Iran has produced more than enough nuclear fuel to power two atomic warheads if it were to further enrich its supply and disregard its treaty obligations, according to a report issued Monday by the world’s nuclear energy watchdog.
At the same time, Iran’s controversial efforts to master the enrichment of uranium at its production facility near the town of Natanz could be slowing or stalling, according to the quarterly report, which International Atomic Energy Agency Director-General Yukiya Amano delivered to his governing board ahead of a meeting next week.
Iran is feeding uranium into only about 43% of its 8,700 centrifuges, slightly fewer than the last reporting period, which ended in June, the report says.
The report also indicates continuing friction between Tehran and international inspectors, who regularly visit Iran’s nuclear facilities. In the wake of an argument this year over Iran’s rejection of two particular IAEA employees, the report accuses the government of objecting to “inspectors with experience in Iran’s nuclear fuel cycle and facilities.”
Iran insists its nuclear program is meant for peaceful civilian purposes only. It is a signatory to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which bars it from pursuing atomic weapons.
This month, Iran is launching a Russian-built nuclear reactor in the city of Bushehr. World powers suspect it is trying to obtain at least the capability to build nuclear weapons, which require uranium enriched to levels of 60% or higher — well above the purity level of the bulk of Iran’s nuclear fuel supply.
Tehran’s envoy to the Vienna-based IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, said the report confirms that none of Iran’s declared nuclear materials had been diverted for military uses and “clearly shows that the Islamic Republic of Iran had outstanding progress in regard with enrichment and is continuing its activities with the highest standards,” according to Iran’s semiofficial Fars news agency.
Iran told the IAEA that it had produced 6,180 pounds of low-enriched uranium at its fuel production facility near Natanz, up 15% from the last reporting period. Most experts say about 2,600 pounds of low-enriched uranium can be used to produce enough highly enriched material for a nuclear bomb that could be fitted onto a ballistic missile warhead.
In addition, Iran told the watchdog agency that it had produced nearly 50 pounds of 20% enriched uranium for a Tehran medical reactor that is running out of fuel. Weapons inspectors worry that the effort, which Iran initiated after the failure of talks to swap its own fuel for medical reactor plates abroad, could bolster the nation’s nuclear know-how.
The IAEA has demanded quicker and better access to Iran’s nuclear facilities and plans, but Tehran says it is not legally bound to submit to the increased scrutiny required by a Nonproliferation Treaty amendment that it signed in 2003 but that its parliament never ratified.