Analysis of the IAEA Verification and Surveillance Report for Iran – November 2022
by David Albright, Sarah Burkhard, Spencer Faragasso, and Andrea Stricker
November 16, 2022
- This report summarizes and evaluates information from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) quarterly report dated November 10, 2022, Review and monitoring in the Islamic Republic of Iran in the light of United Nations Security Council Resolution 2231 (2015), including Iran’s compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
- Since the last IAEA report, Iran has increased the number of installed advanced centrifuges at its fuel enrichment plant (FEP) at Natanz. Around 1740 new advanced centrifuges have been added, mainly consisting of IR-2m and IR-4 centrifuges, making the current installed capacity over 50 percent larger than in August.
- This large increase in accumulation capacity brings with it immediate challenges. It shortens the time it would take Iran to break out and produce multiple batches of weapons-grade uranium (WGU) for nuclear weapons (see also below). This increase further undermines the value of a revived nuclear deal, as the JCPOA allows Iran to stockpile advanced centrifuges, allowing Iran to further reduce breakout times to acquire weapons-grade uranium or more quickly rebuild its enrichment capacity in the event of another collapse of the JCPOA.
- Iran’s breakout time remains zero because it has more than enough 60 percent enriched uranium or highly enriched uranium (HEU) to directly produce a nuclear explosive. Iran may prefer to further enrich its 60 percent HEU up to 90 percent (or WGU), which is used in Iran’s known nuclear weapon designs. If so, it could produce enough for a nuclear weapon in a matter of weeks with just a few advanced cascades of centrifuges.
- Given the current size of Iran’s enriched uranium stockpiles of 60 percent, 20 percent, and 4.5 percent, Iran can now produce enough WGU for four nuclear weapons in one month and enough for a fifth weapon within the following month.
- Iran continues to learn important lessons in advancing toward nuclear weapons, including through experiments in skipping typical enrichment steps, as it enriches uranium-235 up to 60 percent. It starts at levels below 5 percent LEU and enriches to nearly 60 percent directly in one step in two interconnected cascades, rather than using two steps in between, a slower process that entails intermediate production of 20 percent enriched uranium. It has used temporary loading and unloading facilities to produce HEU from nearly 20 percent enriched uranium feedstock. Iran is also enriching uranium in an IR-6 cascade that has been modified to more easily convert from producing nearly 5 percent enriched uranium to 20 percent enriched uranium. So Iran is experimenting with multi-stage enrichment and trying to shorten the process.
- Essentially, Iran slowly erupted by accumulating 60 percent enriched uranium. As of October 21, Iran had a stockpile of 62.3 kilograms (kg) (in uranium bulk or U-bulk) of 60 percent enriched uranium in UF6 form, or 92.2 kg (in hexafluoride bulk or hex- Dimensions). Iran also has 2 kg of 60 percent HEU (U bulk) in chemical forms other than UF6.
- Iran holds the majority (85 percent) of its inventory of 60 percent HEU at the Esfahan site, where it has the ability to produce enriched uranium metal. Although Iran has said it uses the HEU to make targets for irradiation at the Tehran Research Reactor (TRR), it has only converted a small fraction of its HEU into targets — about 2.1 kg — and not since March 2022 transformed.
- Iran’s current production rate of 60 percent enriched uranium is 3.3 kg per month (U-mass) and is centered on the use of two advanced production-scale centrifuge cascades, one of which is IR-6 centrifuges and the other IR-4 -Centrifuges, and up to 5 percent low enriched uranium (LEU) as feedstock.
- During most of the reporting period, Iran enriched uranium to 20 percent in both cascades of IR-6 centrifuges at the Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant (FFEP). It also operates six IR-1 cascades (three sets of two linked cascades) that have already produced 20 percent enriched uranium. During part of the reporting period, Iran used the two IR-6 cascades to produce nearly 5 percent LEU from natural uranium for direct injection into one of the three sets of IR-1 cascades for further enrichment up to 20 percent . The presence of advanced centrifuges in the FFEP improves Iran’s ability to break out with a declared but highly fortified facility.
