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A Tale of Two Irans in New IAEA Report

By Blaise Misztal

Monday, February 24, 2014

The first report of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on Iran’s nuclear program since the interim deal, known as the “Joint Plan of Action” (JPA), between Iran and world powers went into effect on Jan. 20, 2014, tells a tale of two Irans. On the one hand is the best of Irans, one that is cooperative and compliant with both the JPA and the Framework for Cooperation (FC), a separate deal to provide more information about its nuclear work to the IAEA. On the other is the worst of Irans, one that continues to violate legally binding IAEA requirements and United Nations Security Council resolutions. The picture that emerges is one of an Iran willing to follow the letter of some of its agreements, but only when the cost to its nuclear progress is not prohibitive. Iran continually refuses to explain its research into building nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, and has found ways to advance its nuclear program, even under the terms of the JPA.


Interim Deal Compliance Scorecard

There is only one area in which it has yet to fully meet the JPA’s requirements, but it has found ways to continue advancing its nuclear program despite the deal’s constraints. Notably, it has increased its production rate and stockpile of 3.5% enriched uranium while continuing to research advanced centrifuges. Additional IAEA funding is required to enable it to fully monitor Iranian compliance.

View the full scorecard


First, the IAEA report notes that “Iran has implemented the six initial practical measures that it agreed with the Agency in November 2013 in relation to the Framework for Cooperation and both parties have agreed on the next seven practical measures.” These measures largely relate to Iran providing the IAEA information about current and planned future expansion of its nuclear program—its stated intention, for example, to build ten more uranium enrichment plants. But, with one exception, they do not include any commitment by Iran to disclose its military research on nuclear weapons.

A November 2011 IAEA report listed evidence of Iran’s work on numerous technologies that were tied to building a nuclear weapon and had little or no civilian justification. In particular, the IAEA has repeatedly asked Iran to explain why it met with a foreign expert in initiating explosions, like those used to trigger a nuclear weapon, and to give it access to a site at the Parchin military complex, where it believes Iran conducted testing of such explosions. Over the course of two years, Iran has not explained to the IAEA why it was conducting such research or access to the facilities where it believes this research took place. “Iran has carried out activities that are relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device,” the latest report says. “This information is assessed by the Agency to be, overall, credible. Iran has dismissed the Agency’s concerns….” The one exception is Iran’s agreement, under the extended Framework for Cooperation, to give the IAEA an explanation for its work on detonators for use in a nuclear weapon.

The latest IAEA report also suggests that Iran is complying with most of its requirements under the JPA. Most important, production of 20% enriched uranium has been halted, the interconnections between centrifuge cascades that enabled enrichment to that level have been disconnected, and the IAEA has put in place additional monitoring to verify that they are not reconnected. Additionally, Iran has begun to reduce its stockpile of 20% enriched uranium, converting half into reactor fuel and diluting the other half back to 3.5% enrichment levels, refrained from installing any additional centrifuges, and halted work on the Arak heavy water reactor.

The one area where Iran has not quite lived up to the JPA is the requirement for it to convert all of its newly-produced 3.5% enriched uranium into uranium oxide. Iran is building a new conversion facility, but has not told the IAEA when it will be completed.

But while Iran is sticking to the letter of the JPA, the intent of which is to “pause” or “freeze” its nuclear program, it is not living up to the spirit of the agreement. Indeed, the IAEA report shows three ways in which Iran is actually increasing its nuclear work, even while constrained by the JPA:

  1. While Iran did stop enriching uranium to 20%, it did not simply take the centrifuges it was using for that process offline. Instead, it is now using them to produce 3.5% enriched uranium. The result is that the number of centrifuges enriching to 3.5% has jumped by about 10% since the last report and the rate of production of 3.5% enriched uranium has jumped by almost 13%, reaching its highest level.
  2. The centrifuges now producing 3.5% enriched uranium at the underground Fordow facility are doing so almost 25% more quickly than their counterparts at Natanz, even though both are the same model. This is significant because, as we have argued previously, improving the output of its IR-1 centrifuges is one way that Iran can continue to accelerate its breakout timing even while barred, by the JPA, from activating additional or more advanced centrifuges. If Iran were able to get all of its centrifuges to perform at the level reached by those at Fordow (outputting 1.02 Separative Work Units per machine per year, compared to roughly 0.76 SWU/machine/year currently at Natanz), it would be able to reduce its breakout timing by roughly 22%, perhaps even reducing it to below pre-JPA levels.
  3. Iran continues to experiment with new centrifuge technology. There are currently six different next-generation models being tested or installed at its research and design facility, including the IR-2m models already installed, but not operating, at Natanz and a IR-8 model unveiled since the JPA was negotiated. Even though this activity is explicitly permitted by the JPA, it raises the stakes for reaching a comprehensive agreement before the interim deal lapses. By experimenting with this advanced technology now, Iran is positioning itself to make faster advancements in enrichment capability, and therefore breakout timing, if the JPA’s strictures lapse without being replaced by a final deal.

Considered in its totality, therefore, the latest IAEA report paints a picture of an Iran that is willing to cooperate with world powers so long as this does not compromise its ability to advance its nuclear program. When it is required to take actions that might actually constrain its nuclear progress—such as suspend all enrichment, as required by six United Nations Security Council resolutions, or disclose military research—Iran stonewalls and obfuscates. As a result, “the Agency is not in a position to provide credible assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran, and therefore to conclude that all nuclear material in Iran is in peaceful activities.” In short, even current compliance with the JPA and FC should not be taken as grounds for trusting Iran or its intentions.

It is essential that the IAEA be given the resources to properly monitor and verify Iran’s nuclear activities. Moreover, to give negotiators working towards a comprehensive agreement with Iran the best chance of success, the United States should adopt a triple-track strategy that combines diplomacy with increased sanctions and credible and visible preparations of the military option, as laid out by the Bipartisan Policy Center’s (BPC) Iran Task Force. Indeed, if diplomacy is to succeed, the growing disagreement between the White House and Capitol Hill about how to negotiate and what to demand from Iran needs to be addressed. BPC has released a proposed framework for such improved executive-legislative cooperation.

Additional details and highlights from the IAEA report include:

Production of 20% Enriched Uranium Ceases, Reduction of Stockpile Begins

  • Per JPA, enrichment to 20% halted at Natanz Pilot Fuel Enrichment Plant and Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant.
    • Centrifuge cascades used to enrich to 20% at each site disconnected;
    • IAEA installed additional safeguards to monitor that they remain disconnected.
  • Before halt, production rate of 20% enriched uranium fell ~10%.
    • 25.3kg of 20% enriched uranium1;produced between last report and halt on Jan. 20.
    • Average monthly production rate in last reporting period: 9.4 kg/month:
      • Had been averaging above 10 kg/month (as high as 10.5kg/month) since November 2012.
  • Total 20% enriched uranium produced since production began (February 2010): 302.7kg.
  • Actual stockpile of 20% enriched uranium as of February 2014: 108.6kg.
    • JPA specifies that Iran must eliminate its entire stockpile of 20% enriched uranium.
      • Half to be turned into reactor fuel;
      • Half to be downblended to 3.5% enrichment level.
    • Total of 177.6kg removed for oxidization (production of reactor fuel):
      • 144.3kg prior to November 2013;
      • 33.3kg since November 2013.
    • 16.6kg downblended to 3.5% since November 2013.

But Production of 3.5% Enriched Uranium Jumps

  • On Jan. 20, facilities enriched to 20% switched over to making 3.5% enriched uranium.
    • There are now 3 facilities enriching to 3.5%:
      • Natanz Fuel Enrichment Plant;
      • Natanz Pilot Fuel Enrichment Plant (previously producing 20% enriched uranium);
      • Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant (previously producing 20% enriched uranium).
  • Total production rate of 3.5% highest ever in February 2014, up 12% to: 179.5kg/month.
    • Natanz production rate of 3.5% increases slightly to 159kg/month.
      • Previous reporting period: 154kg/month.
      • Highest recorded rate: 161kg/month (November 2012).
    • Natanz PFEP production rate of 3.5%: 4.2kg/month.
    • Fordow 3.5% production rate of 3.5%: 16.3kg/month.

