February 25, 2021 | Institute for Science and International Security

Analysis of IAEA Iran Verification and Monitoring Report

February 25, 2021 | Institute for Science and International Security

Analysis of IAEA Iran Verification and Monitoring Report


This report assesses information in the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA’s) quarterly safeguards report for February 23, 2021, Verification and monitoring in the Islamic Republic of Iran in light of United Nations Security Council resolution 2231 (2015), including Iran’s compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

The IAEA issued its report to member states on the day that Iran pledged to stop implementing the Additional Protocol (AP) to its comprehensive safeguards agreement (CSA), a further step in nuclear advances it has been taking since Iran passed new legislation in December. The legislation mandates augmentations to Iran’s nuclear program and reduced IAEA inspections, absent the United States dropping all sanctions on Iran, a step that the Biden administration has refused to take. On February 23, 2021, Iran suspended the AP and voluntary monitoring measures under the JCPOA, as mandated by the legislation. A few days earlier, during a weekend visit to Tehran by IAEA Director General Rafael M. Grossi, Iran agreed to continue implementing a limited number of verification and monitoring activities for three months and abide by its CSA, the latter being the fundamental IAEA inspection arrangement, including for IAEA access to any site in Iran.

Summary and Breakout Estimate

1) Iran started to produce near 20 percent enriched uranium on January 4, 2021, in 1044 IR-1 centrifuges located at the Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant (FFEP).

2) Iran produced 3.6 grams of uranium metal from natural uranium tetrafluoride (UF4) at the Fuel Plate Fabrication Plant (FPFP) at Esfahan, testing the process in preparation for a scaled up enriched uranium metal production line at the FPFP.

3) Iran’s low enriched uranium (LEU) stock far exceeds the limit set by the JCPOA. As of February 16, 2021, Iran had a stockpile of about 4390.2 kilograms (kg) of LEU (hexafluoride mass), almost all enriched below 5 percent, or 2967.8 kg (uranium mass).

4) Of the 2967.8 kg LEU (uranium mass), 1025.5 kg are enriched to up to 2 percent, 1890 kg are enriched to more than 2 but less than 5 percent, and 17.6 kg are enriched to up to 20 percent. The remainder, 34.7 kg, is uranium not in the form of uranium hexafluoride (UF6), and its enrichment level is not specified. In past reports, the subcategories of enriched uranium added up to match the total amount of enriched uranium listed. However, this time, there was a discrepancy of 34.7 kg.

5) Monthly LEU production of up to 5 percent LEU (excluding near 20 percent enrichment and enriched uranium not in the form of UF6) has increased from 146.7 kg/month (uranium mass) in the previous reporting period (Aug. 2020 – Nov. 2020) to 205.5 kg/month during this reporting period (Nov. 2020 – Feb. 2021). The increase affected mostly the below 2 percent LEU production, which had dropped during the previous reporting period before reaching 144.7 kg/month this reporting period. The monthly average production of 2 to 5 percent LEU increased slightly to 154.3 kg/month.

6) Iran’s estimated breakout time, as of late February 2021, is as short as 3.1 months. Iran now has sufficient LEU enriched below five percent to produce enough weapon-grade uranium (WGU) for a second nuclear weapon, where the second one would be produced more quickly than the first, requiring, in total, as little as five months to produce enough WGU for two nuclear weapons.

7) Iran’s total estimated enrichment capacity at Natanz and Fordow has increased from 6963 separated work units (SWU)/yr to 8258 SWU/yr in currently enriching centrifuges; an increase of nearly 20 percent. (This value, while indicative of Iran’s total enrichment output, should not be used in breakout estimates).

8) The current enrichment capacity at the Natanz Fuel Enrichment Plant (FEP) and Fordow plant, ignoring the Natanz Pilot Fuel Enrichment Plant (PFEP), is 6744 SWU per year. If Iran installs all cascades of advanced centrifuges it is currently installing and firmly planning (a total of six), the total capacity increases to almost 12,900 SWU per year. This enrichment capacity is almost three times larger than allowed under the JCPOA.

9) Iran’s stock of heavy water as of February 15, 2021 was 131.4 metric tonnes, above the JCPOA’s limit of 130 metric tonnes. Iran also shipped out 5.4 metric tonnes.

10) Iran has not pursued the construction of the Arak heavy water research reactor (IR-40 Reactor) based on its original design. It also has not produced or tested natural uranium pellets, fuel pins or fuel assemblies for the original reactor design.

Andrea Stricker is a research fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD). Follow Andrea on Twitter @StrickerNonpro. FDD is a Washington, DC-based, nonpartisan research institute focused on national security and foreign policy.

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