Over the past few years, reading the IAEA’s regular reports on Iran has become a bit tedious – much like a game of “Where’s Waldo,” searching for the small bits and pieces that have changed, for better or worse. But with the implementation of the November Joint Plan of Action (JPOA) and separate agreements with the IAEA, the game has changed. My eyes almost don’t know how to read an IAEA report with so much good news.
Rather than list the same ongoing concerns and nuclear progress that was almost always for worse, the IAEA’s latest report shows that Iran is complying with the restrictions required by the November first step deal. For the first time in four years, the size of Iran’s stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium has gone down. As required by the JPOA, the IAEA has confirmed that Iran is not enriching uranium above 5 percent at any of its declared facilities; is not operating any of its cascades in an interconnected configuration; is continuing to dilute and convert its stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium (and currently has no process line to revert that converted fuel back into 20 percent); and has not conducted “any further advances” at its enrichment facilities at Natanz and Fordow or its heavy water reactor at Arak. This includes the installation of any additional IR-1 or IR-2 centrifuges.
Since the IAEA’s previous report in November, Iran’s stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium has grown by 37.4 kg, to 447.8 kg. Of this, 160.6 kg remain in the form of uranium enriched up to 20 percent. This is 35.4 kg less than the IAEA’s previous report. Additionally, Iran has reconfigured its centrifuges at Fordow to produce only uranium enriched to 3.5 percent as opposed to 20 percent.
On January 20, pursuant to the implementation of the JPOA, Iran ceased its production of 20 percent enriched uranium and began downblending some of what it had produced into uranium enriched to no more than 5%. The remainder is being converted into uranium oxide.
In addition, the IAEA has installed additional containment and surveillance measures at Iran’s nuclear facilities to confirm compliance with the JPOA, and has been granted daily access to Natanz and Fordow. The IAEA was also able to visit Iran’s centrifuge assembly workshops, rotor production facilities, and centrifuge storage facilities.
Despite this progress, however, the IAEA report documented plenty of areas of continuing concern and is yet another reminder that there is still much diplomatic work to be done to lengthen breakout timelines, shorten our ability to detect breakout, and ensure Iran is not pursuing a secret path to the bomb.
For example, the report documents the IAEA’s outstanding questions regarding the military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program including its request for access to Parchin. The details of Iran’s past weapon’s related work will be one of the top topics of discussion between the P5+1 and Iran in discussions that began in Vienna this week on a final deal. A good omen for progress on this front came as part of an agreement earlier this month between the IAEA and Iran, in which Iran agreed to provide information on its need for the development of Exploding Bridge Wire detonators.
Also of some concern is Iran’s intention to begin testing a new centrifuge, the IR-8, at Natanz, and its intention to build a new light water reactor that would be fueled by 20 percent enriched uranium. While these issues are of some concern, any construction is likely many years off and continued research and development on centrifuges is allowed under the JPOA. Iran’s future centrifuge and reactor plans are still unclear, and neither poses a threat at this time. These are issues that will be dealt with as part of a final deal.
Although Iran still has a long way to go to prove that is program is exclusively peaceful, and a final deal is still an uncertain prospect, as someone who’s gotten used to such a dearth of good news on Iran, especially from the IAEA, this latest report is a refreshing break. A final deal with the P5+1 will address the additional concerns on the table and ensure that Iran is put farther away from a nuclear weapon than at any time since it began enrichment, so it’s good to see implementation of the JPOA going smoothly, bringing us one step closer to that final deal.