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former IAEA Director-General

IAEA: Iran Work Plan Progress Incomplete
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Peter Crail

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei issued a report Feb. 22 on Iran’s nuclear program indicating that the agency has made considerable progress in clarifying some of Iran’s past nuclear activities, but has not been able to resolve all allegations of a previous nuclear-weapons program. These allegations primarily surround a claim by Western intelligence agencies that they possess a laptop and other documentation that once belonged to an Iranian nuclear technician and that contained studies relevant to a nuclear weapons program.

Iran claims that these allegations are fabrications and argues that it is not obligated to address them any further. Meanwhile, the United States and others have recently authorized the IAEA to confront Iran with additional documentation regarding the studies.

The report also notes that Iran has increased its transparency with the agency in the last few months, although the IAEA qualifies this cooperation, stating that it was not provided “in a consistent and complete manner.” Moreover, Iran has not complied with UN Security Council demands to suspend sensitive nuclear fuel cycle activities and some council members have stated that failure to meet that requirement will lead to additional sanctions.

Questions Still Outstanding

The agency’s report focuses largely on the progress made under an August 2007 work plan intended to resolve a number of “outstanding questions” surrounding Iran’s past nuclear activities. (See ACT, September 2007. ) Iran resolved some of these questions with the agency prior to the November 2007 report, and IAEA spokesperson Melissa Fleming stated Jan. 13 that Iran agreed in January to complete the work plan within four weeks.

Prior to the February report, the remaining issues were related to Iranian experiments with polonium-210, activities at a uranium mine, uranium contamination at a technical university, procurement efforts for centrifuge components, a document detailing the fashioning of uranium metal, and “alleged studies” on a nuclear-weapons program. Of these issues, the report indicated that only the alleged studies issue remains outstanding. However, the IAEA states that its “overall assessment” still requires an understanding regarding the role of the uranium metal document and the procurement activities of military-related organizations.

The alleged weaponization studies entail a number of efforts that the IAEA characterized as “a possible military dimension to Iran’s nuclear program.” These activities included work on the conversion of uranium dioxide into uranium tetrafluoride, high-explosives testing similar to that of a nuclear-weapon trigger, and the design of a missile re-entry vehicle that might be capable of accommodating a nuclear warhead. Uranium tetraflouride is the precursor to uranium hexafluoride, the feedstock used in centrifuges to enrich uranium to low levels for nuclear power reactors or high levels for nuclear weapons. The IAEA also sought information regarding procurement efforts and individuals related to these studies.

A senior IAEA official indicated Feb. 22 that, although the agency received the documentation regarding the studies in August 2005, it was unable to substantially address the alleged studies with Iran until recently. Moreover, the United States and other countries that provided the IAEA with documentation on the alleged studies did not authorize the agency to confront Iran directly with the original documentation until Feb. 15.

According to the report, Iran has provided written responses to some of the agency’s questions on these alleged studies but has not provided access to individuals associated with them. In its responses, Tehran declared that the allegations related to uranium tetraflouride conversion, high-explosives testing, and a nuclear-weapon-related re-entry vehicle were “baseless and fabricated.” The agency is still in the process of clarifying a number of procurement activities related to the studies, as well as a suspected project on laser uranium enrichment.

In responding to a question from Arms Control Today, a senior agency official admitted Feb. 22 that the time needed to resolve the remaining work plan issues “depends on the Iranians” and the types of responses they provide. The official noted that the agency is trying to understand what Tehran means when it says the allegations are baseless but that it has not made any conclusions as to whether the allegations are fabrications or if Iran’s explanations are plausible.

Iranian officials have argued that Iran has no further obligations to answer questions related to the studies. During a Feb. 22 interview, Ali Asghar Soltaniyeh, Iranian envoy to the IAEA, stated that Iran agreed in the negotiation of the work plan to “touch upon” the alleged studies issue “not as an outstanding issue, but as a good gesture.” Now that Tehran has provided its response to the allegations in writing, he added that “officially therefore that issue of alleged studies is over.”

A senior IAEA official stressed Feb. 22 that the agency has a mandate to clarify the alleged studies from the UN Security Council resolutions.

Iran Develops Faster Centrifuge

Meanwhile, Iran has been able to accomplish some technical advances with its uranium-enrichment program, which it claims is solely for peaceful purposes. Iran has developed a more advanced centrifuge adapted from the P-2 centrifuge design received from the nuclear smuggling network led by Pakistani nuclear official Abdul Qadeer Khan. This improved design, called the IR-2, is capable of enriching uranium about twice as fast as the P-1 centrifuge, which Iran currently has installed at its commercial facility at Natanz. Due to difficulties with the maraging steel bellows of the P-2 centrifuge, Iran adjusted the design to avoid the need to construct the bellows while maintaining the faster enrichment rate. (See ACT, November 2007. )

Iran has installed a single IR-2 centrifuge as well as a cascade of 10 IR-2 machines at its pilot enrichment plant at Natanz. In January, Iran began feeding uranium hexafluoride into the single IR-2 machine under IAEA monitoring.

