September 9, 2022 | Institute for Science and International Security

Analysis of IAEA Iran Verification and Monitoring Report – September 2022

September 9, 2022 | Institute for Science and International Security

Analysis of IAEA Iran Verification and Monitoring Report – September 2022

Excerpt

Background

  • This report summarizes and assesses information in the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) quarterly safeguards report for September 7, 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).
  • Iran’s breakout time remains at zero. It has more than enough 60 percent enriched uranium, or highly enriched uranium (HEU) in the form of uranium hexafluoride (UF6) to directly fashion a nuclear explosive. If Iran wanted to further enrich its 60 percent HEU up to 90 percent weapons-grade uranium (WGU), used in Iran’s known nuclear weapons designs, it could do so within weeks utilizing only a few advanced centrifuge cascades.
  • 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 enriching uranium in one IR-6 cascade modified 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.
  • Combined with Iran’s refusal to resolve outstanding Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) 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.

Findings

  • Due to the growth of Iran’s 60 percent and 20 percent enriched uranium stocks, Iran can now produce enough WGU for three nuclear weapons in one month.
  • Within one month, including a setup period, Iran could produce enough WGU for a second and third nuclear explosive also using all of 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 three nuclear weapons within one month after starting breakout.
  • In essence, Iran has effectively broken out slowly by accumulating 60 percent enriched uranium. As of August 21, Iran had a stock of 55.6 kilograms (kg) (in uranium mass or U mass) of near 60 percent enriched uranium in UF6 form, or 82.2 kg (in hexafluoride mass or hex mass). Iran also has 2 kg of 60 percent HEU in chemical forms other than UF6.
  • Iran keeps two-thirds of its stock of 60 percent HEU at 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 has not converted more since March 2022.
  • Iran’s current production rate of 60 percent enriched uranium is 3.9 kg per month (U mass) using two advanced centrifuge cascades and up to 5 percent low enriched uranium (LEU) as feed.
  • Iran is now enriching uranium to 20 percent in both cascades of IR-6 centrifuges at the Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant (FFEP). It is also operating six IR-1 cascades (three sets of two interconnected cascades) that were already producing 20 percent enriched uranium. The presence 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 increased by almost 50 percent, from 19.9 kg to 29 kg (U mass) per month, or 29.4 kg and 42 kg (hex mass) per month.
  • As of August 21, Iran had an IAEA-estimated stock of 331.9 kg of 20 percent enriched uranium (U mass and in the form of UF6). Iran also has an additional stock of 30.8 kg (U mass) of 20 percent uranium in other chemical forms.
  • At the Natanz Fuel Enrichment Plant (FEP), Iran has installed 36 cascades of IR-1 centrifuges, six cascades of IR-2m centrifuges, two cascades of IR-4 centrifuges, and, newly, three cascades of IR-6 centrifuges. A third IR-4 cascade was still being installed, and newly, four additional IR-2m cascades were being installed.
  • Iran’s current, total operating enrichment capability is estimated to be about 16,600 separative work units (SWU) per year, compared to 12,600 SWU per year at the end of the last reporting period.
  • Average daily production of 5 percent LEU increased accordingly at the FEP, but Iran’s total usable stock of below 5 percent LEU continued to decrease, due to the high rate of its use as feedstock at the PFEP and FFEP.
  • Iran’s overall reported stockpile of LEU continued to rise due to an 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.
  • Since the previous report, a February 2021 agreement between Iran and the IAEA collapsed, which had extended certain JCPOA monitoring measures such as the use of surveillance cameras and safeguards data collection devices. Iran had agreed to continue operating IAEA equipment and collect the information but keep the data in its custody. In June, following an IAEA Board of Governors censure of Iran for non-compliance with its safeguards obligations, Iran demanded the IAEA remove 27 video cameras and other electronic monitoring devices.
  • The IAEA reports that it faces serious challenges in re-establishing continuity of knowledge about Iran’s activities, such as centrifuge production and production of heavy water. For more than 12 weeks, the IAEA has not been able to monitor Iran’s activities, and should it receive past footage and data, has an enormous task to sift through some 1.5 years of video footage. The IAEA also details the remedial measures it will need to take in order to re-establish a centrifuge manufacturing baseline, including access to extensive records.
  • The IAEA also faces a gap in knowledge about Iran’s advanced centrifuge manufacturing activities at the former TESA Karaj facility from June 2021 until January 2022, raising doubt about its ability to ascertain whether Iran may have diverted centrifuge components.
  • The IAEA warns, “Even if all records were provided by Iran, additional safeguards measures were applied by the Agency, and the recovered data proved to be comprehensive and accurate, considerable challenges would remain to confirm the consistency of Iran’s declared inventory of centrifuges and heavy water with the situation prior to 21 February 2022.”
  • The IAEA concludes that “Iran’s decision to remove all of the Agency’s equipment previously installed in Iran for surveillance and monitoring activities in relation to the JCPOA has also had detrimental implications for the Agency’s ability to provide assurance of the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear programme.”

Andrea Stricker is deputy director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies’ (FDD) Nonproliferation and Biodefense Program and an FDD research fellow. Follow her 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