Further Moves toward an Iranian Nuclear Weapons Breakout Capability: The New IAEA Report on Iran
August 30, 2012
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) issued a report today that highlights the growing urgency of successful negotiations, if they are to be an alternative to some form of preventive strike or massive exercise in improving deterrence and military containment. The report makes it clear that repeated efforts by the IAEA have not led to any meaningful progress in revolving the nuclear weapons issues that the IAEA raised in detail in the military annex to its report of November 6, 2011 (Director General’s November 2011 report (GOV/2011/65)).
As stated in the new IAEA report (Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement and relevant provisions of Security Council resolutions in the Islamic Republic of Iran (GOV/2012/34), August 30, 2012),
Despite the intensified dialogue between the Agency and Iran since January 2012, efforts to resolve all outstanding substantive issues have achieved no concrete results: Iran, in an initial declaration, simply dismissed the Agency’s concerns in connection with the issues identified in Section C of the Annex to GOV/2011/65; Iran has not responded to the Agency’s initial questions on Parchin and the foreign expert; Iran has not provided the Agency with access to the location within the Parchin site to which the Agency has requested access; and Iran has been conducting activities at that location that will significantly hamper the Agency’s ability to conduct effective verification. Notwithstanding Mr Jalili’s statement referred to above, agreement on the structured approach has yet to materialize.
The report also notes that, “Contrary to the relevant resolutions of the Board of Governors and the Security Council, Iran has not suspended its enrichment related activities in the declared facilities referred to below. All of these activities are under Agency safeguards, and all of the nuclear material, installed cascades and the feed and withdrawal stations at those facilities are subject to Agency containment and surveillance.”
A Growing Stockpile of Enriched Uranium and Some Evidence of Enrichment above 20 Percent
The end result is a growing stockpile of enriched uranium where the IAEA now estimates the total output from the enrichment facilities of all of Iran’s 16 declared facilities at:
- 6876 kilograms (+679 kg since the previous report) of UF6 enriched up to 5% U-235; and
- 189.4 kilograms (+43.8 kg since the previous report) of UF6 enriched up to 20% U-235.
This stockpile is large enough at the 20 percent level to indicate that Iran can produce significant amounts of weapons grade material over time, although the IAEA does not attempt to make any such projections.
Major New Centrifuge Programs
The IAEA also reports that Iran is making significant progress in developing more efficient centrifuges, which would allow it to move forward far more quickly as well as conceal its enrichment efforts more easily, and has three even more efficient centrifuges in development.
These efforts could make it much harder to detect Iran’s future weapons-grade enrichment efforts and allow it to disperse its enrichment activities more and/or carry them out in much smaller sheltered or mountain facilities than its existing IR-1 centrifuges.
Since the previous report, Iran has been intermittently feeding natural UF6 into IR-2m and IR-4 centrifuges, sometimes into single machines and sometimes into small or larger cascades. Iran has yet to install three new types of centrifuge (IR-5, IR-6 and IR-6s) as it had indicated it intends to do. Iran has also been intermittently feeding one cascade with depleted UF6 instead of natural UF6.… Between 19 May 2012 and 21 August 2012, a total of approximately 3.4 kg of natural UF6 and 20.3 kg of depleted UF6 was fed into centrifuges in the R&D area, but no LEU was withdrawn as the product and the tails were recombined at the end of the process.
The Mountain Facility at Fordow
The IAEA reports further progress at Iran’s mountain site at Fordow—a site Iran initially tried to conceal and where centrifuges are operating in areas deep within the mountain and where some levels of enrichment in excess of 20 percent have been detected:
The Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant (FFEP) is, according to the DIQ of 18 January 2012, a centrifuge enrichment plant for the production of UF6 enriched up to 20% U-235 and the production of UF6 enriched up to 5% U-235. Additional information from Iran is still needed in connection with this facility, particularly in light of the difference between the original stated purpose of the facility and the purpose for which it is now being used…The facility, which was first brought into operation in 2011, is being built to contain 16 cascades, equally divided between Unit 1 and Unit 2, with a total of approximately 3000 centrifuges. To date, all of the centrifuges installed are IR-1 machines.
