Takeaways from the IAEA report on the implementation of the Joint Plan of Action

Olli HeinonenOlli Heinonen summarizes the latest IAEA report on their implementation of the interim nuclear agreement with Iran. Implementation, he concludes, "has started off satisfactorily," but he cautions that there is "still some way to go" before full implementation.

By Olli Heinonen

These are the key findings from the second status report issued by the IAEA on 20 March 2014 following the January 2014 agreement on “voluntary measures” taken by Iran to implement the Joint Plan of Action (JPA):

  • Work remains to be done to confirm that Iran has placed all centrifuge rotors and rotor cylinders under IAEA monitoring.
  • The results on the inspectors’ visits to uranium mines are still being assessed.
  • Dilution and conversion of 20 % enriched UF6 proceed according to the path laid out in the JPA, but conversion of existing 5 % enriched UF6 to uranium oxide is delayed.

Iran agreed in the JPA to dilute half of its 20 % enriched UF6 stocks to uranium oxide with enrichments below 5 %, and to convert the other half to 20 % enriched uranium oxides during a six month period. On 20 January 2014 the inventory of 20 % enriched UF6 was 206.9 kg. Since then Iran has made good progress by diluting 74.6 kg of 20 % enriched UF6 to enrichments below 5 %. However, Iran has not been able to complete the commissioning of the Enriched UO2 Production Plant (EUPP), which is required to turn 5 % UF6 to oxides. According to the information provided by Iran, the commissioning of EUPP using natural uranium is scheduled to start on 9 April 2014. Since such commissioning tests normally take several weeks, there is a looming possibility that Iran may fail to oxidize its several tons of 5 % UF6 to meet the 20 July 2014 deadline established under the JPA.

Since 20 January 2014, Iran has fed an additional 31.7 kg of 20 % enriched UF6 to convert it to 20 % enriched uranium oxides. This means that Iran has by now successfully diluted or converted half of the 20 % enriched UF6 stocks it has committed to. On 20 January 2014, the total historical production of 20 % enriched UF6 was 456 kg. This means that by 20 July 2014, Iran would possess about 350 kg 20 % enriched UF6 as uranium oxides; or an amount sufficient for one nuclear explosive, if further enriched to weapons grade. Uranium oxides can be reconverted to UF6 in a fairly short period of time. Iran, however, has stated that it does not possess such a process. According to the IAEA’s report, such a reconversion process does not exist at the Fuel Plate Fabrication Plant (FPFP). It should be noted, however, that the IAEA, at this stage, has limited authorities to confirm the non-existence of such processes beyond declared facilities.

IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano
March 4, 2014 - IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano speaking at IAEA headquarters in Vienna. (Dean Calma / IAEA via Flickr)

The report affirms that Iran has not carried out reprocessing related activities at the Tehran Research Reactor (TRR) and the Molybdenum, Iodine and Xenon Radioisotope Production Facility (MIX) or at any of the other facility to which the Agency has access. Such activities are proscribed under the UN Security Council Resolutions and the JPA. However, the IAEA has not reported specifically in a number of years on the status of irradiated fuel targets used for unreported plutonium separation activities carried out in 1988-1993, and currently stored at Karaj. Such material would be useful for reprocessing R&D activities.

The report also states that Iran has provided daily access to the enrichment facilities at Natanz and Fordow. Daily access is, according to the terms of the JPA, confined to surveillance records and not everywhere at these installations, unless the IAEA has negotiated better arrangements or a separate understanding that goes beyond the JPA wording has been agreed to. Under the Plan’s provisions, the Pilot Fuel Enrichment Plant at Natanz is also not subject to daily visits. The PFEP has been used mainly for testing of centrifuges, but it had until 20 January 2014 a tandem cascade producing 20 % UF6. As required by the JPA, the tandem cascade connection was removed, and since then those two cascades have been producing 5 % UF6.

The report notes that the IAEA inspectors have been provided managed access to centrifuge assembly workshops, centrifuge rotor production workshops and storage facilities, and provided information thereon. The report, however, does not conclude that Iran has declared and placed all manufactured centrifuge rotors and rotor cylinders under the Agency monitoring. A complete inventory of rotors is an essential baseline for credible monitoring of the production of centrifuges, which is allowed under the JPA to replace damaged machines.

A confidence building measure set out in the JPA has been the access to uranium mines and milling facilities. The report mentions the IAEA’s visit to Gcchine, but does not provide details of the IAEA findings from the visit that took place much earlier, in January 2014.

In summary, the implementation of the JPA as observed by the IAEA has started off satisfactorily. But there is still some way to go implementing the JPA. The Agency has also a substantial amount of work ahead to confirm the statements made by Iran on the production of centrifuge rotors and uranium ore concentrates. The Agency’s Director General is expected to issue monthly status reports on the JPA’s implementation. In all of this, we should not lose sight of the larger picture of addressing the full scope of concerns of Iran’s nuclear program. Meanwhile, officials from the P5+1 and Iran continue with their negotiations while keeping an eye on the approaching 6-month marker of the JPA.  

Olli Heinonen is a Senior Fellow at Harvard Kennedy School's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.