August 7, 2023 | Insight

FDD Supplemental Iran Nuclear Assessment to ODNI Annual Report 

On July 10, 2023, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) published a report for Congress about Iran’s nuclear and missile capabilities, as required by law.1  “Iran is not currently undertaking the key nuclear weapons-development activities that would be necessary to produce a testable nuclear device,” the report concludes. This finding contradicts the observable activities that Iran is currently undertaking to reduce its timeline to nuclear weapons. It also fails to account for the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA’s) inability, due to Tehran’s obstruction and lack of cooperation, to fully investigate Iran’s atomic weapons activities.

The ODNI assessment ignores that most of Iran’s nuclear advances have occurred since November 2020, after Joe Biden’s election, as Tehran exploited his desire to revive the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), confident that he would impose no meaningful consequences for the regime’s nuclear expansion.2  The Iran nuclear threat has thus grown substantially under Biden’s watch following a period of Tehran’s relative restraint between Washington’s 2018 withdrawal from the JCPOA and the 2020 presidential election. Nevertheless, Washington and its European partners have failed to take meaningful action to deter or stop these advances.

To enhance policymakers and the public’s understanding of this growing threat, this FDD Supplemental Iran Nuclear Assessment provides key additional information on the regime’s nuclear capabilities and activities. The assessment explains international monitoring gaps that, taken together, place Iran dangerously at the threshold of nuclear weapons and allow Tehran to produce atomic bombs at a time of the regime’s choosing.

Iran’s Nuclear Activity

The ODNI report fails to state that Iran can currently produce enough weapons-grade uranium for one nuclear weapon in 12 days and seven additional weapons within three months.3 It is unclear, however, how quickly Tehran could use this uranium to produce a crude or deliverable nuclear weapon. Since the IAEA began investigating Iran’s nuclear activities in 2002, the agency has not been able to determine that Iran’s nuclear program is devoted to peaceful purposes. The IAEA has not determined whether Iran maintains numerous nuclear weaponization activities that it carried out in the past.4  In June, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom warned, “Iran has unabatedly continued escalating its nuclear programme beyond civilian justification.”5

  • Uranium Enrichment Activities: As of May 2023, Iran had installed thousands of centrifuges for uranium enrichment across three enrichment sites. 6 Since April 2021, Iran has been enriching uranium to a level of 60 percent purity, which is 99 percent of the effort required to produce 90-percent weapons-grade enriched uranium.7 The IAEA detected particles of uranium enriched to 84 percent in January 2023, suggesting Iran may have experimented with producing near weapons-grade uranium without accumulating the material.8 Iran has no current civilian need for these activities, since it imports fuel for its civilian nuclear reactor at Bushehr.

  • Underground Facilities: As of August 2023, Iran continued construction of a possible uranium enrichment facility in the mountains south of the Natanz enrichment site. Iran claims the new facility, which may be impenetrable to military strikes, will be solely a centrifuge production site, not an enrichment facility.9 Iran, however, may opt not to declare a new enrichment facility to the IAEA as soon as it decides to build one, as is required under its comprehensive safeguards agreement with the agency under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).10 Iran has been producing highly enriched uranium at its heavily fortified underground enrichment facility at Fordow since January 2021.11
  • International Monitoring: As of August 2023, Iran does not allow IAEA monitoring of its production of advanced centrifuges, reducing the agency’s ability to confirm that Tehran is not hiding the machines at an undeclared facility. A few hundred machines could enrich Iran’s existing stockpile of enriched uranium to weapons-grade at an undeclared site.
  • Weaponization-Related Activities: In August 2021, Iran carried out one key activity under IAEA safeguards that could support weaponization, producing small quantities of uranium metal enriched to 20 percent purity, which can be used in the core of nuclear devices.12 Meanwhile, Iran continues to stonewall the IAEA’s investigation into undeclared nuclear weapons work and four undeclared sites that Israel learned about following its 2018 seizure of Iran’s nuclear archive.13 In 2019 and 2020, the agency detected man-made uranium at three of the sites despite Iranian concealment and sanitization activities. The IAEA assesses that Iran carried out undeclared work with nuclear weapons applications at one of the sites, Marivan, and failed to declare its use of nuclear material at another site, Lavisan-Shian.14 Failure to declare production and use of nuclear material are violations of Iran’s comprehensive safeguards agreement under the NPT.

Richard Goldberg is a senior advisor at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), directs FDD’s International Organizations program, and contributes to FDD’s Center on Economic and Financial Power. He previously served on the White House National Security Council, as deputy chief of staff to former U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, and as chief of staff to former Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner. Anthony Ruggiero is a senior fellow and senior director of FDD’s nonproliferation and biodefense program and served as the National Security Council’s senior director for counterproliferation and biodefense in the Trump administration. Andrea Stricker is a research fellow and deputy director of FDD’s nonproliferation and biodefense program.

For more analysis from the authors and FDD please subscribe HERE. Follow Rich, Anthony, and Andrea on Twitter @rich_goldberg, @NatSecAnthony, and @StrickerNonpro. Follow FDD on Twitter @FDD. FDD is a Washington, DC-based, nonpartisan research institute focused on national security and foreign policy.


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