By Kelsey Davenport
The International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) most recent report on Iran shows that Tehran is complying with the terms of a deal negotiated with the P5+1 on November 24. The February 20 report confirms that the Joint Plan of Action has halted Iran’s nuclear activities of the greatest proliferation concern and rolled back the program in key areas. New monitoring and verification measures are also now in place that give the IAEA a clearer picture of Iran’s nuclear program.
The report also provides more detail on the actions that Iran pledged to take in the November 11 agreement to cooperate with the IAEA. As a result of this information, the IAEA has been able to access sites and facilities related to Iran’s nuclear program and received information about Iran’s future nuclear plans. Additionally, Iran is beginning to provide the IAEA with information about its past activities with possible military dimensions. Resolving these past issues and providing sufficient information that these activities have ceased is essential.
- Iran’s stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium hexafluoride dropped to 160 kg; as of the last report, Iran had 196 kg of this material in its stockpile.
- Iran reconfigured its centrifuges at Fordow, and is now producing uranium hexafluoride enriched to 3.5 percent as opposed to 20 percent.
- The number of IR-1 centrifuges enriching uranium at Natanz remains unchanged at approximately 9,400 machines, and Iran has not installed any new centrifuges.
- Iran has installed no new IR-2M centrifuges at Natanz, and is not operating the 1,008 that were installed prior to the November agreement.
- No major reactor components have been installed at the Arak heavy water reactor, and Iran provided the IAEA with the updated design information it has been requesting for years.
- The IAEA was able to visit key nuclear sites for the first time, including Iran’s centrifuge assembly workshops, rotor production facilities, and centrifuge storage facilities.
- The IAEA has set up additional surveillance at Natanz and Fordow that will allow the agency to confirm that Iran does not begin operating any additional centrifuges.
- Iran is beginning to provide the IAEA with information related to its concerns about activities with possible military dimensions (PMDs), laid out in a November 2011 IAEA report.
- Iran’s stockpile of uranium enriched to 3.5 percent has increased to 7,609 kg, up from 7,155 kg in the November report.
- Iran is behind schedule on a facility to convert 3.5 percent enriched uranium hexafluoride gas to a powder that can be used to fuel power reactors.
- Iran announced its intention to begin testing a new centrifuge, the IR-8, at its research and development area in Natanz.
20 percent Enriched Uranium
In the Joint Plan of Action, Iran committed to stop enriching uranium to 20 percent for six months and to downblend half of its 20 percent stockpile of hexafluoride gas to 3.5 percent enriched uranium hexafluoride gas. The dilution is to be completed by April 20.
Iran committed to convert the other half to 20 percent enriched uranium powder that can be fashioned into fuel plates for the Tehran Research Reactor. In this form, the 20 percent enriched material poses less of a threat because it would have be converted back to gas form before further enrichment. Iran pledged not to set up a process that would allow it to reconvert the powder.
According to the Feb. 20 report, Iran halted uranium enrichment to 20 percent on January 20. Iran now has only 160 kg of 20 percent enriched uranium hexafluoride in its stockpile, down from the 233 kg it had stockpiled as of late January when enrichment to that level stopped.
Under the terms of the agreement, 24.5 kg have been downblended to 3.5 percent enriched uranium. By April 20, Iran should have diluted roughly 115 kg of 20 percent enriched material to 3.5 percent levels. Since the November report, Iran also converted an addition 48 kg of 20 percent enriched uranium to the solid powder form of U3O8 at its conversion facility at Esfahan.
The reduced stockpile of 20 percent enriched material to 160 kg puts Iran even further from the 250 kg which, when enriched to weapons grade, is enough material for one nuclear weapon. The continued downblending and conversion extends the time it would take Iran to produce enough fissile material for a weapon, if it choses to do so.
3.5 Percent Enriched Uranium
Iran is allowed to continuing enriching uranium to 3.5 percent under the November 24 agreement, but agreed to convert the uranium enriched to that level during the six months of the initial deal to a powder form that can be used to fuel nuclear power reactors.
In total, Iran has produced 11,111 kg of 3.5 enriched material, but some had been further enriched to 20 percent in the past. According to the February 20 report, Iran’s stockpile of uranium enriched to 3.5 percent is 7,609 kg, up from 7,155 kg in the November report. This reason for this increase is that, in addition to continuing to produce 3.5 percent enriched uranium, Iran has begun downblending part of its stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium to this lower level.
Iran also has not completed the conversion facility (the Enriched UO2 Powder Plant) that will allow it to convert 3.5 percent uranium hexafluoride gas to uranium dioxide powder (UO2). According to the November IAEA report, Iran planned to begin operating the plant on December 7, 2013. However, as of February 10, Iran had not yet begun operating the plant. The IAEA requested on February 14 that Iran provide an updated schedule for operations, but as of the February 20 report, Tehran had yet to provide the information.
Centrifuges Unchanged at Natanz
Under the November 24 agreement, Iran committed not to install any further centrifuges at it Fuel Enrichment Plant at Natanz and not to operate any additional centrifuges beyond the number that were enriching at the time of the November agreement.
The February IAEA report confirms that the number of centrifuges installed at Natanz remained the same at 15,420 IR-1 machines in 90 cascades, and 1,008 IR-2Ms machines.
The number of IR-1 centrifuges enriching uranium to 3.5 percent at Natanz is unchanged from the November report, with about 9,400 IR-1 machines operating in 54 cascades.
The IAEA has set up additional surveillance at the Fuel Enrichment Plant that will allow the agency to confirm that Iran does not begin operating any additional centrifuges.