  • Total 3.5% enriched uranium produced since production began (February 2007): 7,511kg.
    • 510kg produced since last reporting period:
      • 496kg at Natanz;
      • 2.8kg at Natanz PFEP;
      • 10.7kg at Fordow.
  • Actual stockpile of 3.5% enriched uranium as of February 2014: 5,188kg.
    • 2,323kg used for enrichment to 20%.

Iran Squeezes More out of IR-1 Centrifuges, Continues Researching New Models

  • Per JPA, number and type of centrifuges largely unchanged at all enrichment facilities.
  • Natanz FEP:
    • 16,428 total centrifuges installed (unchanged):
      • 15,420 IR-1 centrifuges;
      • 1,008 IR-2m.
    • 9,166 IR-1 centrifuges operating (slight increase):
      • Previous reporting period: 8,840.
      • Equal to number operating in early 2013/late 2012.
      • All operating centrifuges are IR-1 model.
    • “Preparatory installation work” completed for more centrifuges:
      • 2,016 IR-2m centrifuges;
      • 6,050 IR-1 centrifuges;
      • Not clear if work has ceased since JPA implementation.
    • Output of operating centrifuges steady at .76 SWU/machine/year.
  • Natanz PFEP:
    • 328 IR-1 centrifuges installed and operating (unchanged).
    • Output of centrifuges once converted to 3.5% production: .56 SWU/machine/year.
  • Fordow FEP:
    • 2,710 IR-1 centrifuges installed (unchanged).
      • Facility accommodates 2,976 centrifuges.
    • 696 IR-1 centrifuges operating (unchanged).
    • Output of centrifuges once converted to 3.5% production: 1.02 SWU/machine/year.
      • 25% faster than currently achieved at Natanz;
      • One of highest output levels recorded (1.06 SWU/machine/year at Natanz, January 2010).
      • Suggests Iran capable of continuing to accelerate breakout timing, even while adhering to JPA.

  • Research and development of advanced centrifuges continues.
    • Iran experimenting with as many as six centrifuges models, one of them newly developed since last reporting period:
      • 162 IR-2m centrifuges;
      • 11 IR-4 centrifuges;
      • 1 IR-5 centrifuge;
      • 7 IR-6 centrifuges;
      • 1 IR-6s centrifuge;
      • Installation underway of newly announced IR-8 centrifuge.

Fuel Conversion and Fabrication

  • Facility for conversion of 3.5% uranium hexafluoride into uranium oxide is still under construction.
    • Iran required to oxidize 3.5% enriched uranium produced during JPA period.
      • But the facility for doing so is not ready yet.
    • IAEA has not received reply to request for timeline for bringing plant into operation.
  • Conversion of 20% enriched uranium hexafluoride into uranium oxide and fuel plates for Tehran Research Reactor continues.
    • Total 20% enriched uranium fed into conversion process: 177.6kg.
    • Total 20% enriched U3O8 produced: 120.6kg.
      • 36.8kg 20% enriched U3O8 produced in waste.
      • Means that about another 65kg 20% enriched U3O8 are still being processed.
    • Total of 26 fuel assemblies for TRR have been produced.
      • Of these, 20 transferred to TRR.
      • Represents about a decade worth of fuel for TRR.
  • IAEA verifies no reconversion of U3O8 into UF6, a possible sign of breakout, currently ongoing.

Heavy Water Reactor

  • Per JPA, no work has taken place at Arak Heavy Water Reactor since last report.
    • Production of fuel assemblies for Arak has also ceased.
    • But production of heavy water for use at Arak (not covered by JPA) continues.

