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Iran’s Outstanding Nuclear Issues at a Glance
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Press Contact: Kelsey Davenport, Nonproliferation Analyst; (202) 463-8270 x102

October 2013

Since the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) began investigating Iran’s previously undeclared nuclear programs in late 2002, it has sought clarification for number of activities of particular concern regarding Tehran’s nuclear intentions.

The agency made little headway in getting answers from Iran until 2007, when Iran and the IAEA developed a work plan outlining steps Iran would take to provide more information on these activities. As part of this work plan, Iran agreed to address questions about work it carried out in the past, explain some of its contacts with the Abdul Qadeer (A.Q.) Khan nuclear smuggling network, and respond to claims by western countries that Tehran was engaged in work directly related to nuclear weapons.

In spite of this agreement, several western countries criticized the agency for the work plan, claiming that Iran would merely use it as a tactical maneuver to avoid repercussions for rebuffing international demands to halt enrichment. According to the terms of the work plan, once the issues were resolved, “the implementation of safeguards in Iran will be conducted in a routine manner.

In the following months, however, the position of the United States and its allies appeared to shift as they began to use Iran’s refusal to completely fulfill the terms of the work plan as additional evidence of Iran’s lack of transparency and cooperation

According to the IAEA, Iran has provided adequate explanations for many of the issues it sought to address but it has not cooperated sufficiently with the agency’s investigations into activities with a “possible military dimension.” In particular, Iran has not provided adequate information in response to a series of “alleged studies” related to a possible nuclear weapons program. Information about the studies come primarily from a laptop thought to belong to an Iranian official which was smuggled out of Iran and acquired by western intelligence agencies. Iran maintains that the studies in question are fabricated and that such claims are politically motivated

The following list details the issues addressed by the IAEA-Iran work plan and the agency’s assessment of progress made in clarifying these questions.

Further evidence related to these issues, and other nuclear acitivites with possible military dimensions, were listed in a November 2011 annex to the IAEA's quarterly report to the Board of Governors.

Since February 2012, the IAEA and Iran have met eleven times to negotiate an approach to resolving these issues. Known as the "structured approach," the two sides have been unable to agree on the scope and sequence of the agency's investigations, so the IAEA has been unable to resolve these outstanding questions about some of Iran's nuclear activities with possible military dimensions.

Issue: Gchine mine

Problem: Iran failed to declare all operations at Gchine mine between 1993 and 2000. Because there was suspicion that the Iranian military was involved with this mine’s operations in attempts to secure an additional source of uranium, the IAEA sought clarification for the ownership arrangements at this mine. Additionally, nuclear research and development occurred at Gchine even though there was “suitable infrastructure” at Iran’s Saghand mine. The IAEA also inquired as to why the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) terminated their activities at the mine around 1993.

Iran’s Explanation: Iran claims that the AEOI, Iran’s civilian nuclear agency, always oversaw operations at Gchine, and that between 1993 and 1998, preparations for ore processing took place in Tehran due to funding restrictions. According to Tehran, because there was an estimated 1000 tons of uranium at the Saghand mine, compared to the estimated 40 tons at Gchine, it only pursued mining activities at Saghand but maintained an interest in Gchine. In August 1999, Iran decided to construct a uranium ore concentrate (UOC) plant at Gchine, known as “Project 5/15.”

In regard to questions about the involvement of the private firm Kimia Maadan (KM), Iran claimed that AEOI contracted KM to set up facilities at Gchine, and KM played a role in the procurement procedures because international sanctions on AEOI made procurement difficult. KM stopped work at Gchine in June 2003, at which point AEOI took over operations.

IAEA’s Conclusion: The IAEA considered the documentation provided by Iran to be consistent with previous information available to the IAEA.

Current Status: This issue is no longer considered outstanding.


Issue: Polonium-210 experiments

Problem: In the 1988, Iran approved polonium-210 experiments. Polonium-210 has civilian applications, as well as use in nuclear weapon development. The separation of polonium-210, in conjunction with beryllium, can be part of a catalyst for a nuclear chain reaction. ElBaradei reported in November 2004 that the civilian applications of polonium-210 (such as in radioisotope batteries) are “very limited.”

Iran’s Explanation: Iran claims that the experiments were conducted by scientists at the Tehran Nuclear Research Center (TNRC) at the initiative of involved scientists, not as a directive from the government. According to Iran, the project was abandoned and samples discarded when the chemist in charge left the country before finishing the project.

IAEA’s Conclusion: After reviewing relevant documents presented to it by Iran, the IAEA determined that Iran’s explanations of the polonium-210 experiment were consistent with the Agency’s previous findings.

Current Status: The IAEA no longer considers this issue to be outstanding.


Issue: Uranium contamination

Problem: At the Imam Hossein University technical university in Tehran, the IAEA discovered highly-enriched uranium particles on equipment that Iran obtained from the A.Q. Khan network in the early 1990s. The presence of the particles raised questions as to whether Iran was pursuing a program to produce highly-enriched uranium that could be used for nuclear weapons. The IAEA sought to determine the type of equipment, the names and roles of individuals involved with the use of the equipment.