…As of 18 August 2012, Iran had installed all eight cascades in Unit 2, four of which (configured in two sets of two interconnected cascades) it was feeding with UF6 enriched to 3.5% U-235. In Unit 1, Iran had completely installed four cascades and partially installed a fifth cascade, none of which it was feeding with UF6…Iran has estimated that, between 14 December 2011, when feeding of the first set of two interconnected cascades began, and 12 August 2012, a total of 482 kg of UF6 enriched up to 5% U-235 was fed into cascades at FFEP, and that approximately 65.3 kg of UF6 enriched up to 20% U-235 were produced, 50 kg of which has been withdrawn from the process and verified by the Agency.
…With regard to the presence of particles with enrichment levels above 20% U-235…Iran’s explanation is not inconsistent with the further assessment made by the Agency since the previous report…The Agency and Iran have exchanged views on ways to avoid a recurrence of transient enrichment levels above the level stated in the DIQ.
Plans for Major New Enrichment and Reactor Efforts
The IAEA also confirms that Iran has also announced that it plans major further increases in those parts of its nuclear efforts that could eventually help it to produce much larger amounts of weapons-grade fissile material:
…The Agency is still awaiting a substantive response from Iran to Agency requests for further information in relation to announcements made by Iran concerning the construction of ten new uranium enrichment facilities, the sites for five of which, according to Iran, have been decided. Iran has not provided information, as requested by the Agency, in connection with its announcement on 7 February 2010 that it possessed laser enrichment technology. As a result of Iran’s lack of cooperation on those issues, the Agency is unable to verify and report fully on these matters.
…H.E. Mr Fereydoun Abbasi, Vice President of Iran and Head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, reportedly made a statement to the effect that Iran plans to build four to five new reactors in the next few years in order to produce radioisotopes and carry out research (‘Iran will not stop producing 20% enriched uranium’, Tehran Times, 12 April 2011). He was also quoted by the Iranian Student’s News Agency as saying “To provide fuel for these (new) reactors, we need to continue with the 20 per cent enrichment of uranium” (‘Iran to build new nuclear research reactors—report’, Reuters, 11 April 2011).
The IAEA also reports that Iran continues to develop a reactor at Arak that could be used to produce weapons grade plutonium,
The Agency is still awaiting a substantive response from Iran to Agency requests for further information in relation to announcements made by Iran concerning the construction of ten new uranium enrichment facilities, the sites for five of which, according to Iran, have been decided. Iran has not provided information, as requested by the Agency, in connection with its announcement on 7 February 2010 that it possessed laser enrichment technology. As a result of Iran’s lack of cooperation on those issues, the
Agency is unable to verify and report fully on these matters.
Since its visit to the Heavy Water Production Plant (HWPP) on 17 August 2011, the Agency has not been provided with further access to the plant. As a result, the Agency is again relying on satellite imagery to monitor the status of HWPP. Based on recent images, the plant appears to be in operation. To date, Iran has not permitted the Agency to take samples from the heavy water stored at the Uranium Conversion Facility (UCF).
Iran continues to develop fuel fabrication facilities that can help it develop the capability to make weapons as well as the fuel rods for reactors.
The IAEA also reports separate activities under a heading called the Military Dimension. It notes that,
Previous reports by the Director General have identified outstanding issues related to possible military dimensions to Iran’s nuclear programme and actions required of Iran to resolve these. Since 2002, the Agency has become increasingly concerned about the possible existence in Iran of undisclosed nuclear related activities involving military related organizations, including activities related to the development of a nuclear payload for a missile.
