The Iranian foreign ministry’s spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said on 22 November that a statement by France, Germany, and the UK (the E3) was “irresponsible”. He called on the E3 to fulfil their commitments under the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) between Iran the P5+1 group of countries (the USA, UK, France, Russia, and China plus Germany) under which Iran had agreed to limit its nuclear development programme in return for the lifting of sanctions.
The JCPOA, achieved after 12 years of negotiations, is enshrined in UN Security Council Resolution 2231. However, in May 2018, US President Donald Trump pulled Washington out of the JCPOA and reimposed stringent unilateral sanctions. After a year, in which Iran urged the other JCPOA states to put mechanisms in place to mitigate the sanctions, Iran in turn began to reduce its commitments under the agreement. Iranian officials have been open about the steps they have taken to reactivate their nuclear programme and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has closely monitored these developments.
The IAEA and Iran in August agreed “to further reinforce their cooperation and enhance mutual trust to facilitate the full implementation of Iran’s Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement and the Additional Protocol. The statement was signed by IAEA director general Rafael Mariano Grossi and the head of the Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran (AEOI) Ali Akbar Salehi. This followed talks in Tehran between Grossi and Iranian officials including Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in the wake of a US attempt to reimpose UN sanctions on Iran.
Iran has consistently stated that it would quickly reverse the measures taken to redevelop its nuclear programme if sanctions are lifted. However, the E3, responding to the latest IAEA report on Iran, expressed concern about Iran enriching uranium above the 3.67% threshold set in the JCPOA, and its growing low-enriched uranium stockpile, now 12 times the JCPOA limit. The E3 also expressed concern over Iranian research and development of several types of advanced centrifuges and feeding uranium hexafluoride to its IR2m cascade of centrifuges.
In a statement delivered remotely to the IAEA Board on 18 November and published on the YouGov website, the E3 said: “It is now critical that Iran immediately reverses its steps and returns to full compliance with the JCPOA without further delay. We remain committed to working with all JCPOA participants to find a diplomatic way forward and we intend to pursue these discussions within the framework of the JCPOA.”
In response, Iran’s representative to the IAEA, Kazem Gharibabadi, noted: “While the deal was effectively and fully implemented by Iran … it was not implemented on the sanctions lifting side, especially during the past two and a half years.” He said that Iran resorted to the provisions of the deal and scaled back its commitments a year after the reimposed sanctions “that the European Union and its three powers have not been able to compensate for in spite of their feeble efforts”.
Latest IAEA report on Iran
IAEA Director General Grossi’s latest quarterly report to the Board of Governors, presented on 11 November, included sections on heavy water and reprocessing; enrichment and fuel; centrifuges, enriched uranium stockpiles; transparency; and other issues.
On heavy water and reprocessing, the report said Iran had not pursued construction of the Arak heavy water research reactor (IR-40 Reactor) based on its original design; nor had it produced or tested natural uranium pellets, fuel pins or assemblies designed for the IR-40 as originally designed; and all natural uranium pellets and fuel assemblies were in storage under continuous monitoring.
Iran had continued to inform IAEA about the inventory and production of heavy water at the Heavy Water Production Plant (HWPP) and allowed monitoring of stocks and production. In October IAEA verified that the HWPP was operating and that heavy water stocks had decreased since the previous report. At no time did Iran have no more than 130 metric tonnes of heavy water. Iran has carried out no reprocessing activities at the Tehran Research Reactor (TRR), the Molybdenum, Iodine and Xenon Radioisotope Production (MIX) Facility or at any of the other declared facilities.
Enrichment and fuel
On enrichment and fuel, the report said Iran has continued enriching UF6 at the Fuel Enrichment Plant (FEP) and the Pilot Fuel Enrichment Plant (PFEP) at Natanz and the Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant (FFEP) at Fordow. IAEA said Iran had begun enriching UF6 above 3.67% U-235 in July, since when it has been enriching up to 4.5%.
Iran has also continued to conduct certain enrichment activities “that are not in line with the plan, provided to the Agency in January 2016”. PFEP “intends to transfer and displace three production cascades (Nos 4, 5 and 6)” of IR-4, IR-2m and IR-6 centrifuges from PFEP to FEP. In September, Iran had installed the headers and subheaders of one unit at FEP where these three cascades were to be installed.
In October Iran had installed the cascade of IR-2m centrifuges and, in November that cascade was connected to the feed and withdrawal stations. In an update on 14 November, IAEA said it had verified that Iran had now begun feeding UF6 into the cascade of 174 IR-2m centrifuges at FEP. It said: “As a consequence, Iran is using 5060 IR-1 centrifuges installed in 30 cascades and 174 IR-2m centrifuges installed in one cascade to enrich UF6 at FEP.