Iran’s Explanation: The equipment in question, Tehran maintains, was to be used for coating items such as optical mirrors, optical lasers, laser mirrors, resistive layers for solar cells and mirrors for use in medical operation theaters. Iran placed an equipment order, but, according to Iranian officials, the equipment received in 1991 was incomplete and some of the parts were incorrect. This equipment was placed in storage.

According to Iran, the university’s vacuum service repaired a pump for an individual who was testing used centrifuge components from Pakistan at the Vanak Square laboratory for the AEOI. The repair equipment was eventually returned to the university where it spread particle contamination to other equipment.

IAEA’s Conclusion: After speaking with the individuals involved in the repairs at Vanak Square, seeing the repaired pump and comparing molecular signatures of uranium samples from the Iranian equipment with samples taken from Pakistan’s centrifuge components, the IAEA determined that Iran’s explanation was “not inconsistent with” information available to the IAEA.

Current Status: This issue is no longer considered outstanding.


Issue: Procurement efforts by former head of Iran’s Physics Research Center (PHRC)

Problem: The IAEA intended to clarify the purpose of dual use equipment sought by Mohsen Fakrizadeh, former head of the PHRC, an organization affiliated with Iran’s military. The items Fakrizadeh acquired or sought to obtain included: vacuum equipment, magnets, a balancing machine, 45 gas cylinders each containing 2.2 kg of fluorine and a uranium hexafluoride mass spectrometer.

Iran’s Explanation: Iran states that none of the above-listed equipment was intended for use in uranium enrichment or conversion activities. Fakrizadeh was asked to procure the equipment for other entities because, despite sanctions on Iran, he was previously successful in procurement efforts.

According to Iran the vacuum equipment was intended for the Vacuum Technique Laboratory at the university so that students could conduct coating experiments, leak detection and practice evaporation/vacuum techniques.

Iran claims that the magnets were for the university’s physics department for use in education “Lenz-Faraday experiments.” The magnets were discarded after use, according to Iran.

The balancing machine in question was purchased by the Mechanical Engineering Department to measure vibrations and forces in vibrating components due to unbalancing.

The attempts to purchase fluorine cylinders were supposedly on behalf of the Office of Industrial Interrelations at the university, Iran claimed. The fluorine was intended to enhance chemical stability of polymeric vessels, but was never delivered.

The mass spectrometer, according to Iran, was particularly difficult to procure, thus the AEOI asked the dean of Imam Hossein University to assist in procurement. In 1988, the dean asked the head of the mechanics workshop at the Shahid Hemmat Industrial Group, who was later appointed head of PHRC, to help with procurement. Iran claims that mass spectrometer was never delivered.

IAEA’s Conclusion: Iran provided the IAEA with relevant documents about all of the listed procurement activities and allowed inspectors to see the vacuum equipment and balancing machine. Based on Iran’s statements and supporting documents and statements Fakrizadeh, the IAEA concluded that the replies were “not inconsistent” with the stated use of the equipment.

Current Status: The issue is no longer considered outstanding.


Issue: Uranium metal document

Problem: Iran secured a 15-page 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’s Explanation: Iran claims that they received this document in 1987 from the A.Q. Khan network, but that they did not request it. Iran declared that a small uranium hexafluoride to uranium metal convention line was designed to be in the Uranium Conversion Facility, but the IAEA verified that this line has not been built. The document did not “include dimensions or other specifications for machined pieces for such components.”

IAEA’s Conclusion: The IAEA is seeking clarification from Pakistan regarding the circumstances surrounding Iran’s acquisition of the document. Pakistan confirmed with the agency that an identical document existed in Pakistan. The agency has noted that it received information indicating that the experiments involved in the document “may have involved the assistance of foreign expertise” and Iran has been asked to clarify this issue.

Current Status: The IAEA is still seeking clarification of the role of the uranium metal document.


Issue: The Green Salt Project (“alleged study”)

Problem: Western intelligence agencies obtained information which suggests that Iran pursued studies about the conversion of uranium dioxide into uranium tetraflouride (UF4), also known as green salt, a substance that can be used in the uranium enrichment process. The IAEA showed Iran the document in question: a flowsheet describing the conversion process to produce about one ton of UF4 per year, referring to it as “Project 5/13.” The document also demonstrated linkages to other projects, including communications with the leadership of a project on a missile re-entry vehicle.

Iran’s Explanation: Iran said that this evidence, including the flowsheet, is baseless and fabricated, stating that some documents are missing the rubber stamp acknowledging their receipt. Tehran added that such a program would be unnecessary because it has already acquired the technology for a uranium conversion facility.

IAEA’s Conclusion: According to the agency, the flow chart shows a credible preliminary design for UF4 production, although it has some technical inconsistencies. The process outlined is different than the current process used at Iran’s uranium conversion facility. In addition, the agency assessed that some of the correspondence is identical to that provided by Iran, including handwritten notes.

