More Thoughts on IAEA Iran Report

A few more things about that report. Previous deep thoughts “here.”:

p=. *More on Centrifuges*

First, CFR’s Gary Samore allowed me to use some information (which originated from an email exchange with some other folks) that might shed more light on an issue I mentioned “before.”:

I wrote:

bq. The fact that Iran is feeding this much UF6 into the centrifuges seems to suggest that it has overcome other past technical difficulties. A source told me in April that, at the time, Iran was
“being ‘cautious’ by introducing small amounts” of UF6 into the centrifuges so they wouldn’t crash. [Last sentence paraphrased.]

Maybe not so much. According to Gary,

bq. My sources tell me that the machines are *NOT* operating at full capacity (i.e. they are spinning at lower than optimal speeds to avoid crashing). [ _Emphasis his._ ]

p=. *Iranian UF6*

According to the report, “Iran presented 269 tonnes of UF6 for
Agency verification” when IAEA inspectors conducted the annual PIV at Iran’s conversion facility.

That number is consistent with past Iranian statements. For example, AEOI head Gholamreza Aghazadeh “said”: early last month that Iran has produced 270 tonnes of UF6 “over the past one year.” More recently, his deputy, Mohammad Saeedi, claimed that Iran has 280 tonnes of UF6.

There are legitimate questions about the quality of Iran’s UF6, but I wouldn’t be too sanguine that all of it sucks. For example, “I wrote more than a year ago”: that Iran’s ability to produce UF6 “appear[s] to be improving,” according to a “Vienna diplomat” and a “State Department official.”


The United States assesses that Iran’s uranium hexafluoride is now of high enough quality that it will not damage the centrifuge[s], the State Department source said.

Anyone who knows anything else is free to tell me.

p=. *Wanted: Transparency*

One of the most striking things about the report is its emphasis on what the IAEA _doesn’t_ know about Iran’s program because of Tehran’s lack of transparency. Not only has Iran refused to cooperate (for the most part) with the IAEA’s requests for information about Iran’s nuclear program(s), but Iran still won’t implement the additional protocol to its IAEA safeguards agreement.

The UN Security Council, BTW, has required Tehran to cooperate with the investigation and ratify its additional protocol.

Anyway, this lack of cooperation is clearly impairing the IAEA’s investigation. According to the report:

bq. because the Agency has not been receiving for over a year information that Iran used to provide, including under the Additional Protocol, *the Agency’s level of knowledge of certain aspects of Iran’s nuclear related activities has deteriorated.*

That information includes

bq. information relevant to the assembly of centrifuges, the manufacture of centrifuge components or associated equipment and research and development of centrifuges or enrichment techniques.

Personally, I have thought for a while that getting Iran to suspend its program is increasingly less important than getting it to ratify the additional protocol. Obviously, Iran should do both.

7 thoughts on “More Thoughts on IAEA Iran Report

  1. yale

    Let us assume that, due to bad hex, inexperience, bad luck, etc, the Iranians can only operate their centrifuges at the FEP with Separative Work performance of only 1.5 kg-SWU/yr, rather than the 2.5 kg-swu/yr that they have already demonstrated at the PFEP.

    Also assume that the 2100 centrifuges at the FEP, running or under constuction, are all that they can muster. Let us finally assume that they can only run them 75% of the time on average.

    What is the proliferation bottom line?

    It takes 4000 SWU to produce 20 kilograms of 90% enriched uranium. 20kg of HEU is suficient for one very conservative 1st generation atomic bomb, or several higher tech bombs.

    The Iranium FEP would (using my parameters) produce a bombs worth by December of 2008. Compare that to the ‘official” estimates of 2012-2015.

    Remember my calculations are biased heavily towards poor perfomance from the Iranian operations.

    Just for giggles (altho I am sure the Israelis have done the math, and are not amused), let us assume that the Iranians decide to screw the UN and divert the fresh fuel the Russians will deliver for Bushehr.

