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The IAEA PMD Report Is Out

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) released its long-awaited report on Iran’s past activities in twelve areas related to nuclear weapons development, the so-called possible military dimensions (PMD) of Iran’s nuclear program. The Dec. 2 report assessed that Iran conducted a coordinated “range of activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device” prior to the end of 2003 and some of the activities continued between 2003-2009. According to the assessment the “activities did not advance beyond feasibility and scientific studies, and the acquisition of certain relevant technical competences and capabilities.”

The report said that the IAEA had "no credible indications" of these activities continuing after 2009. Nor did it have any credible evidence that Iran diverted any nuclear material in connection with the past weaponization development efforts. The IAEA’s Board of Governors will meet on Dec. 15 to consider the report.

The IAEA’s assessment was based on intelligence from member states, its own investigation and evidence, and information provided by Iran as part of a July 14, 2015 agreement between Tehran and the agency to resolve the PMD concerns.

Iran’s ambassador to the IAEA, Reza Najafi, said on Dec. 2 that the “logical path” for the IAEA Board is to “close the case on the past issues.” He said that full implementation of the July 14 nuclear deal between Iran and six countries “is paved only through closing” the case on the unresolved issues.

Mark Toner, deputy spokesman at the U.S. Department of State, said on Dec. 2 that the IAEA’s report that Iran pursued an organized nuclear weapons program that was halted in 2003 is “consistent with what the United States has long assessed with high confidence.”

He noted that the United States is submitting a resolution to the IAEA Board “with a view toward closing the PMD issue,” and moving to focus on implementation of the nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

Toner said that once the nuclear deal is implemented, the international community will “have assurances that these kinds of past activities cannot occur again.”

KELSEY DAVENPORT, director for nonproliferation policy

Quick Reference Links

The Nuclear Deal At a Glance Comprehensive Guide to the Nuclear Deal
Experts Available for Interview Editorials Supporting a Deal
Archived Iran Nuclear Alerts Additional Resources

What the IAEA Report Says (and Doesn’t Say)

The IAEA’s findings should not come as much of a surprise. The 2007 U.S. National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran assessed with high confidence that Tehran halted an organized nuclear weapons program in the fall of 2003, and did not restart it as of the report’s publication in 2007. The NIE assessment was less confident, however, that all of the nuclear weapons-related activities halted in 2003. Again, this finding is similar to the IAEA assessment that some activities, primarily computer modelling and calculations relevant to nuclear weapons development, continued from 2005 to 2009.

Describing the continuation of these activities as Iran “actively designing a nuclear weapon until 2009” as The New York Times asserted, is not an accurate characterization of the IAEA’s findings. The fragmented computer modelling that took place between 2005-2009 would be a necessary component for development of a nuclear explosive device but not sufficient for a weapons design.

What may be the most noteworthy element of the report is the IAEA’s s finding that there are "no credible indications" that Tehran continued weaponization activities after 2009, or diverted nuclear material in connection with its past activities. Together, these statements are a strong indication that Iran has abandoned all nuclear weapons activities in 2009.

Rigorous implementation of the July 14, 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and the six countries known as the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States) will provide the strongest possible guarantee that, in the future, Tehran cannot pursue nuclear weapons without swift detection through a combination of strict limits and an intrusive monitoring regime in Iran.

Inspecting the Nuclear Fuel Cycle

IAEA inspectors explain and demonstrate how agency safeguards are applied at a uranium-enrichment plant to ensure that nuclear material is not being diverted for illicit purposes.

Confession is Not Necessary for the Nuclear Deal

While Iran complied with the agency’s investigation and provided evidence and access, it is also clear from the report that Tehran was not fully forthcoming in its responses to the agency. In addition, several areas of the report note that Iran’s explanations were incomplete or inconsistent with the agency’s findings (see below). Iran’s obfuscation and reticence is unfortunate, but hardly surprising. Expecting Iran to fully confess to pursuing an organized nuclear weapons program in the past is unrealistic given Tehran’s strong public position that its nuclear program is entirely peaceful and the fatwa against nuclear weapons.

Former Iranian President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani’s comments in late October that Iran considered nuclear weapons during the Iran-Iraq war may be as close as the international community gets to a confession that Iran pursued nuclear weapons in the past. Rafsanjani was quoted as saying that Iran’s “basic doctrine was always a peaceful nuclear application, but it never left our mind that if one day we should be threatened and it was imperative, we should be able to go down the other path.”

The agency also does not need to know every detail of Iran’s past work to monitor and verify Iran's compliance with the terms of the JCPOA. This is due to the fact that the IAEA’s verification scheme is based on the widely-held assumption that Iran did engage in weapons-related research in the past and that it achieved the capability to produce weapons-grade nuclear material and to weaponize that material some time ago.

Under the terms of the JCPOA, the IAEA will have more wide-ranging authority to monitor Iran’s ongoing nuclear work and verify Iran’s compliance with the deal. The IAEA will have increased access to Iran’s nuclear sites, including every element of its fuel supply chain, and the ability to investigate evidence of any alleged illicit nuclear activities at undeclared sites, including military bases. That will provide greater assurance that Iran is not pursuing a covert nuclear weapons program in the future.

Iran also committed not to undertake activities related to the development of a nuclear explosive device, even for conventional purposes. In the future, if Tehran is caught conducting certain activities relevant for nuclear weapons development, it will not be able to claim the activities are for conventional or non-nuclear purposes.

