Sept. 2011 IAEA Iran Report: Initial Analysis

By Peter Crail

The Institute for Science and International Security has posted the latest IAEA report on Iran’s nuclear program.

The report provides some additional information about recent developments reported in the media regarding Iran’s installation of centrifuges at the Fordow plant near Qom and plans to increase enrichment to 20%, but leaves out a critical detail: the type of machines Iran is currently installing at Fordow.

Iran initially said that it would begin installing more advanced centrifuge designs at the Fordow plant it has been developing elsewhere. The newer machines can enrich uranium three times faster than the crash-prone IR-1 centrifuges Iran currently relies upon, allowing Iran to triple its 20%-uranium production rate.

However, Iran has not yet completed testing of a full cascade (an interlocked series of centrifuges) of the newer machines, and as the report notes, a full cascade has not even been installed yet at its pilot plant where that testing is to occur. Unless Iran has an undeclared site where that testing has been carried out, it is unlikely that Iran is also preparing to use them for 20% production at Fordow at the moment. Moreover, the cascades that Iran is installing at Fordow are in a newer 174-machine configuration, rather than the more standard 164-machine cascade Iran plans to use to test its newer designs.

Source: Islamic Republic News Agency

Iran’s slipping timeframe for the introduction of its more advanced machines is not surprising since its nuclear program deadlines are often fluid. However, it does appear to back official and independent assessments that Iran still faces problems developing these new centrifuges, including getting sufficient materials to build them in large numbers.

Instead, Iran is more likely to continue relying on its IR-1 machines at Fordow for the time being. Although Iran could possibly use these machines to produce weapons-grade uranium to use in nuclear weapons, it would likely prefer to develop its advanced centrifuges first. Robert Einhorn, the State Department’s point person on Iran sanctions, said at an ACA briefing in March that it would not make sense for Iran to produce material for nuclear weapons “with a machine that produces material so inefficiently.”

The report also notes that Iran allowed the agency to visit a facility where it has been engaged in R&D on these newer machines and “provided extensive information on its current and future R&D work on advanced centrifuges.” The IAEA has not had such access in three years, and has not had regular access to those facilities since Iran stopped following the IAEA’s Additional Protocol (which grants the agency expanded access to all sites) in 2006.

Independent experts have stressed that access to such R&D sites is essential to understanding the full scope of Iran’s enrichment program, and the IAEA has said consistently that it cannot provide assurance that Iran’s nuclear activities are entirely peaceful without the access provided under its Additional Protocol.

Single visits once every few years are not enough, and it is far from the full transparency Iranian officials claim they provide. Gaining such access is an important goal not only in understanding the extent of Iran’s nuclear program, but also in serving as a deterrent against the program’s misuse to develop nuclear weapons.

Unfortunately, Iran’s decision to continue producing 20%-enriched uranium beyond the needs of the Tehran Research Reactor suggests that Iran is further configuring its nuclear program for weapons. Iran has no need to stockpile such material, which is much easier to convert to weapons-grade. Even if Iran has taken the proposed fuel-swap off the table, halting the dangerous and entirely unnecessary 20% enrichment should be a priority.

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4 Responses to Sept. 2011 IAEA Iran Report: Initial Analysis

  1. yousaf says:

    Iran may wish to have on hand extra 20% fuel in case its facilities get bombed.

    Our DNI and the ex-DG has said there is no evidence of any weaponization. But I agree that a 20% LEU stockpile does make breakout easier.

    The same applies to Brazil or Argentina, however.

  2. Clint Sharpe says:

    Iran’s whole case has been grossly mishandled.

    Article 22 of the specific Iranian safeguards agreement from 1974(see below for URL) explicitly establishes the proper procedure for handling any disagreements between the BoG and Iranian govt.

    Click to access infcirc214.pdf

    Article 22

    “Any dispute arising out of the interpretation or application of this Agreement, except a dispute with regard to a finding by the Board under Article 19 or an action taken by the Board pursuant to such a finding, which is not settled by negotiation or another procedure agreed to by the Government of Iran and the Agency shall, at the request of either, be submitted to an arbitral tribunal composed as follows:

    the Government of Iran and the Agency shall each designate one arbitrator, and the two arbitrators so designated shall elect a third, who shall be the Chairman. If, within thirty days of the request for arbitration, either the Government of Iran or the Agency has not designated an arbitrator, either the Government of Iran or the Agency may request the President of the International Court of Justice to appoint an arbitrator. The same procedure shall apply if, within thirty days of the designation or appointment of the second arbitrator, the third arbitrator has not been elected. A majority of the members of the arbitral tribunal shall constitute a quorum, and all decisions shall require the concurrence of two arbitrators. The arbitral procedure shall be fixed by the tribunal. The decisions of the tribunal shall be binding on the Government of Iran and the Agency.”

    According to Article 19 of Iran’s safeguards agreement, the IAEA may refer Iran to the UN Security Council ONLY if the IAEA is “not able to verify that there has been no diversion of nuclear material required to be safeguarded under this Agreement, to nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices” AND Art. 2 which states that the purpose of the safeguards agreement is for the “EXCLUSIVE purpose of verifying that such material is not diverted to nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.” This is standard language in the all basic safeguards. Note further that even then, the IAEA’s model safeguards agreement (INFCIRC-153) imposes various limits on inspections, and requires that IAEA inspections avoid hampering or causing “undue interference” with civilian nuclear programs, whilst also requiring that the IAEA collects the “minimum amount of information and data consistent with carrying out its responsibilities” and “reduce to a minimum the possible inconvenience and disturbance to the State.”

    Finally, note paragraph 52 of the Feb 2006 IAEA report on Iran:

    “[A]bsent some nexus to nuclear material the Agency’s legal authority to pursue the verification of possible nuclear weapons related activity is limited.”

    In short, there is nothing that authorizes the IAEA to investigate Iran’s missiles program unless there is evidence of nuclear material involved — which the IAEA has said there isn’t.

  3. tamagn bekalu says:

    Iran is a peace full country…america is twisting the IAEA to have open door to invad the peacefull country….thanks to God America or its alies not in a state to practice their inhuman nazzy policy on one more country…

  4. Pingback: The Samosa » Archive » Iranians’ choice in the face of war

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