June 6, 2022 | Institute for Science and International Security

Analysis of IAEA Iran Verification and Monitoring Report – May 2022

June 6, 2022 | Institute for Science and International Security

Analysis of IAEA Iran Verification and Monitoring Report – May 2022

Excerpt

This report summarizes and assesses information in the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) quarterly safeguards report for May 30, 2022, 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’s latest report details Iran’s rapidly advancing nuclear activities and inspectors’ diminished ability to detect Iranian diversion of assets to undeclared facilities.

Highlights and Breakout Estimate

  • Due to the growth of Iran’s 60 percent enriched uranium stocks, Iran has crossed a dangerous new threshold: its breakout timeline is now at zero. It has enough 60 percent enriched uranium, or highly enriched uranium (HEU) in the form of uranium hexafluoride (UF6) to be assured it could fashion directly a nuclear explosive. If Iran wanted to further enrich its 60 percent HEU up to 90 percent HEU, typically called weapon-grade uranium (WGU), used in Iran’s known nuclear weapons designs, it could do so within weeks utilizing only a few advanced centrifuge cascades. In parallel, within a month, including a setup period, Iran could produce enough WGU for a second nuclear explosive from its existing stock of near 20 percent enriched uranium. Whether or not Iran enriches its HEU up to 90 percent, it can have enough HEU for two nuclear weapons within one month after starting breakout.
  • Within 1.5 months after starting breakout, Iran could accumulate enough WGU for a third nuclear weapon, using its remaining near 20 percent enriched uranium and some of its 4.5 percent enriched uranium. In 2.75 months after starting breakout, it could have a fourth quantity by further enriching 4.5 percent enriched uranium up to 90 percent. At six months, it could have produced a fifth quantity by further enriching both 4.5 percent enriched uranium and natural uranium.
  • In essence, Iran has effectively broken out slowly by accumulating 60 percent enriched uranium. As of May 15, Iran had a stock of 43.1 kilograms (kg) (in uranium mass or U mass) of near 60 percent enriched uranium in UF6 form, or 63.8 kg (in hexafluoride mass or hex mass). Iran also has 2 kg of 60 percent HEU in chemical forms other than UF6.
  • Iran has moved 90 percent of its stock of 60 percent HEU to the Esfahan site, where it maintains a capability to make enriched uranium metal. Although Iran has stated that it is using the HEU to make targets for irradiation in the Tehran Research Reactor (TRR), it has converted only a small fraction of its HEU into targets – about 2.1 kg – and is unlikely to convert much more.
  • Iran’s current production rate of 60 percent enriched uranium is 4.3 kg per month (U mass) using two advanced centrifuge cascades and up to 5 percent low enriched uranium (LEU) as feed.
  • Iran is learning important lessons in breaking out to nuclear weapons, including by experimenting with skipping typical enrichment steps as it enriches up to 60 percent uranium-235 and building and testing equipment to feed 20 percent enriched uranium and withdraw HEU. It is starting from a level below 5 percent LEU and enriching directly to near 60 percent in one cascade, rather than using two steps in between, a slower process entailing the intermediate production of 20 percent enriched uranium. It has used temporary feed and withdrawal setups to produce HEU from near 20 percent enriched uranium feed. Iran is also implementing a plan to allow IR-6 cascades to switch more easily from the production of 5 percent enriched uranium to 20 percent enriched uranium. As such, Iran is experimenting with multi-step enrichment while seeking to shortcut the process.
  • Iran is currently not enriching uranium to 20 percent in one cascade of IR-6 centrifuges at the Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant (FFEP), a cascade that was active during prior reporting periods. Iran has installed a second cascade of 166 IR-6 centrifuges at the FFEP, but still has not yet fed it with UF6. It also has six IR-1 cascades (three sets of two interconnected cascades) that were already producing 20 percent enriched uranium. The installation of advanced centrifuges at the FFEP enhances Iran’s ability to break out using a declared but highly fortified facility.
  • The production rate of 20 percent enriched uranium at the FFEP remained fairly steady at 19.9 kg (U mass) per month or 29.4 kg (hex mass) per month.
  • As of May 15, Iran had an IAEA-estimated stock of 238.4 kg of 20 percent enriched uranium (U mass and in the form of UF6), an increase over the previous reporting period’s 182.1 kg. Iran also has an additional stock of 35.9 kg (U mass) of 20 percent uranium in other chemical forms.
  • As with the previous reporting period, Iran has not produced any uranium metal.
  • At the Natanz Fuel Enrichment Plant (FEP), Iran has installed 36 cascades of IR-1 centrifuges, six cascades of IR-2m centrifuges, and two cascades of IR-4 centrifuges. Of those, 31 IR-1 cascades, six IR-2m cascades, and one IR-4 cascade were being fed with uranium. A third IR-4 cascade was being installed.
  • Iran’s current, total operating enrichment capability is estimated to be about 12,600 separative work units (SWU) per year, compared to 13,400 SWU per year at the end of the last reporting period.
  • Average daily production of 5 percent LEU remained steady at the FEP, but Iran’s total usable stock of below 5 percent LEU continued to decrease, due to the increased rate of its use as feedstock at the PFEP and FFEP.
  • Iran’s overall reported stockpile of LEU increased due to a significant increase in Iran’s stock of up to 2 percent enriched uranium, much of which was produced as tails in the production of 20 percent and 60 percent enriched uranium.
  • In its latest report, the IAEA states that “prior to the end of March 2022, the Agency replaced all of the storage media in JCPOA-related cameras,” including those at Iran’s new or temporary centrifuge manufacturing and assembly facilities. The IAEA will not have access to video recordings and data, which Iran claims it will keep in its custody, until it receives relief from sanctions. The IAEA, for more than one year, has not been able to monitor Iran’s production of advanced centrifuges, particularly rotors and bellows, per JCPOA monitoring provisions, and faces a difficult challenge in reconstructing events should Iran turn over these data.
  • The IAEA also faces a gap in knowledge about Iran’s advanced centrifuge manufacturing activities from June 2021 until January 2022, raising doubt about its ability to ascertain whether Iran may have diverted centrifuge components.
  • Combined with Iran’s refusal to resolve outstanding safeguards violations, the IAEA has a significantly reduced ability to monitor Iran’s complex and growing nuclear program, which notably has unresolved nuclear weapons dimensions. The IAEA’s ability to detect diversion of nuclear materials, equipment, and other capabilities to undeclared facilities remains greatly diminished.

Andrea Stricker is deputy director and a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies’ (FDD) Nonproliferation and Biodefense program. 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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Issues:

International Organizations Iran Iran Global Threat Network Iran Nuclear Nonproliferation