For the first time, the IAEA was also allowed managed access to Iran’s centrifuge assembly workshops, rotor production sites, and centrifuge storage areas. This access will help the IAEA ensure that Iran has limited its production of IR-1 centrifuges to those needed to replace damaged machines, as per the conditions of the November 24 agreement.
This access will also help guard against the pursuit of any clandestine enrichment programs, because it will give the IAEA greater oversight of Iran’s centrifuge production capabilities and allow it to better track total number of centrifuges Iran has produced and their locations.
Fordow Now Producing 3.5 Percent
Iran committed to halt enrichment to 20 percent at Fordow and not to operate or install any additional centrifuges at the facility as part of the November 24 agreement. Iran also said it would no longer operate the four cascades running at Fordow in an interconnected design.
On January 20, Iran halted enrichment of uranium to 20 percent in the 696 IR-1 centrifuges operating at Fordow and notified the IAEA that it would begin enriching to 3.5 percent. The February IAEA report confirms these actions, and that the agency has surveillance in place to ensure that Iran does not begin operating any of the 12 additional cascades at the Fordow facility.
Iran was required to provide the IAEA with updated design information for the Heavy Water Reactor at Arak (IR-40), refrain from installing any major components, and halt production of fuel assemblies. The Arak Heavy Water Reactor poses a proliferation threat because when operational, the spent fuel would contain plutonium which, when separated, is useable for nuclear weapons. Iran does not have a facility to reprocess plutonium from spent fuel and it committed not to build such a facility under the November 24 agreement with the P5+1.
According to the Feb. IAEA report, the agency will have monthly access to the reactor, and it visited the reactor on Feb. 12. The report confirmed that no major components were installed since the November report and that updated design information was provided to the IAEA. The report also confirmed that Iran halted production of the fuel assemblies for the Arak reactor. As of the previous IAEA report in November, Iran had produced 11 fuel assemblies made of natural uranium. The reactor is designed to contain 150 fuel assemblies.
The IAEA also was able to access the Heavy Water Production Plant at the Arak site in December 2013 for the first time in over two years. The IAEA reported that the Heavy Water Production Plant has produced 100 tons of reactor-grade heavy water since it began operations in 2006.
The February report also said that the IAEA is working with Iran to conclude a safeguards agreement for the Arak heavy water reactor.
Research and Development Continues
Under the terms of the November 24 agreement, Iran is allowed to continue its research and development activities under existing IAEA safeguards.
According to the February report, Iran is continuing to test its advanced centrifuges, the IR-4, IR-6, and IR-6s machines in single centrifuges and cascades at its research and development plant at Natanz.
On December 4, Iran also informed the IAEA that it will begin testing a new model, the IR-8. As of December 15, the IAEA noted that a new centrifuge casing was installed in the research and development area but it was not yet connected for testing.
Future Nuclear Plans
The February 20 report also provides more information about the actions that Iran agreed to take as part of the Framework for Cooperation Agreement that it signed with the IAEA on Nov. 11.
As part of those six actions, Iran agreed to provide the IAEA with information about its plans to build 16 new nuclear power plants and to clarify past comments about building an additional 10 uranium enrichment facilities.
According to the February 20 report, Iran has identified 16 areas for the construction of new nuclear power plants. Iran also clarified that it will not build any new enrichment plants during the six month time period of the initial phase deal with P5+1, but said that it had selected preliminary sites for five new enrichment facilities. These sites have not yet been finalized. The timing on building these sites is flexible, Iran disclosed in a January 18 letter to the IAEA, because Iran is working to successfully develop its new gas centrifuges.
The February 20 report also summarized a letter written to the agency on February 8, in which Iran said that it is planning to build a new light water reactor for research purposes that will be fueled with 20 percent enriched material.
While these disclosures offer important insight into Iran’s future plans, construction has not yet begun on any of the power plants or light water reactor, and these facilities are years away from operation.
While Iran may use these planned projects to pressure the P5+1 into allowing it greater enrichment capacity in the scope of a final deal, the need for enriched uranium to fuel these future reactors remains very distant and Iran’s current needs for enriched uranium are very small. Depending on the duration of the comprehensive agreement, it may be more logical to allow Iran to increase its enrichment if and when these facilities are built and nearer to operating.
While Iran agreed to provide the IAEA with information related to its development of exploding bridgewire detonators, as part of the Feb. 9 actions outlined by the two parties, a number of significant concerns about possible military dimensions (PMDs) remain unanswered.
According to the February 20 report, the IAEA, using satellite imagery, confirmed continued activity at Parchin since the previous IAEA report in November 2013. Evidence suggests that Iran once tested explosives at this site, and has since refused to allow the IAEA to access the site. Satelite imagery indicates considerable construction activity since the IAEA expressed its interested in investigating the site.
Iran must continue providing the agency with the information and access that it needs to resolve its investigations into the possible military dimensions outlined in its November 2011 report. This will allow the agency to close its file on Iran’s unresolved issues. An understanding of the scope and extent of Iran’s past work related to nuclear weapons, and evidence that these experiments are no longer ongoing, will also assure the international community that Iran’s nuclear program is entirely peaceful.
A Comprehensive Deal
As the Feb. 20 IAEA report was issued, Iran and the P5+1 wrapped up the first round of final phase negotiations over the comprehensive deal on Iran’s nuclear program. While these negotiations will be difficult given the technical complexities, history of mistrust, and disagreements over the scope of the nuclear program Iran should be allowed to retain, this report indicates that Iran is following through on the actions it has committed to take – both from its agreements with the P5+1 and the IAEA.
A final agreement that limits the size of Iran’s nuclear program, puts in place intrusive monitoring and verification measures, and provides Tehran with sanctions relief is within reach.