement between the Agency and Iran.
 
87. The Agency assesses that a range of activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device were conducted in Iran prior to the end of 2003 as a coordinated effort, and some activities took place after 2003. The Agency also assesses that these activities did not advance beyond feasibility and scientific studies, and the acquisition of certain relevant technical competences and capabilities. The Agency has no credible indications of activities in Iran relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device after 2009.
 

88. The Agency has found no credible indications of the diversion of nuclear material in connection with the possible military dimensions to Iran’s nuclear programme. 

Click here for the full text, posted by The Institute for Science and International Security.

 

Arms Control Association
 
Kelsey Davenport: Director of Nonproliferation Policy
 
“The IAEA’s assessment that Iran was engaged in activities relevant to the development of a nuclear weapon prior to 2004 is not surprising. That finding is consistent with what U.S. intelligence agencies, and nonproliferation watchdogs—including the Arms Control Association—have long-assumed.”
 
“The agency’s finding that there are ‘no credible indications’ that Tehran continued weaponization activities after 2009, or diverted nuclear material in connection with its past activities, is a strong indication that Iran has abandoned a coordinated nuclear weapons effort.”
 
"While the director-general’s report is a critical step, it does not, however, ‘normalize’ Iran’s nuclear program in the eyes of the International Atomic Energy Agency or the international community. Iran’s nuclear activities will remain under a microscope and subject to a multi-layered monitoring and verification regime. The IAEA also will continue to work to reach a ‘broader conclusion’ on Iran’s nuclear program – meaning that there has been no diversion of declared nuclear materials and no indication of undeclared nuclear materials and activities over a period of time. That will provide greater assurance that Iran’s nuclear program is entirely peaceful.”
 
The Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS)
 
David Albright: President and founder of ISIS, a physicist and former U.N. weapons inspector
Andrea Stricker: Senior policy analyst
Serena Kelleher-Vergantini: Research analyst
 
  • Despite obfuscation and stonewalling by Iran, the IAEA confirmed that Iran had a coordinated nuclear weapons development program until the end of 2003 and conducted some weapons development activities after 2003.  
  • Overall, Iran provided little real cooperation.  Denials and lack of truthfulness should not be confused with cooperation in the context of the JCPOA, any more than such "cooperation" by a defendant in a criminal investigation would be construed as real cooperation. 
  • Faced with such outright Iranian efforts to deceive the inspectors, the IAEA broke relatively little new ground.
  • The truth of Iran's work on nuclear weapons is probably far more extensive than outlined by the IAEA in this report.
  • The IAEA drew conclusions where it was able to.  The bottom line is that the IAEA's investigation into the possible military dimensions of Iran's nuclear programs cannot be understood to be concluded, certainly it cannot be closed. 

 

The Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation
 
The assessment corroborates previous intelligence assessments: Iran likely had a nuclear program in 2003, scrapped it and has tried to conceal the evidence and deny its existence ever since. The fact that there is still ambiguity about Iran’s nuclear programs is not a surprise, but also does not bar effective implementation of the nuclear agreement between Iran and the P5+1.
 
The JCPOA includes intrusive verification and monitoring systems to ensure that Iran’s nuclear program is effectively constrained and in compliance with the agreement. The monitoring regime is based on conservative estimates of Iran’s nuclear weapons program, assumes Iran is already a nuclear threshold state, and is designed to be effective regardless of whether or not Iran admits to its past nuclear activity.
 
The JCPOA limits Iran’s possession of centrifuges and nuclear material, prohibits specific nuclear weapon development activities, restricts procurement of nuclear weapons-related technology, and monitors Iran’s facilities involved in the mining and enriching of nuclear material.
 
Enforcement of these restrictions, unprecedented inspections by the IAEA, and the collective intelligence efforts of the United States and its negotiating partners will ensure that the international community is in the best possible position to detect, deter, and address a potential violation of the JCPOA by Iran.
 
Iranian Reactions
 
Atomic Energy Organization chief Ali Akbar Salehi
 
“They [Western powers] have failed to refer to any document that could support their claims, therefore, the fabricated case which had troubled Iran for years will be closed forever.”
—Dec. 3, 2015, according to Fars News Agency
 
Ambassador to the IAEA Reza Najafi 
 
“Based on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and the Roadmap [signed between Iran and the IAEA], Iran has been committed to the adoption of its specified measures which have been accomplished now and the IAEA report merely opens a logical path for the [IAEA] Board of Governors to close the case with the past issues.”
 
“Now it is the P5+1 (Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States)'s turn to act upon its undertakings based on paragraph 14 of the JCPOA and close the case by presenting a resolution to the Board of Governors.”

 

“The path of implementation of the JCPOA is paved only through closing the case at the Board of Governors.”
—Dec. 3, 2015, in remarks to Fars News Agency
 
Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Shamkhani 
 
“Although the report is incomplete, unacceptable and false in some parts, a number of its provisions verify the non-diversion of the Islamic Republic’s peaceful nuclear program.”
—Dec. 7, 2015, in a meeting with Lebanon’s finance minister