Iranian nuclear activity has not significantly grown in the three months since Iranian President Hassan Rouhani took office according to a report released yesterday to the UN Security Council by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA):
Expansion of Iran’s uranium enrichment capacity has virtually come to a halt.
• Only four new first-generation IR-1 model centrifuges, devices used to enrich uranium, were installed at Iran’s main uranium enrichment facility in Natanz since August. By comparison, 1,861 centrifuges had been installed in the three months previous to Rouhani’s election. While this expansion brings the total number of IR-1 centrifuges to 15,240, many of the centrifuges are not operating.
• No advanced IR-2M model centrifuges were installed over this same period. None of the existing 1,008 IR-2Ms are currently in operation.
• Iran’s previous installation of IR-2M centrifuges were of particular concern to the international community due to the fact that they enrich uranium at a much faster rate than first-generation IR-1 centrifuges. As such, they could potentially shorten the amount of time required for the construction of an Iranian nuclear weapon.
Increases in Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium has been marginal.
• Iran’s stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium rose by 5 percent from 185.8 kilograms to 196 kilograms between August and November.
• 410 kilograms of 20 percent uranium has been enriched in total. Nearly half of this enriched uranium has been converted into metal. The converted metal produced is far more difficult to purify than the original uranium.
• 250 kilograms of 20 percent uranium is the approximate amount required to build a nuclear bomb, and forms Israel’s “red line” for taking military action against the Islamic Republic.
• Iran’s stockpile of 5 percent enriched uranium rose by 6.3 percent from 9,704 kilograms to 10,357 kilograms.
Construction at Iran’s main heavy water reactor at Arak, a facility that could produce spent fuel that with additional reprocessing could provide Iran a plutonium pathway to the bomb, has “more or less frozen”.
• The IR-40 heavy water facility at Arak has been a major concern to many Western observers due to the plants ability to produce spent fuel that could be further processed to make weapons-grade plutonium. If produced, this plutonium could provide an alternative to Iran’s enriched uranium in the construction of a nuclear weapon.
• The report states that “no major components … had been installed” at the facility since August.
The IAEA findings, released only a week before the P5+1 (Russia, China, France, the UK, the US and Germany) are set to resume talks with Iran in Geneva, will likely provide a boost for ongoing diplomatic efforts.
Since coming to office, President Rouhani has attempted to present himself as a moderate willing to negotiate a diplomatic solution with the P5+1 over Iran’s controversial nuclear program. The report’s findings will likely strengthen his credibility in next week’s talks by providing hard evidence of Iran’s willingness to draw down its nuclear activity in line with P5+1 demands.
Furthermore, the findings could dampen some specific P5+1 concerns that caused the last round of talks, held in early November, to fail to produce a deal. According to reports, France was deeply concerned about ongoing construction at the Arak heavy water reactor. While the halting of construction may not fully alleviate this concern, it could ease French fears enough to allow for a phase one deal to be made.
Unfortunately, staunch critics of Iran and efforts to diplomatically engage the country may remain unfazed by the IAEA findings. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told a group of journalists that he was “unimpressed” with the report on the grounds that Iran could still produce the necessary fissile material to build a nuclear weapon with existing capacities. Count on a number of Iran hawks within Congress to make similar comments in the next week as they attempt to pass a new round of sanctions on Iran.
Critics aside, the report’s findings are a positive development going forward and provide good grounds to be optimistic about the chances for a more successful round of talks next week in Geneva.