Framework for Cooperation

  • Iran upheld its commitment under the November 2013 Framework for Cooperation to provide IAEA with:
    • Information and managed access to the Heavy Water Production Plant (HWPP) at Arak;
    • Information on production and shipping of uranium ore concentrate and managed access to the Gchine mine in Bandar Abbas;
    • Information about a planned 10 MW light water research reactor, the site for which is in the process of being selected;
    • Information on site selection process for new nuclear power reactors;
    • Clarification about the 10 new enrichment facilities it is planning, with site selection begun for five of them, but on hold during JPA;
    • Clarification that research into laser enrichment halted in 2003.
  • Iran and IAEA agreed to undertake seven more “practical measures,” only one of which deals with repeatedly voiced IAEA concerns about past military research:
    • Information and managed access to the Saghand mine in Yazd;
    • Information and managed access to the Ardakan concentration plant;
    • Submission of updated Design Information Questionnaire (DIQ) for the IR-40 Reactor;
    • Reach agreement on Safeguards Approach for the IR-40 Reactor;
    • Information and arranging for a technical visit to Lashkar Ab’ad Laser Centre;
    • Information on source material that is not used for enrichment or fuel fabrication;
    • Information and explanation for Iran’s experimentation with Exploding Bridge Wire detonators.

Military Dimensions

  • IAEA reiterates that none of its concerns about possible military dimensions to Iran’s nuclear program have been addressed.
    • Iran has promised to explain work on detonators in second round of Framework for Cooperation.
    • But not addressed any other issues raised by IAEA in its November 2011 report.
  • IAEA most concerned about experiments conducted at Parchin and involvement of foreign scientist.
    • Report notes that, since last report, “Agency has observed through satellite imagery what appears to be possible building material and debris” at Parchin.

Effect on Timing

Two main variables will determine how much time Iran would need to produce 20kg of 90% enriched uranium—the minimum needed for a nuclear weapon—in the near future: its available stockpile of 20% enriched uranium; and the rate at which its centrifuges are able to enrich uranium. The first is expected to decline to zero as a result of the JPA, increasing breakout timing. However, the latest IAEA report indicates that the second might be increasing, thus, causing a delay.

  • Depending on whether Iran uses just its all of its installed centrifuges or just the currently operating ones, Iran could produce 20kg of highly enriched uranium, enough for a weapon, in between 35 and 63 days.2
    • In November 2013, prior to the implementation of JPA, that range was 31 to 59 days.
  • Time to produce 20kg 90% enriched uranium with no 20% stockpile:
    • Using just operating centrifuges: 88 days.
    • Using all centrifuges: 48 days.
  • Time to produce 20kg 90% enriched uranium if centrifuge output increases to 1 SWU/machine/year (with 108kg 20% stockpile):
    • Using just operating centrifuges: 49 days.
    • Using all centrifuges: 28 days.
  • Time to produce 20kg 90% enriched uranium if centrifuge output increases to 1 SWU/machine/year (with no 20% stockpile):
    • Using just operating centrifuges: 68 days.
    • Using all centrifuges: 38 days.


For enrichment, uranium must be in gas form as uranium hexafluoride (UF6). The IAEA reports its data in kilograms of UF6. However, for this paper, we will refer to solid form uranium. One kilogram of UF6 yields roughly 0.67kg uranium metal.

This calculation assumes Iran uses a three-step batch recycling process to produce highly enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon and is based upon the work of Greg Jones at the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center. Both scenarios assume the use of the Natanz Fuel Enrichment Plant at its current production rate and drawing upon Iran’s current stockpiles of 3.5% and 20% enriched uranium. For a more detailed explanation, see here.

2014-02-24 00:00:00
While Iran is sticking to the letter of the nuclear deal, it is not living up to the spirit of the agreement

KEYWORDS: FRAMEWORK FOR COOPERATION, INTERNATIONAL ATOMIC ENERGY AGENCY, IRAN, JOINT PLAN OF ACTION, NUCLEAR WEAPONS, UNITED NATIONS SECURITY COUNCIL