Yesterday, IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has submitted his new safeguards report on Iran’s (and Syria’s) nuclear activities. It is now circulated among the 35 members of the IAEA Board of Governors and will be discussed in Vienna on September 7, just before the this year’s UN General Assembly in New York which will take place between September 22 and October 2. According to IAEA’s website circulation is restricted and the report cannot be released to the public unless the IAEA Board decides otherwise. As usual, non-governmental non-profit Institute of Science and International Security (ISIS) has immediately published the report(s) and its brief analysis on its webpage.
Recent IAEA reports on Iran’s nuclear program usually reveal highly reproducible results. What they consistently show is more or less a constant pace of development. The visit of IAEA inspectors at the Fuel Enrichment Plant (FEP) in Natanz on August 12 revealed that the number of centrifuges being fed with uranium hexafluoride (all IR-1; Iran is presently testing a 10-machine IR-4 cascade, and 10-machine IR-2m cascade at the Pilot PEF) was now 4592 with an additional 3716 centrifuges being installed. The total number of centrifuges at the FEP has now increased to 8308 from 7221 on May 31. Since June 1 an additional 169 kg of low enriched uranium (LEU) hexafluoride has been produced. Nuclear material at FEP and all installed cascades are subject to IAEA containment and surveillance. Results of environmental samples taken at FEP and PFEP in recent unannounced inspections indicate that they have been operating as declared. Samples taken in April 2009 have identified particles of LEU of less than 4.4% U-235, natural uranium and depleted uranium down to 0.38% U-235 enrichment.
Heavy-water Nuclear Research Reactor
The IAEA had requested a Design Information Questionnaire (DIQ) for the Fuel Manufacturing Plant (FMP) near Esfahan and the heavy water Nuclear Research Reactor (IR-40) in Arak which had been submitted by Iran to the IAEA on August 21. More important may be that inspectors of the IAEA had been allowed to visit the site and conduct a design information verification (DIV) on August 17. It was noted that the reactor vessel had not yet been present (it would be installed, according to information provided by Iran, in 2011). Although the facility at its current stage of construction (95% of the civil construction work is completed and about 63% of the plant itself) conforms to the design information provided by Iran as of January 24, 2007, the agency demands that Iran still needs to provide updated and more detailed design information in particular about the nuclear fuel characteristics, fuel handling etc. See, for example, in that respect a recent discovery by ISIS of a reactor fuel rod bundle shown to the press at the FMP in Esfahan in spring this year, which seems to be similar to the Soviet-era graphite reactor RBMK.
At the Uranium Conversion Facility in Esfahan, a mere 11 tonnes uranium hexafluoride had been produced during the period between March 8 and August 10, 2009, much less than the 33 tonnes which had been produced between March 8 and November 3, 2008, giving rise to speculations that Iran is in fact running out of uranium ore.
IAEA inspectors’ visits at the FEP in Natanz on August 12 and at the heavy water nuclear plant IR-40 in Arak on August 17, two months after the highly controversial presidential election and subsequent political power struggle, and about two weeks before the expected next (and, for ElBaradei, final) report on Iran’s nuclear program, may in fact have led to some constructive results. Thus, Iran and the IAEA have agreed on improvements to the containment and surveillance measures at the FEP as well as regarding the provision of accounting and operation records, even on the requirements for timely access for unannounced inspections.
Possible Military Dimensions
IAEA reports on Iran time and again conclude that the agency verifies the non-diversion of declared nuclear material. However, Iran is not cooperative in implementing steps which would allow the necessary subsidiary measures of the agency for design information verification. Contrary to the requests of the Board of Governors and the Security Council, Iran has neither implemented the Additional Protocol of the nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (which had been signed, though never ratified by Iran’s parliament, and implemented until President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s first election) nor cooperated with the agency in connection with the remaining issues of concern, as usually designated as the ‘alleged studies’, which Iran consistently rejected as being forged (the ‘laptop issue’, the ‘green salt project’ of nuclear related high explosives testing) which need to be clarified to exclude the possibility of military dimensions to Iran’s nuclear program. As regards the latter, Iran has provided to the IAEA an overall assessment of the documentation related to the ‘alleged studies’ and partial replies and a document in response to specific questions presented by the agency. Although Iran has indicated further that it has information which could shed more light on the nature of the alleged studies, it has not yet provided it to the agency. ElBaradei might ultimately loose his patience when considering in particular the latter, Iran’s obstinacy in this matter. Again, the blame is on both sides. ElBaradei urges “[m]ember States which have provided documentation to the Agency to work out new modalities with the Agency so that it could share further documentation with Iran, as appropriate, since the Agency’s inability to do so is rendering it difficult for the Agency to progress further in its verification process.”
“[T]he Agency has repeatedly informed Iran that it does not consider that Iran has adequately addressed the substance of the issues, having focused instead on the style and form of presentation of the written documents relevant to the alleged studies and providing limited answers or simple denials in response to other questions. The Agency has therefore requested Iran to provide more substantive responses and to provide the Agency with the opportunity to have detailed discussions with a view to moving forward on these issues, including granting the Agency access to persons, information and locations identified in the documents in order for the Agency to be able to confirm Iran’s assertion that these documents are false and fabricated. The Agency has reiterated its willingness to discuss modalities that could enable Iran to demonstrate credibility that the activities referred to in the documentation are not nuclear related, as Iran asserts, while protecting sensitive information related to its conventional military activities.”