First Thoughts on IAEA Iran Report

There are a few new things. But if you wish to read no further, read this summary paragraph:

bq. Iran has not suspended its enrichment related activities. Iran has continued with the operation of PFEP [Pilot Fuel Enrichment Plant]. It has also continued with the construction of FEP [Fuel Enrichment Plant] and has started feeding cascades with UF6. Iran has also continued with its heavy water related projects. Construction of the IR-40 reactor and the operation of the Heavy Water Production Plant are continuing.

Here are some preliminary thoughts. I may change some of them.

p=. *Enrichment Progress*

According to the report, Iran has been operating 8 164-Centrifuge cascades (1,312 centrifuges, by my math.) That’s “the same number”: that the Iranians reported to the IAEA, according to an 18 April letter from IAEA Deputy Director-General Olli Heinonen. The report also says that Iran has “two other similar cascades” that have been vacuum tested. Three more are “under construction.”

Incidentally, I wonder if Iran’s AEOI Deputy Secretary Abdolreza Rahmani-Fazli was referring to the 2 vacuum-tested cascades “when he recently said”: that Iran “currently has 1,600 active centrifuges.” The inclusion of those cascades would give Iran a total of 1,640 centrifuges.

Bottom line: the number installed hasn’t changed in the last few weeks.

Where Iran seems to have made the most progress is in actually enriching uranium in its cascades. The report says that Iran

bq. has fed approximately *260 kg of UF6* into the cascades at FEP. Iran has declared that it has reached enrichment levels up to *4.8% U-235* at FEP, which the Agency is in the process of verifying.

That enrichment level isn’t new – the IAEA has reported that before. And note that the report doesn’t say how much enriched uranium Iran has produced.

However, the feeding of that much UF6 does appear to represent some progress. In the “last issue of ACT,”: I reported that

bq. Iran is feeding an unspecified amount of uranium hexafluoride into the cascades… [But] Tehran is not actually enriching uranium, a knowledgeable source told _Arms Control Today_ April 18. Instead, Iran is injecting small amounts of feedstock into the centrifuges to ready them for operation. This process produces trace amount of uranium enriched to very low levels.

So it seems that Iran fed 260 kg of UF6 into the centrifuges between April 18 and around now (inspectors visited the FEP on 13 May.) By contrast, Iran fed a total of 106 kg into the PFEP between Jun 2006 and this past February. (Yes, I know it’s not quite apples-apples, but still…)

[ *Update:* To give some context, it takes “roughly 5 tonnes of uranium hexafluoride… to make enough HEU for a nuclear weapon,” “according to ISIS.”: ]

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

bq. being “cautious” by introducing small amounts of feedstock. Previously, the centrifuges would spin properly but would break when uranium hexafluoride was introduced into them, the diplomat explained.

If Iran has linked all of the cascades together, that would represent even more progress. The report says that the cascades are “operating simultaneously.” I don’t _think_ that means that they’re linked together, but I wouldn’t swear to it.

More later…


Sean-Paul Kelley was nice enough to quote me “here.”: When I talked to him, I hadn’t thought as much about the amount of UF6 that Iran was feeding into its centrifuges. But I think he captured my thoughts pretty well.

6 thoughts on “First Thoughts on IAEA Iran Report

  1. Andy


    You commented over at ACW a few times about how Iran could take the Russian Bushehr fuel and enrich it up to weapons-grade once the initial cascades are in place and could potentially have enough HEU for a bomb by early 2009. Is Iran capable of processing fuel back into UF6 for further enrichment?

  2. Marko

    From previous IAEA reports China exported 1 tonne of UF6 to Iran. If it takes 5 tonnes of UF6 to make weapons grade uranium, as reported here, then Iran does not have enough Chinese UF6 to make one nuclear weapon, let alone a strategic quantity of nuclear weapons. From what we know Iran’s geologic deposits of U are impure and the metallic impurities of Iranian UF6 makes enriching to weapons grade problematical, despite the latest progress reported by the IAEA. It would be nice to see that mentioned in news reports, but I doubt it.

  3. yale


    It is an extremely easy process. The fuel pellets from the LWR (or from their own domestic LWR fuel rod fab plant) are simply crushed. Then the powder is exposed to fluorine gas, either creating UF4 and then UF6, or just as easily, directly to UF6.
    They would use a subset of the equipment they use for producing the hex from ores. If you can do one, you certainly can do the other.

    The Iranians can now produce HEU from the LEU-Hex coming from the FEP, or from LEU-O2 fuel pellets made from the LEU-Hex, or diverted LEU-O2 fuel pellets from Bushehr (or other source).

    I have seen no evidence that Iran is not using domestic uranium. It is not magic to clean it up sufficiently. It is simply some processing steps that should be well within their technical skills.



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