- The average production rate of 20 percent enriched uranium at the FFEP was 26.8 kg (U mass) per month or 39.6 kg (Hex mass) per month.
- As of October 21, 2022, Iran held an IAEA estimated stockpile of 386.49 kg of 20 percent enriched uranium (U mass and in the form of UF6), which equates to 571.73 kg (hex mass). Iran also has a stockpile of 30.8 kg (U mass) of 20% uranium in other chemical forms.
- At the FEP in Natanz, Iran added up to ten cascades of advanced centrifuges in the last reporting period, for a total of 36 cascades of IR-1 centrifuges, 15 cascades of IR-2m centrifuges (increased by nine) and three cascades of IR – 4 centrifuges (up by one) and three cascades of IR-6 centrifuges. Iran also announced that it plans to install three additional IR-4 cascades and 18 cascades of an as yet unspecified type of centrifuge.
- Iran’s current total enrichment capacity is estimated at about 16,300 separate working units (SWU) per year, slightly down from the 16,600 SWU per year at the end of the last reporting period, due to fewer IR-1 centrifuges enriching uranium FEP. At the end of this reporting period, Iran has not yet utilized its fully installed enrichment capacity at the FEP, which, as noted above, has grown significantly.
- Average daily production of nearly 5 percent LEU at the FEP doubled, and for the first time since early 2021, Iran’s LEU inventory increased by nearly 5 percent from one reporting period to the next, reaching 1030 kg (U-mass).
- Despite the increase in the amount of enriched uranium during this period of between 2 and 5 percent, Iran has not prioritized its stockpiling over the past two years, contrary to its claim that its main goal is to accumulate 4-5 percent enriched uranium Use in nuclear reactor fuel. Instead, this inventory was used extensively to produce nearly 20 percent and 60 percent enriched uranium, well in excess of Iran’s civilian needs.
- Iran’s total reported LEU stocks declined due to a decline in Iran’s stocks of up to 2 percent enriched uranium, much of which was used as feedstock to produce nearly 5 percent LEU.
- The IAEA reports that it faces serious challenges in restoring continuity of knowledge about Iran’s activities under a revived JCPOA, such as centrifuge and heavy water production, since Iran decided in February 2021 that the IAEA to deny access to data from key surveillance and surveillance equipment. The IAEA details the rather harsh remedial actions it must take to restore a centrifuge manufacturing baseline, including access to extensive records.
- The surveillance situation was significantly worsened by Iran’s June 2022 decision to remove all JCPOA-related surveillance and surveillance equipment, including video cameras. For more than five months, the IAEA has not installed equipment to monitor Iran’s activities at advanced centrifuge manufacturing facilities, which have multiplied this year. There is an additional surveillance gap at the former TESA Karaj centrifuge factory from June 2021 to January 2022, when cameras were destroyed or removed following an attack on the facility. The lack of surveillance and surveillance equipment, particularly since June 2022, has led the IAEA to doubt its ability to determine whether Iran has or may have diverted advanced centrifuges.
- One risk is that Iran will amass a secret stockpile of advanced centrifuges that can be used in the future at a secret enrichment facility or at declared sites during an outbreak. Another risk is that Iran will set up additional production facilities for centrifuges unknown to the IAEA. Iran is fully capable of moving manufacturing facilities to new undeclared locations, further complicating future verification efforts and adding to the uncertainty as to where Iran manufactures centrifuges.
- The IAEA concludes that “Iran’s decision to remove all Agency equipment previously installed in Iran for monitoring and surveillance activities related to the JCPOA also had an adverse impact on the Agency’s ability to understand the peaceful nature of the Iranian to guarantee the nuclear program.”
- Coupled with Iran’s refusal to resolve outstanding security breaches, the IAEA has a severely limited ability to oversee Iran’s complex and growing nuclear program, which in particular has unresolved nuclear weapons dimensions. The IAEA’s ability to detect the diversion of nuclear materials, equipment and other capabilities to undeclared facilities remains severely limited.
Read the full analysis as a PDF here.
1. Andrea Stricker is Associate Director of the Nonproliferation and Biodefense Program of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) and FDD Research Fellow. ↩