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Commentary | 8 June 2020

Four graphs explaining current and historical IAEA Iran data

Image of Sahil Shah

Sahil Shah |Policy Fellow, European Leadership Network

Iran JCPOA Middle East NPT Global Security Iran

Never comprehensively compiled in this form before, the following International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) data on its inspections effort in Iran paints a clear picture of continued cooperation. Given recent reporting on the IAEA’s ‘serious concern’ over access to two Iranian sites, this resource seeks to provide context. 

1. Key takeaways on inspections data:

  • Iran underwent 432 IAEA inspections in 2019, which is more than any year in the past – including the years that the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) was being fully implemented by all parties.
  • The Agency currently has 21 Iranian facilities under IAEA safeguards, and inspectors have been present at a number of the key nuclear sites in Iran on a near-daily basis since even before the JCPOA Implementation Day (16 January 2016).
  • In addition to this, Iran continues to allow the Agency to use on-line enrichment monitors and electronic seals, as well as containment and surveillance measures, to verify Iranian declarations on its nuclear materials and activities. For example, online enrichment monitors measure enrichment levels in real-time so that inspectors have a historical record to assess when they visit.
  • Under Iran’s provisional application of the Additional Protocol as part of the JCPOA, the IAEA conducted 33 “complementary” access visits in 2019 to assure the absence of undeclared nuclear material or to resolve questions or inconsistencies in the information Iran has provided about its nuclear activities.
  • However, it has been widely reported that the Agency has expressed “serious concern” over two sites where it feels that Iran has not been cooperative enough in giving requested access. The first location may have been used for the processing and conversion of uranium ore including fluorination in 2003. The second location may have involved the use and storage of nuclear material, as well as outdoor, conventional explosive testing in 2003, including in relation to testing of shielding in preparation for the use of neutron detectors.
  • Since January 2020, Iran and the IAEA have continued to speak about the Agency’s request to visit these two sites. Information on the latest communication from Iran to the Agency on this matter is included below:

In a letter dated 2 June 2020, Iran informed the Agency that Iran “is willing to satisfy the Agency’s requests as it did in the past”. However, it indicated that “there are some legal ambiguities and concerns which need to be addressed” and that following the discussions on 16 May 2020 it was “still waiting for further clarifications by the Agency”. Iran suggested that “[g]iven the extensive cooperation between the Agency and Iran and significant amount of verification activities going on” in the country, its “position on such non-urgent issue should not be called as ‘denial’” and invited the Agency to hold “further discussions”.

  • Conclusion: Dialogue continues, and it is likely that Iran and the Agency will come to an understanding on this issue in the near future.

 

2. Key takeaways on inventories data:

  • In the latest IAEA June 2020 reporting on Iran’s nuclear program, the subtotal of 2-4.5% low-enriched uranium (LEU), which can only be weaponized after enrichment to a much higher percentage, is at 1089 kg of the total 1572 kg of LEU currently stored in Iran. The rest is below 2% enrichment.
  • Experts place the “key threshold” of LEU enriched at that level (2-4.5%) between 1,000-1,100 kg. Thus, Iran has passed what many consider as enough LEU feed for a single “significant quantity” but making a weapon out of that would require a number of further steps. Iran’s LEU continues to be under close observation by the IAEA, and the increase in proliferation risk of Iran’s LEU stockpile from the last IAEA report in March to now (June 2020) has been minimal.
  • Iran has still not increased its uranium enrichment past 4.5%. For historical context, the levels of uranium enriched to 20% in Iran are provided to showcase what diplomatic efforts to secure the JCPOA (and its predecessor, the JPOA) helped achieve.

The opinions articulated above represent the views of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the European Leadership Network or any of its members. The ELN’s aim is to encourage debates that will help develop Europe’s capacity to address the pressing foreign, defence, and security policy challenges of our time.

Image Credit: IAEA Imagebank. Caption: Member States representative of the Islamic Republic of Iran delivers his statement at the first virtual meeting of the IAEA Board of Governors 311th Programme and Budget Committee held at the Agency headquarters in Vienna, Austria. 11 May 2020