…The Annex to the Director General’s November 2011 report (GOV/2011/65) provided a detailed analysis of the information available to the Agency, indicating that Iran has carried out activities that are relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device. This information, which comes from a wide variety of independent sources, including from a number of Member States, from the Agency’s own efforts and from information provided by Iran itself, is assessed by the Agency to be, overall, credible. The information indicates that, prior to the end of 2003 the activities took place under a structured programme; that some continued after 2003; and that some may still be ongoing. Since November 2011, the Agency has obtained more information which further corroborates the analysis contained in the aforementioned Annex.
Nuclear Weapons Design Efforts
As the IAEA notes, these indicators raise growing questions as to whether Iran ever halted its de facto nuclear weapons program in 2003, regardless of what it may have done with its formal structure. One key indicator is its concealment of the facility at Parchin, which may have been designed to carry out explosive—but not fissile—testing of a nuclear weapons design:
As stated in the Annex to the Director General's November 2011 report,41 information provided to the Agency by Member States indicates that Iran constructed a large explosives containment vessel in which to conduct hydrodynamic experiments. The information also indicates that this vessel was installed at the Parchin site in 2000. The location at the Parchin site of the vessel was only identified in March 2011.
…The Agency notified Iran of that location in January 2012. 42. Satellite imagery available to the Agency for the period from February 2005 to January 2012 shows virtually no activity at or near the building housing the containment vessel. However, since the Agency’s first request for access to this location, satellite imagery shows that extensive activities and resultant changes have taken place at this location. A number of satellite images of the location since February 2012 show: large amounts of liquid ‘run off’ emanating from the building in which the vessel is housed; equipment in open storage immediately outside the building; the removal of external fixtures from the building itself; and the presence of light and heavy vehicles.
…Satellite imagery shows that, as of May 2012, five other buildings or structures at the location had been demolished, and power lines, fences and all paved roads had been removed. Significant ground scraping and landscaping have been undertaken over an extensive area at and around the location, with new dirt roads established. Satellite images from August 2012 show the containment vessel building shrouded. In light of these extensive activities, the Agency’s ability to verify the information on which
its concerns are based has been adversely affected and, when the Agency gains access to the location, its ability to conduct effective verification will have been significantly hampered.
…In a letter to the Agency dated 29 August 2012, Iran stated that the allegation of nuclear activities at the Parchin site is “baseless” and that “the recent activities claimed to be conducted in the vicinity of the location of interest to the Agency, has nothing to do with specified location by the Agency”…The activities observed and Iran’s letter of 29 August 2012 further strengthen the Agency’s assessment that it is necessary to have access to the location at Parchin without further delay.
More broadly, the IAEA reports Iranian actions that raise growing questions about whether Iran will ever agree to meaningful disclosure, inspection, and other verification measures covering its overall nuclear efforts:
Contrary to its Safeguards Agreement and relevant resolutions of the Board of Governors and the Security Council, Iran is not implementing the provisions of the modified Code 3.1 of the Subsidiary Arrangements General Part to Iran’s Safeguards Agreement,42 which provides for the submission to the Agency of design information for new facilities as soon as the decision to construct, or to authorize construction of, a new facility has been taken, whichever is the earlier. The modified Code 3.1 also provides for the submission of fuller design information as the design is developed early in the project definition, preliminary design, construction and commissioning phases. Iran remains the only State with significant nuclear activities in which the Agency is implementing a comprehensive safeguards agreement that is not implementing the provisions of the modified Code 3.1. It is important to note that the absence of such early information reduces the time available for the Agency to plan the necessary safeguards arrangements, especially for new facilities, and reduces the level of confidence in the absence of other nuclear facilities.
…Contrary to the relevant resolutions of the Board of Governors and the Security Council, Iran is not implementing its Additional Protocol. The Agency will not be in a position to provide credible assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran unless and until Iran provides the necessary cooperation with the Agency, including by implementing its Additional Protocol.
Anthony H. Cordesman holds the Arleigh A. Burke Chair in Strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.
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