Iran's uranium stockpile now 23 times limit set by nuke deal

UN watchdog closes two probes at Iran nuclear sites, one of them prompted by Israel

International Atomic Energy Agency reportedly no longer has questions about 87.3% enriched uranium found at Fordo facility or traces of man-made uranium found at Marivan

A lift truck carries a cylinder containing uranium hexafluoride gas for the purpose of injecting the gas into centrifuges in Iran's Fordow nuclear facility, November 6, 2019. (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran via AP)
A lift truck carries a cylinder containing uranium hexafluoride gas for the purpose of injecting the gas into centrifuges in Iran's Fordow nuclear facility, November 6, 2019. (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran via AP)

VIENNA — Iran has resolved two outstanding inquiries from the International Atomic Energy Agency over highly enriched uranium particles and a site where man-made uranium was found, according to confidential reports seen Wednesday by The Associated Press.

The IAEA reports ease pressure slightly on Tehran, which has been escalating its program for years since the US unilaterally withdrew from its nuclear deal with world powers in 2018. However, it continues to amass more uranium nearer than ever to weapons-grade level, worrying nonproliferation experts.

The two confidential quarterly reports by the Vienna-based IAEA, distributed to member states of the organization, said inspectors no longer had questions on uranium particles found to be enriched to 83.7% at its underground Fordo facility. That had sparked tensions over the last several months as uranium enriched to 90% is weapons-grade material.

Iran had argued those particles were a byproduct of its current enrichment as particles can reach higher enrichment levels in fluctuations.

“The agency informed Iran that, following its evaluation of the data, the agency had assessed that the information provided was not inconsistent with Iran’s explanation…and that the agency had no further questions on this matter at this stage,” the report said.

The report said investigators also have closed off their investigation of traces of man-made uranium found at Marivan, near the city of Abadeh, some 525 kilometers (325 miles) southeast of Tehran. Analysts had repeatedly linked Marivan to Iran’s secret military nuclear program and accused Iran of conducting high-explosive tests there in the early 2000s. In 2019, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu exposed the site, claiming it was a secret nuclear facility.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu revealing what he says is a nuclear weapons development site in Abadeh, Iran, at the Prime Ministers Office, on September 9, 2019. (Screenshot: YouTube)

The IAEA report said that “another member state” operated a mine at the area in the 1960s and 1970s under the rule of then-Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. It wasn’t immediately clear which nation was involved in the mining.

Iran had argued the uranium traces could have come from “laboratory instruments and equipment” used by miners at the site. The IAEA called the answer “a possible explanation.”

“The agency at this time has no additional questions on the depleted uranium particles detected at Marivan…and the matter is no longer outstanding at this stage,” it said. The agency also installed enrichment monitoring devices at Fordo and Natanz, Iran’s other main enrichment site, the report said.

A slide made public by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on September 9, 2019 showing a secret Iranian nuclear facility, before and after it was reportedly destroyed by Iran. (GPO)

The second report also found that Iran has significantly increased its stockpile of enriched uranium in recent months, continuing its nuclear escalation, AFP said.

It said that Iran’s estimated stockpile of enriched uranium had reached more than 23 times the limit set out in the landmark 2015 accord between Tehran and world powers.

Iran’s nuclear deal limited Tehran’s uranium stockpile to 300 kilograms (661 pounds) and enrichment to 3.67% — enough to fuel a nuclear power plant. The US unilateral withdrawal from the accord in 2018 set in motion a series of attacks and escalations by Tehran over its program.

Iran has been producing uranium enriched to 60% purity — a level for which nonproliferation experts already say Tehran has no civilian use.

The IAEA report estimated that as of May 13, Iran’s total enriched uranium stockpile was at 4,744.5 kilograms (10,460 pounds). Of that, 114.1 kilograms (251 pounds) is enriched up to 60% purity, a short, technical step to weapons-grade levels.

Enrichment levels of around 90 percent are required for use in a nuclear weapon.

The last IAEA estimate in February put Iran’s uranium stockpile at some 3,760 kilograms (8,289 pounds). Of that, 87.5 kilograms (192 pounds) was enriched up to 60% purity.

The report came days before the board of governors of the IAEA is due to meet to review progress in addressing the watchdog’s remaining concerns.

There are still open questions about radioactive material found at undeclared sites in Varamin and Turquzabad.

An Iranian technician works at the Uranium Conversion Facility just outside the city of Isfahan, Iran, on February 3, 2007. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Iran on Tuesday had said international inspectors closed off the two lines of inquiry over its nuclear program.

Separately, the IAEA acknowledged installing new cameras at workshops in the Iranian city of Isfahan where centrifuge rotors and bellows are manufactured. Centrifuges rapidly spin uranium gas, enriching it.

However, Iran has been withholding surveillance footage from the IAEA amid its tensions with the West.

Tensions between Iran and the West have escalated over its nuclear program. Tehran also has faced mass protests recently and anger from the West over it arming Russia with bomb-carrying drones now targeting Ukraine.

While the IAEA’s director-general has warned that Iran now has enough uranium to produce “several” bombs, months more would likely be needed to build a weapon and potentially miniaturize it to put it on a missile. The US intelligence community has maintained its assessment that Iran isn’t pursuing an atomic bomb.

Iran has always denied any ambition to develop a nuclear weapons capability, insisting its activities are entirely peaceful.

Most Popular
read more: