The IAEA released its latest Safeguards Report on Iran’s nuclear program today, following up a shorter statement released last week. The report confirms that Iran has begun to enrich uranium at a level of 20 percent at its Pilot Fuel Enrichment Plant (PFEP) at Natanz.
On 14 February 2010, Iran, in the presence of Agency inspectors, moved approximately 1950 kg of low enriched UF6 from [its Fuel Enrichment Plant] to the PFEP feed station. The Agency inspectors sealed the cylinder containing the material to the feed station. Iran provided the Agency with mass spectrometry results which indicate that enrichment levels of up to 19.8% U-235 were obtained at PFEP between 9 and 11 February 2010.
To explain why it is much faster and easier for Iran to go from 20 percent to 90 percent enriched uranium, which would be required to produce a bomb, than from 5 percent to 20 percent, I defer to a true Arms Control Wonk.
Essentially, though, Iran has moved nearly its entire stock of LEU to PFEP, where a single cascade is currently producing 20 percent enriched uranium for the Tehran Research Reactor (TRR). “‘This is way more than the TRR needs and raises concerns about why Iran would be planning to convert so much’ of its low enriched uranium stockpile to higher enriched uranium,” says Jacqueline Shire of ISIS to Laura Rozen at POLITICO.
Further, the report notes that:
Contrary to the relevant resolutions of the Board of Governors and the Security Council, Iran has also continued with the construction of the IR-40 reactor and related heavy water activities. The Agency has not been permitted to take samples of the heavy water which is stored at UCF, and has not been provided with access to the Heavy Water Production Plant.
Before centrifuge technology for enriching uranium became available, the plutonium route using heavy-water reactors was the common choice for aspiring nuclear weapons states. India’s Cirrus reactor, Pakistan’s Khushab reactor, and Israel’s Dimona reactor are all large, heavy-water reactors. Since Iran’s civil nuclear power program is based on light-water technology, the use of a heavy-water production facility and a heavy-water “research” reactor have caused many experts to take note.
Iran has ignored multiple IAEA requests to cease its heavy-water program at Arak and previously refused an offer by France, Germany, and the United Kingdom to replace its 40-megawatt heavy-water reactor with a light-water research reactor.
In response to the implications of these combined current activities, the IAEA has stated its “concerns” for the first time:
The information available to the Agency in connection with these outstanding issues is extensive and has been collected from a variety of sources over time. It is also broadly consistent and credible in terms of the technical detail, the time frame in which the activities were conducted and the people and organizations involved. Altogether, this raises concerns about the possible existence in Iran of past or current undisclosed activities related to the development of a nuclear payload for a missile.
This change may have been partially influenced by the leadership of Yukiya Amano, who became IAEA head in December, since the report appears to be more directly critical of Iran’s refusal to cooperate with the IAEA than most issued under his predecessor, Mohamed ElBaradei.