"I learned so much about arms control and disarmament at ACA! I learned more about arms control here in four months than I had in all three years at my college."

– Alicia Sanders-Zakre
Intern, Fall 2016
December 16, 2016
IAEA Criticizes Iran Cooperation

Paul Kerr

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Deputy Director-General Pierre Goldschmidt told the agency’s Board of Governors March 1 that Iran has failed to cooperate fully with the IAEA investigation of Tehran’s nuclear programs. Specifically, he said, Iran has failed to provide adequate information about its uranium-enrichment program to the agency and has also lagged in providing IAEA inspectors access to some facilities suspected of playing a role in nuclear weapons research. Iran has, however, continued to observe its November pledge to suspend its enrichment program.

IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei told reporters the next day that Iran should increase its “transparency” by providing the agency with all relevant information.

This board meeting marked the first time since March 2003 that ElBaradei did not present a written report about the IAEA’s investigation, which began in 2002. That probe has revealed that Tehran conducted a variety of clandestine nuclear activities in violation of its IAEA safeguards agreement. (See ACT, December 2004.) No new evidence of secret Iranian nuclear programs has emerged recently, although Goldschmidt did present new evidence regarding Iran’s already known uranium-enrichment program.

Safeguards agreements require states-parties to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty to allow the agency to monitor their declared civilian nuclear activities to ensure that they are not diverted to military use. Although Iran has given IAEA inspectors access to its safeguarded facilities, as well as some others, the IAEA has limited authority to visit other sites without evidence that the government is conducting nuclear activities there.

Uranium Enrichment
Goldschmidt told the board that the IAEA has obtained new information regarding Iran’s P-1 gas centrifuge-based uranium-enrichment program, including new details about Iran’s initial acquisition of centrifuge technology.

Uranium enrichment increases the concentration of the uranium-235 isotope, producing either low-enriched uranium for civilian nuclear reactor fuel or highly enriched uranium (HEU). If enriched to high enough levels, HEU can be used as fissile material in nuclear weapons. Gas centrifuges enrich uranium hexafluoride gas by spinning it at very high speeds.

Goldschmidt stated that Iran provided the agency with a document Jan. 12 purportedly describing a 1987 offer from a “foreign intermediary” that apparently included a disassembled centrifuge, as well as drawings and specifications for centrifuges and an enrichment facility.

According to the document, the intermediary also offered to supply Iran with equipment to produce uranium metal. Although some nuclear power reactors use this material as fuel, Iran has no such reactors. U.S. officials have expressed concern that Iran intends to produce uranium metal for fissile material or other nuclear weapons purposes.

Iran currently possesses a uranium-conversion facility designed to convert lightly processed uranium ore into several different uranium compounds, including uranium hexafluoride and uranium metal. According to the IAEA, Iran initially entered into discussions in 1991 with a “foreign supplier” to construct such a facility but decided six years later to build the facility itself after the supplier pulled out. It is not clear if this supplier is the intermediary who participated in the 1987 meeting.

Iran has told the agency that it received only some of the material described in the offer, Goldschmidt said, but he did not specify further. The IAEA previously reported that Iran received centrifuge drawings and components in 1987 but did not mention an offer of uranium metal production equipment.

Goldschmidt also did not identify the “foreign intermediary” mentioned in the document, and a Department of State official familiar with the issue told Arms Control Today March 15 that the IAEA is not yet certain who participated in the meeting. The agency has previously indicated that Iran received its centrifuge materials through a “clandestine supply network” run by former Pakistani nuclear official Abdul Qadeer Khan.

The State Department official said that the United States believes Iran has not yet “come clean” with all the details of the 1987 meeting, some of which Washington believes would constitute important new revelations. In a March 2 statement to the IAEA board, U.S. Ambassador Jackie Sanders cited press reports indicating that the 1987 offer may have been “explicitly intended as the first of many ‘phases’ in future cooperation between Iran and that intermediary.”

Goldschmidt also described another possible Iranian connection to the Khan network. According to Iranian officials, Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization learned in 1994 that an “intermediary” had offered to deliver 500 sets of P-1 centrifuge components and related designs to an Iranian company unaffiliated with the organization. Goldschmidt did not identify this intermediary.

Iran has acknowledged receiving the components and designs in two shipments during the mid-1990s, although Iranian documents provided to the IAEA in January 2005 give slightly different dates for the shipments within the same time period.

The IAEA has also been investigating Iran’s work on a more advanced P-2 centrifuge, but Tehran has not provided the agency with any new information about that program, Goldschmidt stated.

