The IAEA released its third assessment of the Joint Plan of Action (JPOA) regarding Iran’s nuclear program on April 17th. The report confirmed that Iran is complying with the Joint Plan of Action agreement struck between the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States) and Iran on November 24 2013. The JPOA stems progress on Iran’s nuclear program while the parties work to negotiate a final comprehensive agreement. This memo summarizes key points from the report and issues that still need to be resolved.
According to the JPOA, Iran must downblend one half of the near-20% UF6 stockpile it possessed on January 20, 2014. This material is to be diluted to near-5% by April 20, 2014 and the rest converted to oxide by July 20, 2014. The newly released IAEA report indicates that half of the near-20% enriched UF6 stockpile has been downblended to near-5% enrichment, meeting the terms of the JPOA.
Iran now has 56.04 kg of near-20% enriched UF6, one-quarter of what it possessed before the JPOA was adopted. The quantity includes 104.56 kg downblended to near-5% enriched UF6 and 287.2 kg near-20% UF6 converted to oxide. See Figure 1 for the change in the total stockpile of near-20% UF6 as a function of time including the “red line” corresponding to the notional limit Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke about at the United Nations in September 2012. The “red line” is presumed to amount to what Israel believes is what Iran must have to achieve a rapid nuclear weapons break out capability. While 5% enriched material can be further enriched, and near 20% oxide reconverted to UF6, both steps would be easily observed given the daily access to sites provided to the IAEA under the JPOA.
Iran stockpile of near-20% UF6 has not been this low since February 2011. In addition, the IAEA has verified that near-20% U3O8 cannot easily be reconverted to UF6 for further enrichment since Iran has not constructed reconversion lines. Iran has also not installed additional centrifuges in its production halls at Natanz and Fordow, another requirement of the JPOA.
Iran has also disabled the configuration of the centrifuge cascades in use before January 20th. These cascades are required for Iran to produce near-20% enriched UF6. In its latest report, the Agency did not provide details on the number of centrifuges installed currently, but stated that Iran has not made “further advances” in activities at any of the enrichment plants and confirmed that the IAEA has had daily access to these facilities. The Agency also had regular managed access to “centrifuge assembly workshops, centrifuge rotor production workshops and storage facilities” and has provided managed access to the Gchine mill and mine. All of this will provide the Agency with a firmer basis for understanding the full scope of Iran’s nuclear program and capabilities.
Iran has made remarkable progress in decreasing the stockpile of near-20% UF6. However, Iran still has a large stockpile of near-5% UF6 that is growing since Iran is continuing to feed natural UF6 into its enrichment plants. This is allowed under the terms of the JPOA. In addition, Iran is downblending its near-20% UF6 stocks. We estimate that each kilogram of 20% UF6 downblended produces 4.5 kg of 5% UF6. Therefore, a further confidence-building step included in the JPOA is for this near-5% UF6 to be converted to uranium oxide. However, little progress has been made in commissioning the facility Iran needs for this process to take place. The Agency did not report how much near-5% UF6 has been produced since the agreement came into effect.
Until the JPOA entered into force, Iran was building a heavy water research reactor at Arak with a power of 40 megawatts (MW). In its planed configuration, this reactor would have been capable of producing about 8-10 kg of plutonium per year. In absence of the Joint Plan of Action the IR-40 was to “be commissioned using nuclear material” in the first quarter of 2014. However, the agreement requires Iran not to “commission the reactor or transfer fuel or heavy water to the reactor site” nor testing additional fuel or producing more fuel for the reactor or installing remaining components. In the current report, the IAEA confirmed that “no further advances” have been made regarding the IR-40 reactor, and Iran has provided an updated Design Information Questionnaire regarding the reactor. A DIQ is a questionnaire by which the countries supply the information related to nuclear materials and to the features of the facilities which are relevant for the application of safeguards. Iran has also agreed to hold a meeting on May 5, 2014 to start discussions on a safeguards approach for the reactor.
In the November 11, 2013 Framework for Cooperation signed between the IAEA and Iran “it was agreed that Iran and the IAEA will cooperate further with respect to verification activities to be undertaken by the IAEA to resolve all present and past issues.” No progress was reported on this issue in the latest report.