September 6, 2018 | Monograph

IAEA Still Needs to Investigate Military Dimension of Iran’s Nuclear Program

The board of governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will meet in Vienna beginning on September 10 and will receive briefings beforehand from the IAEA secretariat. The upcoming meeting represents an important opportunity for the board of governors to address the possible military dimensions (PMD) of the Iranian nuclear program, especially after the discovery of an atomic archive in Tehran raised new concerns about whether Iran had declared all of its nuclear-related activities to the IAEA.

The resolution of IAEA concerns regarding PMD was a key prerequisite to implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), commonly known as the Iran nuclear deal. To that end, Iran and the IAEA agreed on a road map for resolving those concerns, which required the director general of the IAEA to submit his findings to the board in December 2015. While the board allowed the implementation of the JCPOA to proceed, the director general’s report did not resolve all of the 12 areas of PMD-related concern that the IAEA had previously identified. Therefore, the IAEA secretariat remains obliged to continue its investigation and report its findings under the agenda item “Verification and monitoring in the Islamic Republic of Iran in light of the United Nations Security Council resolution 2231 (2015).”

There remains a need to resolve the PMD issue, especially in light of the large archive of documents, blueprints, and CDs related to nuclear weapons design work that were found in a warehouse in the Shorabad district of Tehran and whose existence was disclosed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Regarding the archive, the first task is to verify the authenticity of its contents. If they are authentic, then maintaining such an extensive cache related to the design and manufacturing of nuclear weapons calls into question Iran’s compliance with provisions of both the Nonproliferation Treaty and the JCPOA, in which Iran committed never to “seek, develop, or acquire any nuclear weapons.” One can also ask whether Iran really complied with the 2015 road map for resolving PMD issues.

The following six questions have arisen in light of the material found in the atomic archive as well as IAEA statements on its monitoring activities:

  • Why did Iran not destroy its nuclear weapons-related documentation or have it removed from the country under the supervision of the IAEA, as was the case with similar documentation in South Africa, Iraq, and Libya?
  • Which centrifuges are depicted in the images extracted from the atomic archive? Whose laboratories were or are involved in their operation?
  • Did Iran conduct its nuclear weapons design mock-ups and experiments with uranium or only with surrogate materials? On a related note, such work entails modelling and calculations performed by special software, an activity proscribed by Section T of the JCPOA.
  • Did Iran’s nuclear weapons-related design work continue after 2004?
  • During the implementation of the road map in 2015, why did Iran not grant the IAEA access to the sites and people involved with actual nuclear weapons work?
  • Following the implementation of the JCPOA in 2016, why has the IAEA not conducted in-field inspection visits to the locations involved in Iran’s nuclear weapons design and experimentation? The IAEA confirmed that it has made no such visits.

In order to restore confidence in the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program, the IAEA board of governors should request that the secretariat provide more detailed factual reports answering the questions listed above and others that may arise. In particular, at its forthcoming meeting, the IAEA board should assign the secretariat to take full stock of Iran’s nuclear weapons-related documentation and manufacturing equipment. The board should also assign the secretariat to have substantial discussions with the scientists and technical staff involved in those activities.

Once the IAEA has been able to assemble a full and up-to-date picture of Iran’s nuclear weapons-related efforts, all relevant materials should be destroyed or rendered harmless under the supervision of the IAEA, as happened in other countries that dismantled their nuclear weapons programs. The secretariat should also submit a long-term monitoring plan for approval by the board at its March 2019 meeting.

The information in the atomic archive should also lead to the revision of UNSCR 2231 to include an investigation of Iran’s work on all nuclear-capable ballistic and cruise missiles as defined by the Missile Technology Control Regime.

Following the revelation of Iran’s atomic archive, the IAEA board should seize this opportunity to reinvigorate the secretariat’s investigation of PMD, which has neither resolved the IAEA’s original concerns nor addressed new information about Iran’s nuclear weapons program.

Dr. Olli Heinonen is a senior advisor on science and nonproliferation at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. He is the former deputy director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and head of its Department of Safeguards.

Follow the Foundation for Defense of Democracies on Twitter @FDD. FDD is a Washington-based, nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.


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