The 12 Areas in Brief

The IAEA report walks through the 12 areas of concern that the agency described in an annex to its November 2011 quarterly report. In several areas, like nuclear testing preparations and fuzing, arming, and firing a payload, the IAEA did not receive any new information. In other areas, such as Iran’s work at a uranium mine, the IAEA assessed that Tehran’s activities were consistent with its declaration to the IAEA. However, the IAEA’s assessed that Iran’s program structure, computer modelling of a nuclear explosive device, and certain types of experiments with detonators were part of a nuclear weapons development program prior to 2003. Some work relevant to a nuclear explosive device, including computer calculations, continued after 2003.

Highlights of the agency’s findings in each of the areas include:

  1. program management and structure: The IAEA assessed that, prior to 2003, Iran had an organized structure “suitable for the coordination of a range of activities relevant” to nuclear weapons design. The activities that continued beyond 2003 were not a coordinated program.
  2. procurement activities: The IAEA had “indications” that Tehran attempted to purchase items relevant to developing a nuclear weapon prior to 2007 and information that Iran purchased materials for its fuel cycle activities through companies not affiliated with the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran. Iran admitted to looking into procuring a high speed camera for conventional purposes, but said it ultimately did not do so.
  3. nuclear material acquisition: The IAEA assessed that the Gchine uranium mine, previously thought to be a potential source of uranium for undeclared nuclear activities between 2000-2003, would not have produced any substantial amounts of nuclear material before 2006. The IAEA found that the activities at the mine were consistent with Iran’s explanations and declarations. Overall, the IAEA assessed that “any quantity of nuclear material” that would have been available for the nuclear weapons development program “would have been within the uncertainties associated with nuclear material accountancy and related measurements.”
  4. nuclear components for an explosive device: The IAEA had evidence that Tehran had access to documentation on the conversion of uranium compounds to uranium metal, which is part of the weaponization process, and made progress on reducing a uranium compound into a metal form. Tehran denied that it conducted any metallurgical work for weapons purposes. The IAEA’s final assessment found no indication of Iran conducting activities related to the uranium metal document.
  5. detonator development: The IAEA assessed that Iran’s work on explosive bridgewire detonators have “characteristics relevant to a nuclear explosive device.” The agency found that some of Iran’s explanations, that the detonators were developed as a safer alternative because of explosive accidents, were “inconsistent” and “unrelated” to the IAEA’s timeframe for detonator development.
  6. initiation of high explosives and associated experiments: Iran admitted to the IAEA in August and September 2015 that it conducted work on certain types of explosives, but had a “technical requirement for the development” of multipoint initiation explosive technology for conventional weaponry. The IAEA noted that there are non-nuclear weapons applications for the development, but assessed that the work was “relevant to a nuclear explosive device.”
  7. hydrodynamic experiments: As part of its investigation over the past several months, IAEA officials were able to visit Parchin, a military site where the agency suspected that Tehran conducted hydrodynamic tests in a explosive chamber. Since the IAEA requested access in 2012, Iran conducted extensive construction and renovations. Tehran said in September 2015 discussions with the IAEA that one of the main buildings in question was used for storing chemicals for the production of explosives. Environmental sampling at the site found “chemically man-made particles of uranium” but did not indicate that it was used for long-term storage of chemicals as Iran claimed. The IAEA assessed that its satellite imagery analysis and environmental sampling “does not support Iran’s statements on the purpose of the building” and that Iran’s activities at the site impeded the agency’s investigation. The IAEA did not draw a definite assessment as to what occurred at Parchin.
  8. modelling and calculations: The IAEA assessed that Iran conducted modelling and calculations related to nuclear explosive configurations prior to 2004 and between 2005-2009. During the agency’s investigation between August-October 2015, Iran maintained that it was not in a position to discuss its work on hydrodynamic modelling because it was for conventional military purposes and not an IAEA concern. The IAEA noted in its report that there are conventional applications for such modelling, and that the calculations derived from the modelling were incomplete and fragmented, but assessed overall that Iran conducted computer modelling of a nuclear explosive device between 2005-2009.
  9. neutron initiator: The IAEA’s evidence indicated that Iran continued work on neutron initiators after 2004, although the agency assessed prior to the July 2015 agreement with Iran that some of the indicators that Iran undertook work on generating neutrons through shock-compression was “weaker than previously considered.” Iran provided the IAEA with information about its neutron research and let the IAEA visit a research intuition in October 2015. Iran maintained that its research in the area was not related to “shock-driven neutron sources.”
  10. conducting a test: The IAEA noted it has not received any additional information since the November 2011 report on planning in Iran to conduct a nuclear test. The IAEA noted in the November 2011 report that Iran may have undertaken “preparatory experimentation” relevant to a nuclear weapons explosive device and obtained a document on the safety arrangements for explosive nuclear testing.
  11. integration into a missile delivery vehicle: The IAEA assessed that two of the workshops it identified in 2011 as producing components and mock up parts for engineering of a Shahab-3 (Iran’s medium-range ballistic missile) re-entry vehicle for a nuclear warhead exist, and that the capabilities are “consistent with those described” in documentation provided to the agency on Tehran’s work on a re-entry vehicle.
  12. fuzing, arming, and firing system: The IAEA report noted that it has not received any new information since the November 2011 report on development of a prototype firing system for a Shahab-3 payload that would allow the missile’s payload to safely re-enter the atmosphere and then explode above a target or upon impact.

Looking Ahead ...

December 10: "The PMD Report: Reactions and Implications for the Nuclear Deal with Iran," Arms Control Association event from 9:30 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. with Mark Fitzpatrick, International Institute of Strategic Studies; Ariane Tabatabai, Georgetown University; Greg Thielmann, Arms Control Association; and moderator Kelsey Davenport, Arms Control Association.

Location: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 1779 Massachusetts Ave. NW, Washington, D.C. RSVP Today.

December 15: Special IAEA Board of Governors meeting to consider the PMD report.