Iran has worked on developing and testing this more advanced centrifuge, but it has not increased its current enrichment capacity since the last IAEA report in November 2007. It maintains a single module of about 3,000 centrifuges at its Natanz commercial enrichment facility. According to the report, Iran is preparing other areas of the facility for the installation of additional centrifuges.

Iran also continues to operate its centrifuges at far below their stated capacity. (See ACT, December 2007. ) According to the report, since February 2007, Iran has fed 1,670 kilograms of uranium hexafluoride into the centrifuges at its commercial facility and has produced a total of 75 kilograms of uranium enriched to 3.8 percent of the uranium 235-isotope. That output is less than half the amount that would be produced by efficient operation of P-1 centrifuges.

 

Iran-IAEA Work Plan Issues and Conclusions

The IAEA has held discussions with Iran to resolve a number of outstanding questions regarding the country’s past nuclear activities as part of a work plan agreed to in August 2007.  The agency detailed its progress in a Feb. 22 report.

 


Issue

Iran’s Explanation

IAEA Conclusion

Gchine Mine

 

The IAEA sought to clarify the circumstances surrounding the uranium mining and milling operations at Gchine, including the lack of declared operations between 1993 and 2000, to determine whether Iran used the mine as an independent source of uranium.

Iran explains that the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran always oversaw operations at Gchine and, between 1993 and 1998, preparations for ore processing took place at the Tehran Nuclear Research Center.

The IAEA concluded that this newly provided information is consistent with its findings and the documentation and no longer considers the issue outstanding.

Polonium-210 Experiments

During the 1980s, Iran conducted experiments with polonium-210, which has application in nuclear weapons designs as well as civilian purposes.

Iran maintains that the experiments were conducted by university scientists for civil applications and were not part of broader research and development.

The IAEA declared that the explanations Iran provided were consistent with its findings and no longer considers the issue outstanding.

 

Uranium Contamination

The IAEA detected the presence of highly enriched uranium contamination on equipment at a technical university in Tehran, suggesting that this equipment may have been used in an undeclared enrichment facility.

Iran explained that the equipment was contaminated when used in proximity to centrifuge equipment that was contaminated in Pakistan prior to transfer.

The IAEA concluded that Iran’s explanations and documentation “were not inconsistent with the data currently available to the agency” and no longer considers the issue outstanding.

Procurement Efforts

A former head of the Physics Research Center (PHRC) at Lavisan-Shian procured or sought a range of dual-use equipment that was consistent with a uranium-conversion and -enrichment program. The Lavisan-Shian site is associated with the Iranian Ministry of Defense, and beginning in late 2003, Iran razed the site, raising suspicions that it was covering up undeclared nuclear activities.

Iran asserts that none of the equipment that the former PHRC head obtained or sought was intended for use in a conversion or enrichment program. Tehran provided documentation regarding the non-nuclear use of some of the equipment and indicated that other equipment was not delivered.

 

The IAEA determined that the explanations provided by Iran and the responses of the former head of the PHRC “were not inconsistent with the stated use of the equipment.” It no longer considers the issue outstanding.

 

Uranium Metal Document

Iran obtained a document that describes the procedures for reducing uranium hexafluoride into uranium metal and machining enriched-uranium metal into hemispheres. This process may be used to make the fissile core for nuclear weapons.

Iran maintains that it received the document at the initiative of the A.Q. Khan network.

 

The IAEA is seeking to clarify with Pakistan the circumstances surrounding the provision of the document.

 

Alleged Studies

Western intelligence agencies accuse Iran of engaging in studies regarding the conversion of uranium dioxide into uranium tetrafluoride, high-explosives testing similar to that of a nuclear-weapon trigger, and the design of a missile re-entry vehicle that might be capable of accommodating a nuclear warhead. Iranian officials also carried out procurement activities and projects that could be related to these studies.

Iran claims that the allegations regarding these studies are “baseless and fabricated” and denies the existence or role of some of the personnel named in the documentation. Iran also provided a response indicating that some of the procurement efforts were not related to the studies.

 

The IAEA awaits further responses regarding the procurement activities and projects that could be associated with the studies and intends to share additional documentation regarding the studies with Iran.

 


Posted: March 1, 2008