The agency is also continuing to investigate the sources of enriched uranium particles found in Iranian facilities. Iran has admitted to enriching uranium to very low proportions of uranium-235, but IAEA inspectors have found particles enriched to much higher levels. ElBaradei reported last November that the IAEA’s evidence so far “tends, on balance, to support” Iran’s claim that the particles came from imported centrifuge components. Other possible explanations include still-undisclosed Iranian nuclear experiments, as well as concealment of imported or domestically produced nuclear material.

IAEA inspectors have taken environmental samples at several locations in Pakistan in an effort to determine the uranium’s origin. Additionally, Goldschmidt told the board that the agency has reached an agreement with that country on the “modalities for sampling a number of old centrifuge components.” However, Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf said Islamabad has not yet decided on the matter, Reuters reported March 25.

Goldschmidt also stated that the IAEA is to analyze environmental samples collected by inspectors in January 2005 from “locations” in a country where, according to Tehran, centrifuge components were stored en route to Iran. The State Department official confirmed a March 13 Agence France Presse report identifying the country in question as the United Arab Emirates, which was also a transit point for the Khan network’s shipments of centrifuge components to Libya. (See ACT, March 2004.) A 2004 British intelligence report stated that Dubai was the hub of Khan’s network since at least 2000.

Other Concerns
Goldschmidt further noted that Iran is continuing work on a heavy-water nuclear reactor, despite the IAEA board’s previous request that Tehran “reconsider” the project. (See ACT, July/August 2004.) The State Department official confirmed press reports that satellite imagery shows that Iran has begun pouring the reactor’s foundation.

Speaking to the board, Sanders dismissed Iran’s claim that the reactor is to produce radioisotopes for civilian purposes, implying that Iran actually wants the reactor to produce plutonium. The State Department official bolstered this argument by pointing out that Iran can produce the relevant radioisotopes in its Tehran research reactor, which is not even operating at full capacity.

Separating plutonium from irradiated reactor fuel is another method of obtaining fissile material. Goldschmidt said the IAEA is also continuing its efforts to determine the dates of Iran’s plutonium-separation experiments, which may have been conducted more recently than Tehran has claimed.

Additionally, Goldschmidt discussed IAEA inspectors’ visits to two sites in Iran where the country may have conducted clandestine nuclear-related activities.

He said Iran has not cooperated with the IAEA’s investigation of a physics research center that was operating at a site called Lavizan-Shian between 1989 and 1998. According to Goldschmidt, the agency wants more information concerning the center’s possible efforts “to acquire dual-use material and equipment that could be useful in uranium-enrichment and conversion activities.” Iran provided the agency with some relevant information in October but has apparently not cooperated further.

The site has previously attracted suspicion because of reports that Iran had razed buildings there in what may have been an attempt to conceal evidence of nuclear activities. ElBaradei reported last November that IAEA environmental samples taken at the site contained “no evidence of nuclear material.”

In addition, he said, following months of requests, IAEA inspectors visited the Parchin military complex in mid-January. Goldschmidt told the board that the inspectors “saw no relevant dual-use equipment or materials” but noted that their visit was limited in scope. The IAEA had identified four areas of interest but was only allowed to visit one, he said, adding that the IAEA is analyzing environmental samples taken during the visit. (See ACT, October 2004.)

Iran denied the IAEA's request for an additional visit in a Feb. 27 note to the agency.

Tehran has continued to abide by its November agreement to suspend its uranium-enrichment program for the duration of negotiations with France, Germany, and the United Kingdom. The two sides are attempting to reach a long-term agreement that is to include “objective guarantees that Iran’s nuclear program is exclusively for peaceful purposes.”

Addressing Iranian actions apparently designed to test the suspension agreement’s boundaries, Goldschmidt told the board that IAEA inspectors observed during December and January visits that Iran was conducting “quality control” work on centrifuge components that are not under IAEA seal. Iran told the agency in February that it had temporarily stopped this work pending discussions with its European interlocutors.

Goldschmidt also reported that Iran has begun constructing underground tunnels for storing nuclear materials near its uranium-conversion facility. Tehran notified the IAEA about the project, which Iran says began in September 2004, two days before agency inspectors visited the site Dec. 15. According to its safeguards agreement, Iran should have notified the IAEA earlier about the project, Goldschmidt said.

The State Department official described this violation as “minor” and added that Washington is not concerned about Iran conducting clandestine nuclear activities in the tunnels because the site is subject to IAEA monitoring. The project does, however, call into question Iran’s commitment to its suspension agreement, the official said.

Addressing another issue that had caused concern, Goldschmidt said that Iran has finished cleaning valves that had been removed from its pilot centrifuge facility located at Natanz. The valves are now in storage and monitored by the IAEA, he added.