UN: Mixed Progress on Iran Nuke Program

September 5, 2014

            Iran has begun fulfilling additional commitments it made in July to rollback its nuclear program, according to the latest quarterly report by the U.N. nuclear watchdog. Iran has downblended or converted all of its uranium that was enriched to the 20 percent level, making it even more difficult to use in weapons production. The Islamic Republic has also continued meeting its obligations under the Joint Plan of Action, the interim nuclear deal reached in November 2013. Some aspects of its program have been frozen while others have been rolled back.
But the International Atomic Energy Agency has made little progress in its investigation into suspected bomb research by Tehran. For example, the agency reported ongoing construction activity at a location at the Parchin military site. The report called on Iran to “provide answers to the Agency’s questions and access to the particular location in question.”
The following are excerpts from the Arms Control Association’s analysis of the report by Kelsey Davenport.

Top Points:
·         Iran is continuing to implement all of its commitments under the JPOA.
·         Iran is making progress on the new actions it pledged to take as part of the agreement to extend its negotiations with the P5+1.
·         Iran has completed three of five actions it pledged to take as part of its cooperation with the IAEA’s investigation into past military actions.
            The incomplete activities are two of the so-called possible military dimensions (PMDs) that the IAEA laid out in its November 2011 quarterly report.
            Iran’s delay in providing information on the two PMD actions is serious, and it is essential that Tehran work with the agency to complete these activities in a timely fashion. However, this delay should not disrupt the negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 set to resume on Sept. 18. Negotiations on a comprehensive nuclear deal will result in the kind of monitoring and verification that ensures that any past PMD activities will not take place in the future.
New Steps on Track
              When Iran and the P5+1 announced on July 19 that nuclear negotiations would be extended through November 24, Iran committed to convert another 25 kilograms of uranium powder enriched to 20 percent to fuel assemblies for the Tehran Research Reactor (TRR). In total, Iran produced 162 kilograms of the powder (U3O8) using 20 percent enriched gas.
              As of the Sept. 5 report, Iran had converted 65.2 kilograms of uranium powder into 27 fuel assemblies for the TRR and one experimental assembly. Its stockpile of uranium powder enriched to 20 percent is now 97 kilograms. Based on the estimated amounts of U3O8 in each assembly, approximately 22 kilograms more will be fabricated into fuel assemblies before Nov. 24, some of which is currently in the process.
              This is a positive step. Converting the gas to fuel plates makes it more difficult for Iran to further enrich this material to make weapons, should it chose to do so.
              As part of its JPOA commitments, Iran neutralized its entire stockpile of uranium hexafluoride gas enriched to 20 percent by July 20. When implementation of the JPOA began on Jan. 20, Iran had 209 kilograms of 20 percent enriched material in gas form. Half was blended down to less than 5 percent enrichment and the remaining half was converted to a uranium powder.
              According to the special monthly IAEA reports issued by the agency to track implementation of the JPOA, Iran completed these actions by July 20 and the entire stockpile of uranium hexafluoride gas enriched to 20 percent has been converted to solid form or diluted.
JPOA Still Being Implemented
              The Sept. 5 report also finds that Iran is continuing to implement all of the agreed-upon actions from the JPOA.
              According to the IAEA, the number of centrifuges enriching uranium to less than 5 percent continues to remain constant at about 10,200 first generation IR-1 machines.
Iran also has not installed any additional centrifuges at its Natanz and Fordow enrichment facilities. The number of installed centrifuges remains at about 19,000 first generation IR-1 machines and 1,008 IR-2M machines.
              The IAEA continues to have daily access to Natanz and Fordow for monitoring and verification purposes.
              Construction on the Arak heavy-water reactor remains frozen as per the JPOA, and Iran is allowing the IAEA regular monthly access to the site. As part of a separate track of negotiations with the IAEA, Iran and the agency completed a new safeguards approach for the reactor on Aug. 31.
Research and Development
              Under the JPOA, Iran is allowed to continue research and development on its advanced centrifuges at the Natanz Pilot Fuel Enrichment Plant.
              According to the Sept. 5 report, Iran is continuing to test other advanced centrifuges, the IR-4, IR-6, and IR-6s machines in single centrifuges and cascades at the facility, although these machines are not producing enriched uranium. There is also a single IR-5 machine that is not being fed with uranium hexafluoride.
Slower Progress on IAEA-Iran Track
              Iran is also negotiating separately with the IAEA to resolve the agency’s outstanding concerns about Iran’s nuclear program. Iran agreed to provide the IAEA information on five areas of concern by Aug. 25 as part of this negotiation track. Two of the areas were PMD issues, and three related to Iran’s nuclear facilities.
              The two PMD issues are: initiation of high explosives; and modeling and calculations related to neutron transport and their application to compressed materials.
              According to the Sept. 5 report, Iran has provided the IAEA with information and access on three areas related to its nuclear facilities, but has yet to submit information on the PMD issues.
              The IAEA was given access to the centrifuge assembly shops before the Aug. 25 deadline. On August 30, Iran granted agency inspectors access to its centrifuge research and development centre (note: this is different than the research and development area at Natanz where advanced centrifuges are tested. The IAEA has daily access to the Natanz site). The safeguards approach was concluded on Aug. 31.
              These actions will give the agency a clearer picture of Iran’s nuclear program and help ensure that materials are not being siphoned off for covert activities.
              Between November and February, Iran provided the agency with information on seven areas of concern to the IAEA. These actions were largely related to Iran’s nuclear facilities, materials, and past work on laser enrichment. In February, Iran agreed to an additional six actions to be completed by May, including on one of the PMD issues, exploding bridge-wire detonators.
              Iran provided the IAEA with information on these six areas by the May deadline. The information on exploding bridge wire detonators marked the first PMD cooperation since 2008.
Click here for the IAEA report.
Click here for the full analysis by the Arms Control Association.