Iran Exceeds NPT Agreement for Two Years – A Positive Indicator for the Future?

While the focus continues to be on whether or not we can trust Iran to meet their obligations under the IAEA safeguard agreement, the positive steps the Iranian government has made in the past two years seem to have been overlooked.

In preparation for a panel discussion, I put together a flow sheet of Iran’s nuclear facilities and materials from the most recent IAEA report to better understand what changes were going to be implemented under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The JCPOA covers important concessions to increase the confidence that Iran will not have or be able to produce the nuclear materials, high enriched uranium and weapons-grade plutonium, required for a nuclear weapon capability.

One of the great strengths of the accord is that it is a multinational agreement with representation from the US, UK, China, France, Germany, Russia and Iran. This ensures a more balanced approach and a stronger foundation for the future. It also ensures that one nation cannot set requirements or punitive actions separately. While a difficult process it offers greater stability and may be representative of future accords.

It is crucial that during the ten to fifteen years that Iran is limiting their nuclear program that the incentive that Iran has for a weapon be reduced. A. Q. Khan summarizes the advantages of nuclear weapons best: –

No nuclear-capable country has been subjected to aggression or occupied, or had its borders redrawn, had Iraq and Libya been nuclear powers, they wouldn’t have been destroyed in the way we have seen recently. “ (Newsweek; May 16, 2011)

Therefore while the focus is on Iran and their nuclear program the task is much broader and more difficult – and that is to work with all nations in the Middle East to set up and support national boundaries that protect individuals regardless of their race or religious beliefs.

According to the most August 2015 IAEA report on Iran’s Implementation of the NPT safeguards Iran has not only met their obligations but since the Joint Plan of Action agreed to between the E3+3 from November 24, 2013 have also implemented voluntary measures. The IAEA confirmed that Iran has:

  1. Not enriched uranium above 5% at any of its declared facilities:
  2. Not operated cascades in an interconnected way that could be used for increased uranium enrichment at any of its declared facilities;
  3. Diluted – 108.4 kg of UF6 enriched to 20% down to less than 5% enriched; diluted about 4118 kg of UF6 enriched to 2% uranium to natural uranium levels.
  4. Converted 100 kg of UF6 enriched to 20% into U3O8 at the Esfahan Fuel Plate Fabrication Plant (FPFP) where it can be used for fuel in the Tehran Research Reactor (TRR). Converted 68.8 kg of U3O8 with 20% enriched uranium into fuel elements for the TRR.
  5. Confirmed that they did not have a process line to reconvert uranium oxides back into UF6 at FPFP. This is important as the 20% enriched U3O8 material could be reconverted to UF6 and the enrichment increased.
  6. No further advances at the heavy water research reactor, the IR-40 Arak reactor that could be used to weapons-grade plutonium if operational. Manufacturing and testing of fuel for the IR-40 reactor was stopped as well. Submitted an updated design information questionnaire (DIQ) on the IR-40 reactor.
  7. No further advances made at the Natanz Fuel Enrichment Plant or the Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant – both facilities for the enrichment of uranium. Provided daily access to the enrichment facilities at Natanz and Fordow.
  8. Converted 4303 kg of UF6 enriched to 5% into UO2 at the Esfahan Enriched UO2 Powder Plant (EUPP) therefore removing it out of the centrifuge enrichment cycle.
  9. Provided regular managed access to centrifuge assembly workshops, centrifuge rotor production workshops and storage facilities. (p. 20 paraphrased).

In support of the JCPOA, Russia is preparing to ship enriched uranium from Iran in early 2016.  (World Nuclear News; 10/21/15). The sooner Iran meets the obligations under the JCPOA, the sooner the economic sanctions can be lifted.

What are the open issues?

There are concerns that there may be undeclared enrichment facilities. In the past ten years, Iran did construct undeclared uranium enrichment facilities. So what is being done to limit this possibility? First the JCPOA ensures that the production of centrifuge rotor and bellows production and storage are under continuous surveillance for the next twenty years. Second JCPOA has a clear pathway back to sanctions if it shown that the Iranian government has violated the accord.

The Parchin facility continues to be an issue. The inspectors have completed sampling on the site and the results are due in December. Listen to Cheryl and Jeffrey Lewis‘ podcast for more details. Parchin has been identified in the past as the site of possible high explosive testing in support of the military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program that are relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device. While Iran has dismissed the allegations changes to the site verified through satellite imagery continue to cast doubt on the issue. Quite simply it would be Iran’s advantage to declare whatever activity has taken place at Parchin and move forward with a clean slate.

I’ve been following the debate both for and against the JCPOA. The agreement is an important first step to limit Iran’s nuclear capabilities and to bring down the rhetoric surrounding their nuclear program. It won’t be easy for many nations including the US, Israel and Iran to move from such polarized positions to something more moderate but you always have to start with a first step. No can say with confidence how this play out – there are too many variables and possibilities.

Iran’s actions for the past two years indicate a nation ready to work with the IAEA in meeting their safeguard commitments. Confidence building is critical in international relations – it should be noted how far Iran has come in the past two years!

I support the JCPOA and wish for better relations with Iran. It won’t be easy – and there will be many bumps along the way – but this accord is a good start. Congratulations to Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Energy Ernie Moniz for their work on such an important and difficult accord.

Cheers Susan Voss

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