By Kelsey Davenport
Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) broke important new ground on Sunday, with an agreement that will finally allow the agency to begin its investigations into Iran’s past nuclear activities with possible military dimensions. Satisfactory resolution of these issues will help demonstrate to the international community that Iran’s nuclear program is peaceful and that the country is not pursuing nuclear weapons.
Included in the seven actions that Iran agreed to take is a commitment to provide information and explanations to the IAEA on its past activities using exploding bridge wire detonators. This will allow the agency to assess “Iran’s stated need or application for the development of Exploding Bridge Wire detonators.” Tehran must provide the information by May 15.
Amongst other uses, bridge wire detonators can be used to detonate nuclear weapons.
The IAEA laid out its concerns about the experiments with bridge wire detonators in an annex to its November 2011 report to the agency’s Board of Governors. Shortly after the November 2011 report, the IAEA and Iran began negotiating an approach to resolve these concerns. However, no progress was made until Iran and the IAEA agreed on a path forward to guide the agency’s investigations in November 2013, shortly after Hassan Rouhani became president of Iran and promised greater transparency.
The other six actions that Iran agreed to take in the February 9 agreement do not address activities related to the possible development of nuclear weapons, but will provide the agency with important information about Iran’s activities that will provide the agency with greater clarity about Tehran’s nuclear program. These actions include:
- Providing mutually agreed relevant information and managed access to the Saghand uranium mine in Yazd;
- Providing mutually agreed relevant information and managed access to the Ardakan concentration plant, which processes uranium ore into yellowcake;
- Submission of an updated Design Information Questionnaire (DIQ) for the heavy water reactor at Arak (IR-40);
- Taking steps to agree with the Agency on the conclusion of a Safeguards Approach for the Heavy Water Reactor at Arak;
- Providing mutually agreed relevant information and arranging for a technical visit to Lashkar Ab’ad Laser Centre, which housed suspected laser enrichment activities; and
- Providing information on nuclear source material, which has not reached the composition and purity suitable for fuel fabrication or for being isotopically enriched, including imports of such material and on Iran’s extraction of uranium from phosphates.
Along with the initial six actions that Iran already completed, resolution of these issues will allow the agency to verify the completeness and correctness of Iran’s nuclear activities and help ensure that Tehran is not engaged in undeclared activities using nuclear materials.
The initial six actions that Iran agreed to take were laid out in an annex to the November 2013 agreement that laid out the future cooperation between the IAEA and Iran to resolve all of the agency’s outstanding issues. Completion of these actions included IAEA visits to the Heavy Water Production Plant at Arak and the Gchine uranium mine and providing the agency with information about Iran’s planned nuclear reactors and research reactors. The February 9 confirmed that Iran completed these initial six actions on schedule.
While these steps represent important progress, significant obstacles remain before the IAEA will be able to close Iran’s file. A number of contentious PMD activities remain to be worked out, including allowing agency access to the Parchin site, where explosive testing may have occurred, and clarifying the purpose of other alleged experiments, including computer simulations, related to nuclear weapons development.
However, as Iran and the P5+1 begin negotiations on a comprehensive agreement to on Tehran’s nuclear program, these activities demonstrate Iran’s willingness to negotiate and follow through on its pledges of actions.
Continued progress on resolving PMD issues will also go a long way to demonstrate to the international community that Iran is not pursuing nuclear weapons and is willing to come clean about its past activities.