November 16, 2022 | Institute for Science and International Security

Analysis of IAEA Iran Verification and Monitoring Report – November 2022

November 16, 2022 | Institute for Science and International Security

Analysis of IAEA Iran Verification and Monitoring Report – November 2022

Excerpt

  • This report summarizes and assesses information in the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) quarterly report for November 10, 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).

Findings

  • Since the last IAEA report, Iran has surged the quantity of installed advanced centrifuges at its Natanz Fuel Enrichment Plant (FEP). It has added roughly 1740 new advanced centrifuges, consisting mostly of IR-2m and IR-4 centrifuges, making the current installed capacity over 50 percent larger than it was in August.
  • This large increase in enrichment capacity poses immediate challenges. It reduces the time Iran would need to break out and produce several quantities of weapon-grade uranium (WGU) for nuclear weapons (see also below). This increase erodes further the value of a revived nuclear deal, since the JCPOA allows Iran to store advanced centrifuges, enabling Iran to further reduce breakout timelines for acquisition of weapon-grade uranium or more quickly build back its enrichment capacity in the event of another breakdown of the JCPOA.
  • Iran’s breakout time remains at zero because it has more than enough 60 percent enriched uranium, or highly enriched uranium (HEU), to directly fashion a nuclear explosive. Iran may prefer further enriching its 60 percent HEU up to 90 percent (or WGU) that is used in Iran’s known nuclear weapons designs. In that case, it could produce enough for a nuclear weapon within a few weeks utilizing only a few advanced centrifuge cascades.
  • Due to the current size of Iran’s 60 percent, 20 percent, and 4.5 percent enriched uranium stocks, Iran can now produce enough WGU for four nuclear weapons in one month and make enough for a fifth weapon within the following month.
  • Iran continues to learn 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. It is starting from a level below 5 percent LEU and enriching directly to near 60 percent in one step in two interconnected cascades, 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 near 5 percent enriched uranium to 20 percent enriched uranium. As such, Iran is experimenting with multi-step enrichment while seeking to shortcut the process.
  • In essence, Iran has effectively broken out slowly by accumulating 60 percent enriched uranium. As of October 21, Iran had a stock of 62.3 kilograms (kg) (in uranium mass or U mass) of 60 percent enriched uranium in UF6 form, or 92.2 kg (in hexafluoride mass or hex mass). Iran also has 2 kg of 60 percent HEU (U mass) in chemical forms other than UF6.
  • Iran keeps the majority (85 percent) 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 3.3 kg per month (U mass) centered on the use of two advanced production-scale centrifuge cascades, one containing IR-6 centrifuges and the other IR-4 centrifuges, and up to 5 percent low enriched uranium (LEU) as feed.
  • For most of the reporting period, Iran was 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. For part of the reporting period, Iran was using the two IR-6 cascades to produce near 5 percent LEU from natural uranium to directly feed one of the three sets of IR-1 cascades for further enrichment up to 20 percent. The presence of advanced centrifuges at the FFEP enhances Iran’s ability to break out using a declared but highly fortified facility.
  • The average production rate of 20 percent enriched uranium at the FFEP was 26.8 kg (U mass) per month, or 39.6 kg (hex mass) per month.
  • As of October 21, 2022, Iran had an IAEA-estimated stock of 386.49 kg of 20 percent enriched uranium (U mass and in the form of UF6), equivalent to 571.73 kg (hex mass). Iran also has a stock of 30.8 kg (U mass) of 20 percent uranium in other chemical forms.
  • At the Natanz FEP, Iran added up to ten cascades of advanced centrifuges during the last reporting period, for a total installed of 36 cascades of IR-1 centrifuges, 15 cascades of IR-2m centrifuges (up by nine), three cascades of IR-4 centrifuges (up by one), and three cascades of IR-6 centrifuges. Iran further announced it is planning to install an additional three IR-4 cascades and 18 cascades of a yet-unspecified type of centrifuge.
  • Iran’s current, total operating enrichment capability is estimated to be about 16,300 separative work units (SWU) per year, slightly lower than the 16,600 SWU per year at the end of the last reporting period, due to fewer IR-1 centrifuges enriching uranium at the FEP. As of the end of this reporting period, Iran was not yet using its fully installed enrichment capacity at the FEP, which, as noted above, has grown substantially.
  • Average daily production of near 5 percent LEU at the FEP doubled, and for the first time since early 2021, Iran’s near 5 percent LEU stock increased from one reporting period to the next, reaching 1030 kg (U mass).
  • Despite the increase during this reporting period in the amount of uranium enriched between two and five percent, Iran has not prioritized its stockpiling during the last two years, at odds with its contention that its primary goal is to accumulate 4-5 percent enriched uranium for use in nuclear power reactor fuel. Instead, this stock has been used extensively to produce near 20 percent and 60 percent enriched uranium, far beyond any of Iran’s civilian needs.
  • Iran’s overall reported stockpile of LEU decreased, due to a decrease in Iran’s stock of up to 2 percent enriched uranium, much of which was used as feed in the production of near 5 percent LEU.
  • The IAEA reports that it faces serious challenges in re-establishing continuity of knowledge about Iran’s activities under a revived JCPOA, such as production of centrifuges and heavy water, due Iran’s decision in February 2021 to deny the IAEA access to data from key monitoring and surveillance equipment. The IAEA details the rather tough remedial measures it will need to take in order to re-establish a centrifuge manufacturing baseline, including access to extensive records.
  • The monitoring situation has been severely worsened by Iran’s decision in June 2022 to remove all JCPOA-related monitoring and surveillance equipment, including video cameras. For more than five months, the IAEA has not had equipment installed to monitor Iran’s activities at advanced centrifuge manufacturing sites, which have multiplied this year. It faces an additional surveillance gap at the former TESA Karaj centrifuge manufacturing facility from June 2021 until January 2022, when cameras were destroyed or removed following an attack on the facility. The absence of monitoring and surveillance equipment, particularly since June 2022, has caused the IAEA to doubt its ability to ascertain whether Iran has diverted or may divert advanced centrifuges.
  • A risk is that Iran will accumulate a secret stock of advanced centrifuges, deployable in the future at a clandestine enrichment plant or during a breakout at declared sites. Another risk is that Iran will establish additional centrifuge manufacturing sites unknown to the IAEA. Iran is fully capable of moving manufacturing equipment to new undeclared sites, further complicating any future verification effort and contributing uncertainty about where Iran manufactures centrifuges.
  • 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.”
  • 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 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:

Iran Iran Global Threat Network Iran Nuclear Nonproliferation