Iran slows uranium production rate but fails to respond to IAEA concerns

The United Nations agency criticises Tehran for failing to explain the origin and nature of some uranium particles found at undeclared nuclear sites
Planta nuclear Irán

PHOTO/ORGANIZACIÓN DE ENERGÍA ATÓMICA DE IRÁN VÍA AP  -   Arak heavy water reactor secondary circuit, near Arak, 150 miles (250 kilometres) south-west of the capital Tehran, Iran

Iran has slowed its production of enriched uranium for the first time in months and has even reduced its stockpile of the material, which has dual civilian and military uses, the IAEA, the UN nuclear agency, said Thursday in a report issued in Vienna. Total uranium in stockpiles of varying purity fell by 6.7% to 3,673.7 kilos since September, although the amount of uranium enriched to 60 % - a level close to what is needed for an atomic bomb - increased by 12 % (from 55.6 to 62.3 kilos). 

The amount of uranium enriched by Iran at different levels (2 %, 5 %, 20 % and 60 %), fell between September and November by 267.2 kilos to 3,673.7 kilos, which is still well above the level set by the 2015 international agreement limiting Iran's nuclear programme. The inspectors again stress that Iran's decision to disconnect dozens of IAEA monitoring and verification cameras hampers their ability to provide assurances about the peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear programme. 

As a result, monitoring and verification activities are "seriously affected", the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) notes in its report. Restoring verification and monitoring measures "would take considerable time and would always have a certain degree of uncertainty," the report notes. "The longer the current situation continues, the greater the uncertainty," the agency concludes.

REUTERS/LEONHARD FOEGER  -  IAEA headquarters in Vienna, Austria

In a second report issued today, the IAEA criticises Iran for still not explaining the origin and nature of some uranium particles found at undeclared nuclear sites, but announces further talks in the coming weeks.  

Given the lack of progress in this investigation, which takes place within the framework of the safeguards agreement (controls), IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi expresses his "serious concern". At the same time, he "takes note" of the Iranian offer to discuss this issue in Tehran before the end of November, although he stresses that this meeting "should be focused on effectively clarifying and resolving these issues". 

IAEA inspectors several years ago obtained alleged evidence of traces of artificially made uranium at three Iranian facilities that the Tehran government had never declared as related to its nuclear programme. Failure to clarify the origin of these traces would violate the safeguards agreement Iran has signed with the IAEA, and could be reported to the UN Security Council.

AFP/JOE KLAMAR  -  Rafael Grossi, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)

This investigation is not related to the controls - reduced by Tehran since February 2021 - that the IAEA carries out in Iran on its obligations under the international nuclear agreement known as the JCPOA. Under this agreement, which has been in limbo for several years following the US withdrawal from the deal, Iran must limit its nuclear programme in exchange for economic incentives and relief, mainly the lifting of international sanctions that are damaging its economy. 

While the safeguards agreement is unrelated to the JCPOA, Iran has tied its full return to the JCPOA to the end of IAEA investigations of traces at undeclared sites. The countries that signed the agreement in 2015 (the United States, China, Russia, France, Germany, the United Kingdom and Iran), have been trying to reinstate the deal since the arrival of Democrat Joe Biden as US president in January 2021, but negotiations have been stalled for months. 

Against the backdrop of the war in Ukraine, and Iran's military support for Russia, a reinstatement of the JCPOA is in doubt.