    With the performance I specified, Iran, with only 2100 centrifuges, produce a bomb in just 3 months.

  2. Andy


    It seems to me both those scenarios would show the world exactly what Iran was up to. Since only part of the NIE’s have been leaked/released, I’m beginning to wonder if the IC figures assume a clandestine program and not one that relies on safeguarded facilities and material.

    Although I don’t dispute your figures, I think the chance that Iran would actually pursue such courses of action would be minimal since doing so would show clear intent to weaponize and give the US and others ample cause and opportunity to destroy the facilities before that 20kg HEU is produced.

  3. hass

    According to Yales calculations, any number of other states “could” develop a bomb in the near future. Argentina, Brazil, Japan, etc. Not just Iran. This is speculation as to future course of conduct and no one can prove or disprove that something can’t happen in the indefinite future.

  4. yale


    Altho a clandestine operation is a possibility, my calcs do not have to assume that.

    The nightmare of possessing ANY enrichment capability is that one can stay “kosher” (and even intend on staying kosher) indefinitely, produce “harmless” LEU.

    The terrible danger is the possession of LEU, whether homegrown or imported, and ANY enrichment tools (calutrons, AVLIS, centrifuges, vortex tubes, supersonic nozzles, thermal diffusion columns, whatever)

    Consider my calcs another way. The Iranians could produce ONLY LEU till they have accumulated the SWUs (about 4-5,000). At no time do they need to produce one smidge of HEU (nor even desire to.)

    Any time after that, Iran can either overtly breakout and re-jigger the cascades to upgrade the innocent LEU to HEU or they can divert the LEU feedstock to a clandestine plant (or trickle the LEU gas out gradually). Remember much more that 3/4 of the required enchichment work is already stored in the LEU. (That’s the counterintuitive aspect of enrichment)

    At that time, my second calc kicks in, the 3 months LEU to a bomb.

    Bottom line is

    show clear intent to weaponize

    does not necessarily obtain.

    Analogously (sp?) consider Germany’s bomber development pre-war. A fleet of high quality airliners and cargo planes were developed, staying within treaty obligations.

    When war came, the planes were rapidly modded as bombers.

  5. Andy

    Yale, I understand your argument, I’m just wondering if the IC’s dates do not assume an overt breakout.

    Another technical question for you: I understand that most of the separative work takes place going from natural to LEU in terms of the absolute amount of U238 removed. However, as U-238 is removed, do diminishing returns kick in at some point? In other words, as the ratio of U235-U238 goes up, does it become more difficult to remove the U238 as it diminishes in relative quantity?

  6. yale


    You suggested:

    I’m just wondering if the IC’s dates do not assume an overt breakout.

    What I think your positing is that fitting out a clandestine plant and then creating bomb fuel is the source for the quite extended timeline for Iran to be bomb-ready.

    Definitely a possiblity. What I have read, tho, implies that the time is based on Iran’s overt declared facilities.

    I just checked an article that was repeatedly cited at ACW:

    From WaPo:

    Iran Is Judged 10 Years From Nuclear Bomb
    U.S. Intelligence Review Contrasts With Administration Statements

    By Dafna Linzer
    Tuesday, August 2, 2005

    The new estimate extends the timeline, judging that Iran will be unlikely to produce a sufficient quantity of highly enriched uranium, the key ingredient for an atomic weapon, before “early to mid-next decade,” according to four sources familiar with that finding. The sources said the shift, based on a better understanding of Iran’s technical limitations, puts the timeline closer to 2015 and in line with recently revised British and Israeli figures.

    The estimate is for acquisition of fissile material, but there is no firm view expressed on whether Iran would be ready by then with an implosion device, sources said.

    The timeline is portrayed as a minimum designed to reflect a program moving full speed ahead without major technical obstacles.

    Sources said the new timeline also reflects a fading of suspicions that Iran’s military has been running its own separate and covert enrichment effort.


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