The report also verified that Iran had begun installing the cascade of IR-4 centrifuges but not the cascade of IR-6 centrifuges. In October, Iran had provided the Agency with an updated design information questionnaire (DIQ) for FEP. It noted that the use no more than 5060 IR-1 centrifuges installed in 30 cascades at FEP remained in the configurations agreed under the JCPOA.
Iran confirmed plans to “transfer a part of” PFEP to FEP, “with the aim that eventually all of the enrichment R&D activities will be concentrated in this area”. In October, Iran had provided additional information on the timeline for the “transformation” of this area and acknowledged that safeguards relevant measures would be agreed with IAEA before “introducing any nuclear material into this new area.
At FFEP, Iran has been conducting uranium enrichment in one wing (unit 2) of the facility since November 2019. It has been using six cascades containing 1044 IR-1 centrifuges, to enrich UF6 since January. On 4 November 2020, IAEA verified that 12 IR-1 centrifuges were installed in the remaining space of unit 2 and one IR-1 centrifuge had been installed in a single position in order to conduct “initial research and R&D activities related to stable isotope production”.
IAEA said all centrifuges and associated infrastructure in storage are under continuous Agency monitoring and that it has regular access to relevant buildings at Natanz, including all of FEP and PFEP, as well as to FFEP, with daily access on request. The Agency verified that
Iran has not operated any of its declared facilities for the purpose of re-converting fuel plates or scrap into UF6, nor has it informed the Agency that it has built any new facilities for such a purpose.
On centrifuge R&D, IAEA verified that Iran was continuing to accumulate enriched uranium from R&D lines 2 and 3 through feeding UF6 into cascades of up to: nine IR-4 centrifuges; eight IR-5 centrifuges; six IR-6 centrifuges and another cascade of 20 IR-6 centrifuges;10 IR-6s centrifuges; and 10 IR-s centrifuges. Some single centrifuges were also being tested with UF6, but not accumulating enriched uranium, These included one IR-1; four IR-2m centrifuges; one IR-4; two IR-5s; two IR-6s centrifuges; one IR-8; one IR-8B centrifuge; one IR-s centrifuge; and one IR-9.
On 10 November 2020, the Agency verified that Iran was continuing to accumulate enriched uranium from R&D lines 4 and 6 through feeding UF6 into a cascade of 152 IR-4 centrifuges and a cascade of 110 IR-6 centrifuges. Iran had earlier informed the Agency that R&D line 1 will be used for testing IR-5 and IR-6s centrifuges in a full cascade of up to 172 centrifuges or two intermediate cascades of 84 centrifuges each. On 18 October 2020, the Agency verified that Iran had conducted mechanical testing of three IR-4 centrifuges simultaneously for 42 days at the Tehran Research Centre.
Iran has informed the Agency of its production and inventory of centrifuge rotor tubes and bellows and verification through continuous monitoring, including the use of containment and surveillance measures. The Agency said the equipment had been used for the production of rotor tubes and bellows to manufacture centrifuges not only for the activities specified in the JCPOA but also for activities beyond those specified, such as the installation of the new cascades. All declared rotor tubes, bellows and rotor assemblies have been under continuous monitoring since January 2016.
Enriched uranium stockpile
As to Iran’s enriched uranium stockpile, the Agency verified that the total stockpile exceeded 300 kg of UF6 enriched up to 3.67%. On 2 November 2020, IAEA said Iran’s total enriched uranium stockpile, comprising enriched uranium produced at FEP, PFEP and FFEP was 2442.9 kg, up 337.5 kg since the previous quarterly report. The stockpile comprised 2408.5 kg of uranium as UF6; 15.5kg as uranium oxides and their intermediate products; 8.2kg in fuel assemblies and rods; and 10.7kg in liquid and solid scrap.
The stockpile comprises 215.1kg enriched up to 3.67% produced before 8 July 2019, and 2227.8kg enriched up to 4.5% produced subsequently. The latter, allin the form of UF6, includes 692.7kg enriched up to 2% produced in R&D lines 2 and 3 at PFEP.
On transparency, the report said Iran has continued to permit the Agency to use on-line enrichment monitors and electronic seals which communicate their status within nuclear sites to Agency inspectors, and to facilitate the automated collection of Agency measurement recordings registered by installed measurement devices.
Iran has issued long-term visas to Agency inspectors and has provided proper working space for the Agency at nuclear sites
In other comments, IAEA said Iran has conducted complementary accesses under the Additional Protocol to all sites and locations in Iran which the Agency needed to visit. However, in February 2019, the Agency detected natural uranium particles at a location in Iran not declared to the Agency and, based on subsequent information provided by Iran, took environmental samples at two declared nuclear facilities. Analysis of these samples revealed that some findings were inconsistent with information provided by Iran and further clarifications were needed. In October, Iran provided additional information but IAEA still considered this to be unsatisfactory “because it was not technically credible”. Further information was provided by Iran on 5 November but failed to satisfy the Agency , which demanded a “full and prompt explanation”