Current Status: The IAEA awaits further information about these studies, including access to the original letters and contracts involving KM and the individuals named in the documentation. Iran has not provided such access.


Issue: High explosives testing (“alleged study”)

Problem: Evidence in the IAEA’s possession suggests that Iran was engaged in activities “relevant to nuclear weapon R&D.” Such activities included work with high voltage detonator firing equipment, the development of high tension exploding bridge wire detonators (EBW), and the simultaneous firing of multiple EBW detonators, synchronized at 130 nanoseconds. Additionally, the IAEA identified an explosive testing arrangement with a 400-meter shaft and remote firing capability with a ten-kilometer range.

Iran’s Explanation: Iran claims that it developed the EBW for conventional weapons as an alternative to spark gap detonators and admitted to testing simultaneous detonation of two or three systems--but with only one microsecond precision, not 130 nanoseconds. Iran provided open source information about the firing of spherical and hemispherical systems, but refused to provide additional information on its experiments. Tehran has complained that investigating this issue would require giving the agency access to sensitive information regarding its conventional military activities. Iran told the agency that there is no evidence that the documentation regarding the 400-meter shaft is linked to Iran.

IAEA’s Conclusion: The IAEA does not have sufficient information to determine if the information has been fabricated and is seeking additional clarification from Iran.

Current Status: The IAEA has indicated that “Iran might have additional information, in particular on high explosives and missile related activities, which could shed more light on the nature of the alleged studies.” The agency proposed to Iran ways in which it could provide greater clarity regarding these issues without compromising sensitive military information, including the provision of documentation and access to personnel. Iran has not provided such information or access.


Issue: Re-entry vehicle (“alleged study”)

Problem: Documentation provided to the agency by member states depict a computer image of Iran’s Shahab-3 missile with a schematic layout of the contents of the inner cone of a re-entry vehicle. The IAEA determined that the layout appeared “quite likely to accommodate a nuclear device.” Moreover, the altitude for the detonation of the warhead appeared to rule out conventional, as well as chemical and biological weapons payloads. The documentation also suggested administrative connections to other “alleged studies” projects, including references to Fakrizadeh.

Iran’s Explanation: Iran said that the documentation is false and that its missiles are intended only for conventional weapons and as part of its space program. Additionally, because the documents were in electronic form, Iran says they could have been easily manipulated and falsified. Tehran has also claimed that, since the agency did not share all of the documentation related to this issue, it could not provide a full response.

IAEA’s Conclusion: The IAEA awaits further information about these studies. The IAEA noted that, while other states showed the agency some of the documentation related to this study, it was not in possession of those documents to share them with Iran.

Current Status: The IAEA has proposed discussing the issue with Iranian engineering experts and requested access to the three civilian workshops identified in the documentation. Iran has not cooperated with these requests.


Issue: “Project 4” and laser R & D (“alleged study”)

Problem: The IAEA has sought to clarify the role of an “alleged study” called “Project 4,” suspected of being a possible uranium enrichment effort, and related laser research and development.

Iran’s Explanation: Iran has claimed that “Project 4” has never existed and that it did not carry out any enrichment projects beyond those undertaken by AEOI.

IAEA’s Conclusion: The IAEA is assessing Iran’s claims.

Current Status: Unresolved.


Issue: Dual use activities and procurement efforts

Problem: The Education Research Institute, the Institute of Applied Physics, and the PHRC attempted to procure dual use technologies including training courses on neutron calculations, the effect of shock waves on metal, enrichment/isotope separation and ballistic missiles. Additionally, these organizations attempted to procure spark caps, shock wave software, neutron sources, special steel parts and radiation measurement equipment, including borehole gamma spectrometers. The IAEA indicated that these efforts could have been related to the “alleged studies” and sought to clarify their roles.

Iran’s Explanation: Iran claimed that the shock wave software was for use in studies of aircraft, car collision, airbags and safety belts and that the radiation monitors were for radiation detection. Iran denies that it engaged in the other procurement efforts such as attempting to obtain neutron sources in 2003 and seeking training courses on neutron calculations, enrichment/isotope separation, spark gaps, shock wave software, and neutron sources.

IAEA’s Conclusion: The IAEA awaits further information from Iran regarding these activities.

Current Status: Iran has not allowed the agency to meet with individuals relevant to these procurement issues. The matter remains unresolved.

Issue: Roles of officials and organization

Problem: A number of officials from military organizations appeared to be involved in Iran’s nuclear activities, which raised suspicions about the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear efforts. This included the manufacture of centrifuge components by workshops of Iran’s Defense Industries Organization (DIO)

Iran’s Explanation: Iran has denied the existence of offices, organizations and people mentioned in the IAEA’s documentation or denied that they were involved with nuclear operations. Iran claimed that much information about the officials’ roles was baseless

IAEA’s Conclusion: The IAEA awaits further information about these studies

Current Status: Unresolved


—Research assistance provided by Rachel Weise


Posted: October 14, 2013