Iran’s nuclear program was a topic at this week’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors meeting in Vienna. The 35-member board met March 6-10 to discuss a range of topics including the IAEA’s monitoring of Iran’s nuclear program under the July 2015 deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
Andrew Schofer, charge d’ affaires at the U.S. mission to international organizations in Vienna, delivered Washington’s statement at the meeting. The statement referenced the “essential” role of the IAEA’s monitoring activities in Iran and said that the United States “will approach questions of JCPOA interpretation, implementation, and enforcement with great strictness.”
Schofer said “any new and credible concerns of undeclared nuclear activities” must be pursued by the agency and expressed confidence in the IAEA’s inspectors to do so “with vigor.”
The U.S. statement also noted that the IAEA’s most recent report on Iran’s nuclear activities contained greater detail than prior reports, calling it a “welcome inclusion.” (see below for more on the IAEA report) Schofer said Washington would expect the same level of detail in the future.
In his statement to the Board of Governors, Iran’s Ambassador to the IAEA, Reza Najafi, took a different view on the additional details provided by the IAEA and argued for future reports that are “as concise as possible.” He referenced a request by several delegations “for disclosure of the raw and detailed confidential safeguards information” and said that that Iran strongly opposes the “inclusion of confidential safeguard information under the pretext of transparency.”
Najafi and Schofer sparred over Iran’s heavy water stockpile during the meeting. Iran produces heavy water, which serves as a moderator for certain types of reactors, and is permitted to stockpile up to 130 metric tons under the deal and sell the material on the open market.
Najafi said that nothing requires Iran to ship out heavy-water in excess of 130 metric tons if Tehran has not found a buyer. In November, Iran slightly exceed the 130 metric ton cap. The IAEA verified that 11 metric tons were shipped out of Iran and the agency is monitoring the material in a third country.
Najafi’s claim prompted Schofer to issue a follow-up statement noting that the deal clearly states that Iran cannot accumulate heavy water for 15 years under the deal and any excess material produced cannot remain in Iran.
The board also reached a consensus decision to endorse current IAEA director general Yukiya Amano for a third term, beginning Dec. 1, 2017.—KELSEY DAVENPORT, director for nonproliferation policy
The IAEA issued a quarterly report on Iran’s nuclear activities Feb. 24. In comparison with past reports, this IAEA report provided greater transparency and detail about Iran’s nuclear program. The additional details in this report, such as accounting for Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium, is positive and provides greater assurance that Iran is abiding by the limits of the deal. The IAEA should continue in this vein.
For the first time, the IAEA noted the size of Iran’s stockpile of uranium enriched to 3.67 percent. As of Feb. 18, the quantity was 101.7 kilograms. This is well below the 300 kilograms Iran is permitted to stockpile under the deal.
The 101.7 kilograms of uranium enriched to 3.67 percent is in several forms: 53.6 kilograms of UF6 (gas form); 35.9 kilograms of UO2 (solid); 9.7 kilograms in fuel assemblies and rods; 1.2 kilograms of uranium held up in process lines; and 1.3 kilograms in liquid and solid scrap.
In a March 6 statement to the Board of Governors, IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano said that these additional details were “facilitated by clarifications agreed by the Joint Commission” that oversees implementation of the Iran deal. The Joint Commission sent documents on its decisions to the IAEA for circulation to member states in December 2016 and January 2017.
The IAEA report also said that Iran began feeding natural uranium gas into a single IR-8 centrifuge Jan. 21. The IAEA said in its report that this activity is within the limits defined by the deal, which allows testing on a single machine in a way that precludes Iran from withdrawing enriched or depleted uranium.
Iran is also below the 130 metric ton stockpile limit for heavy water, according the report. The IAEA recorded that Iran had 124.2 metric tons of heavy water as of Feb. 14. In the prior IAEA report of November 2016, the agency noted that Iran had exceeded the limit and possessed 130.1 metric tons of heavy water. The Feb. 24 report said that the IAEA verified that 11 metric tons of heavy water were shipped out of Iran and are being housed in another country. The agency verified Dec. 6 that all of the heavy water reached its destination.
The report also noted that:
Ali Akhbar Salehi, head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, said Feb. 25 that Tehran and Moscow reached a roadmap on joint nuclear fuel production in Iran after two years of negotiations. The fuel produced would be for Bushehr, Iran’s sole operating power plant, which is currently fueled by the Russians.
Salehi’s announcement on fuel production is likely referring to a meeting between an Iranian delegation and ROSATOM, Russia’s state-run nuclear energy corporation, in Moscow Jan. 19. Behrouz Kamalvandi, vice president of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, and Nickolay Spasskiy, deputy-director general at ROSATOM, signed the roadmap during that meeting to implement at 2014 memorandum on nuclear energy cooperation.
The 2014 roadmap included studying the feasibility of fuel fabrication in Iran for Russian-designed nuclear power reactors and reaffirmed the intent to cooperate on building additional Russian power plant units in Iran. No additional details on the 2017 roadmap were released.
The Iranian delegation also met with Peter Lavrenyuk, senior vice president of TVEL, for a pre-project contract to retrofit two cascades of IR-1 centrifuges at Iran’s Fordow facility. Under the nuclear deal, Iran agreed to forgo uranium enrichment at Fordow for 15 years, reduce the number of centrifuges to 1,044 IR-1s, and convert the facility to conduct isotopic research with Russian cooperation and assistance.
Salehi also said Feb. 25 that Iran was seeking to buy more natural uranium from Kazakhstan and return it to that country as a low enriched gas form. That decision will be up for review by the Joint Commission that oversees the Iran deal.
Iran and the European Union held a meeting Feb. 28 – March 1 in Brussels to discuss nuclear cooperation. The seminar was titled “International Nuclear Cooperation: Expectations and Responsibilities.” In addition to EU and Iranian participation, representatives from the P5+1 countries (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States), and the IAEA also attended the meeting.
The EU released a press statement at the end of the meeting which said that a “common understanding emerged that Annex III on nuclear cooperation provides a sounds framework for working together in the nuclear area, and that implementation of Annex III will play a crucial role in the successful implementation of the JCPOA.”
Annex III of the nuclear deal contains suggestions in a number of areas for cooperative work on nuclear security, safety, and civil nuclear activities.
Topics discussed included nuclear governance and nuclear safety at the international and state levels. The two parties agreed to meet again in 2017 in Esfahan, Iran.
Rep. Bill Foster (D-Ill.) led a letter to President Donald Trump urging him to preserve the nuclear deal with Iran and follow through with U.S. commitments under the agreement, so long as Iran is complying with the accord. Sixty Democrats signed onto the letter, which detailed the restrictions put on Iran by the deal and said that the agreement “has made the United States, Israel, and the world a safer place.”
The Feb. 27 letter also asserted that “if Iran cheats, comprehensive sanctions will snap back” and that the United States will have “legitimacy and international support should a more sever course of action be necessary.”
Foster, who holds a Ph.D. in physics, told The Hill that he hoped the letter would reinforce that if the United States walks away from the agreement, Washington may face “the choice of a nuclear capable Iran or a war” within the next year or two.
A second letter from House members to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson requested answers to questions about the Iran deal, namely if Tillerson was aware of any Iranian violations, side deals, or misleading statements by the last administration about the deal. The March 1 letter was led by Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.) and supported by 45 Republicans.