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Iran expands stock of near-weapons grade uranium, IAEA reports no progress

September 4, 2023 at 5:27 pm

Rafael Mariano Grossi, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency speaks during the Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board meeting in Vienna, Austria on September 12, 2022 [Aşkın Kıyağan/Anadolu Agency]

Iran’s stock of uranium enriched to up to 60 per cent purity, close to weapons grade, continues to grow and there has been no progress in talks with Tehran on sensitive issues such as explaining uranium traces at undeclared sites, two reports by the UN nuclear watchdog seen by Reuters said on Monday.

According to one of the confidential quarterly reports to member states, the International Atomic Energy Agency said Iran’s stockpile of uranium enriched to up to 60 per cent purity, close to the roughly 90 per cent of weapons grade, continued to increase, albeit at a slower pace, despite some of it having been diluted.

“The (IAEA) Director General (Rafael Grossi) regrets that there has been no progress in resolving the outstanding safeguards issues in this reporting period,” one report said, referring to Iran’s failure to credibly explain the origin of uranium particles found at two undeclared sites.

The reports, sent to IAEA member states ahead of a quarterly meeting of the IAEA’s 35-nation Board of Governors next week, also said that after limited progress on re-installing IAEA surveillance cameras in the previous quarter, there had since been none, further raising tensions with Western powers.

READ: Monitoring equipment returns to only some Iran sites – IAEA reports

Iran and the IAEA announced an agreement in March on re-installing surveillance cameras introduced under a deal with major powers in 2015 but removed at Iran’s behest last year. Only a fraction of the cameras and other monitoring devices the IAEA wanted to set up have been installed.

Adding to the issues likely to cause tension with the West, Iran’s stock of uranium enriched to up to 60 per cent grew by an estimated 7.5 kg to 121.6 kg, the report said, even though 6.4 kg of it was diluted with uranium enriched to a lower level.

Iran’s production of uranium enriched to up to 60 per cent has slowed to around 3 kg a month from about 9 kg a month previously, a senior diplomat said.

Other diplomats have said the slowdown could be part of so-called “de-escalation” efforts between Iran and the United States also involving Iranian funds frozen abroad and US prisoners held in Iran, though US Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, has denied the issues are linked.

“Of course, Iran claims (the slowdown in enrichment to up to 60 per cent) as a positive, but more HEU (highly enriched uranium) is still more HEU,” one Western diplomat said.

Cameras without footage 

Iran’s stock of uranium enriched to 60 per cent is now almost three times the roughly 42 kg that by the IAEA’s definition is theoretically enough, if enriched further, to produce a nuclear bomb. Experts add, however, that some uranium would be lost in the process. Iran denies wanting to produce nuclear weapons.

The IAEA continues to have regular access to Iran’s declared nuclear facilities and its core nuclear activities under long-standing agreements that predate the 2015 nuclear deal, but the 2015 deal added monitoring to areas such as the production of parts for centrifuges, machines that enrich uranium.

Even where IAEA monitoring equipment has been re-installed, such as at a site in Isfahan, it does not have access to the footage that its cameras record since that was not included in the March agreement it negotiated with Iran.

One of Monday’s reports spelled out that problem.

“The Director-General reiterates that for Agency cameras to be effective, including those installed at Isfahan, the Agency needs access to the data they record.”

READ: Iran responds to reported discovery of its 84% enriched uranium