Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium is 22 times above 2015 deal’s limit, says IAEA

UN nuclear watchdog decries Tehran’s ongoing ban on its inspectors, says their ouster in September has seriously affected agency’s work

IAEA inspectors at Iran's nuclear power plant in Natanz on January 20, 2014. (IRNA/AFP Kazem Ghane/File)
File: IAEA inspectors at Iran's nuclear power plant in Natanz on January 20, 2014. (IRNA/AFP Kazem Ghane)

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has estimated that Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium has reached 22 times the limit set out in the since-collapsed 2015 nuclear accord, according to a new report by the UN nuclear watchdog.

In a confidential quarterly report distributed to member states, the IAEA estimated that, as of October 28, Iran’s total enriched uranium stockpile was at 4,486.8 kilograms, an increase of 691.3 kilograms since the last quarterly report in September 2023.

The limit in the 2015 deal was set at 202.8 kilograms.

The IAEA report also said that according to the agency’s assessment, as of October 28, Iran has an estimated 128.3 kilograms (282.9 pounds) of uranium enriched up to 60% purity, which represents an increase of 6.7 kilograms since its September report.

Uranium enriched at 60% purity is just a short, technical step away from weapons-grade levels of 90%.

In its report, the IAEA also decried Iran’s decision to bar several inspectors as “extreme and unjustified,” saying it “directly and seriously affected” the agency’s work, marking a new low in relations. Iran in September withdrew the accreditation of several inspectors.

File: Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian (R) welcomes International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief Rafael Grossi ahead of a meeting in Tehran on March 4, 2023. (ATTA KENARE / AFP)

“Iran’s stance is not only unprecedented, but unambiguously contrary to the cooperation that is required,” the IAEA said in a confidential report seen by AFP.

The IAEA has condemned the move — which targets eight top inspectors, with French and German nationals among them, according to a diplomatic source.

The inspectors are crucial to the IAEA’s work in Iran as they have “rare expertise and knowledge of the locations,” another diplomatic source said.

Tehran has described its decision as retaliation for “political abuses” by the United States, France, Germany, and Britain.

In a second confidential report distributed to member states, the watchdog said that no progress has been made on its request that Iran explain the origin and current location of manmade uranium particles found at two locations that Tehran has failed to declare as potential nuclear sites, which the IAEA named as Varamin and Turquzabad.

The report also said that there is no progress thus far in getting more monitoring equipment, including cameras, reinstalled that had been removed by Iran in June 2022.

Iran responded to criticism by the US, Britain, France, and Germany on that issue by barring several of the IAEA’s most experienced inspectors from monitoring its nuclear program.

The move was the latest to raise tensions surrounding Iran’s nuclear program, as the 2015 deal curbing Tehran’s nuclear activities in exchange for sanction relief has long fallen apart.

World powers struck the nuclear deal with Tehran in 2015 in an effort to ensure Iran could not develop nuclear weapons. Under the terms of the deal, Iran agreed to limit enrichment of uranium to levels necessary for nuclear power in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.

UN inspectors were tasked with monitoring the program.

Then-president Donald Trump unilaterally pulled the US out of the accord in 2018, saying he would negotiate a stronger deal, but that did not happen. Iran began breaking the terms a year later. Those included provisions that Iran was allowed to enrich uranium only up to 3.67% purity and maintain a stockpile of uranium of 300 kilograms.

US President Joe Biden has said he would be willing to re-enter a nuclear deal with Iran, but formal talks to try to find a roadmap to restart the deal collapsed in August 2022.

‘No progress’

In the second report, the IAEA said it received a letter from Iran on Wednesday, reiterating its position to withdraw the inspectors’ accreditation.

Mohammad Eslami, the head of Iran’s civilian nuclear program, said in the letter received by the IAEA that it was “within its rights to de-designate the Agency inspectors” and stated that the watchdog’s “assertion” of the potential risks of impeding the conduct of inspections “is not compelling and lacks any legal basis.”

Eslami added, however, that he was “exploring possibilities to address the request” to reconsider the ban on the inspectors.

IAEA head Rafael Grossi expressed “his hope that this matter will be resolved promptly.”

File: This photo released November 5, 2019, by the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran shows centrifuge machines in Natanz uranium enrichment facility near Natanz, Iran. (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran via AP)

Heightened tensions

In recent months, Biden’s administration had strived to keep a lid on Middle East troubles through quiet diplomacy with Tehran.

But that bet came crashing down with the October 7 massacre by Hamas-led terrorists against Israel.

Tensions between Iran and the United States have worsened since the devastating onslaught and Israel’s subsequent air and ground offensive in Gaza, which aims to eliminate Hamas in the Strip.

Washington and Tehran have mutually accused each other of aggravating the situation.

File Iranian deputy foreign minister Reza Najafi, left, and Iranian AEOI spokesperson Behrouz Kamalvandi, seen leaving the Palais Coburg where closed-door nuclear talks took place in Vienna, Austria, August 5, 2022. (AP/Florian Schroetter)

Since 2018, Iran has retaliated against the US’s pulling out of the agreement by stepping up its nuclear activities.

EU-mediated efforts to revive the deal — bringing the US back on board and Iran back into compliance — have so far been fruitless.

The EU announced formally last month that it would maintain sanctions “under the EU non-proliferation regime on Iran.”

The decision to keep the sanctions in place was originally announced by Britain, France, and Germany, all signatories to the pact, in September.

The sanctions remaining in place include blacklisting missile manufacturers and affiliates of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.

Most Popular
read more: