Iran Repeats Claim Research Reactor Fuel Plates Object of Enrichment as IAEA Visit Could Be Extended

It has generally been viewed as a positive development that Iran has agreed to new visits from the IAEA to help ease the tension surrounding its nuclear program. Especially encouraging is a report in the New York Times this morning that Iran has asked the IAEA to extend the current visit that is underway:

Iran’s foreign minister was reported on Monday to have offered to extend a three-day visit to his country by United Nations inspectors in what seemed a further attempt to lower the strident tone of a crisis with the West over Tehran’s nuclear program following the imposition of new economic sanctions.

But the Times moved quickly to caveats on this potential good news. The next paragraph:

But it was not clear whether the offer was part of what European officials have termed efforts by Tehran to buy time while continuing uranium enrichment. Iran says the nuclear program is for peaceful purposes while Western leaders say Tehran is seeking to build nuclear weapons.

One key development the Times misses in this coverage is an announcement relating to the use of the uranium enriched to 20%, which has been at the heart of the current disagreements. Fars News reports today that Iran is putting the finishing touches on nuclear fuel plates for a research reactor that produces medical isotopes. Iran has claimed all along that the 20% enriched uranium was needed to produce new fuel plates for this reactor. Fabrication and installation of these plates would preclude the uranium in those plates being further enriched to weapons grade. From Fars News:

Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi stressed the country’s ability to convert enriched uranium into fuel plates to supply fuel for the Tehran research reactor, saying the first consignment of 20-percent enriched fuel for the reactor will be ready in the coming months.


Late in October, Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi had said “around 70 kilograms of (20-percent-enriched) uranium had been produced in Iran” by then, according to the latest inventory report he had seen, dating from September.

In June, Iran’s permanent representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Ali Asqar Soltaniyeh said that Iran had produced over 50 kg of 20-percent-enriched uranium till then.

Soltaniyeh said that “we need 120 kg of enrichment up to 20 percent … for the Tehran reactor”.

The Times article informs us that weapons experts are part of the IAEA delegation visiting Iran:

The I.A.E.A. delegation includes two senior weapons experts, Jacques Baute of France and Neville Whiting of South Africa, The A.P. said, implying that Iran may be prepared to discuss allegations that it seeks the ability to make nuclear warheads.

One would think that the key activity in this IAEA visit will be to carry out an accounting of the 20% enriched uranium that has been produced. The IAEA already has an estimate of the number of enrichment centrifuges that Iran possesses, as well as an estimate for their production efficiency. Should Iran share with these experts verfiable documentation that the 20% enriched uranium produced to date has indeed been fabricated into fuel plates for the Tehran research reactor, then it will be necessary to change the projected date for when Iran could have a functional nuclear weapon. Current projections for when a weapon would be available rely on diversion of all of the 20% enriched uranium into enrichment to weapons grade of 90%+.  As far as is known, Iran has not yet demonstrated that it can enrich from 20% to weapons grade.

It appears that Iran is signaling a willingness to be open with the IAEA inspectors. From IRNA:

Asked to comment on the current visit to Iran of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors, Salehi said he was optimistic towards the visit and noted that the three-day stay of the inspectors could be extended upon their request.

Another key sign that Iran may be moving toward better relations with the IAEA is this Mehr News article where Iran says that the IAEA will not release identification information on the scientists it interviews:

MP Hossein Naqavi has said that Iran has received assurance from the International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors who recently arrived in Iran that they would not leak information on Iranian nuclear scientists’ particulars.

“When the delegation wanted to enter our country, the Islamic Republic decided to use its rights. We set conditions for the inspectors and obtained assurance from them because we had seen that inspections were carried out, and (then) our nuclear scientists were assassinated,” Naqavi, who is a member of the Majlis National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, told the Persian service of the Fars News Agency on Sunday.

So with Iran signaling it could extend the IAEA visit and saying they don’t believe the IAEA will identify its scientists to potential assassins, the current meetings could all come down to the math. If Iran can provide documentation for the amount of 20% enriched uranium produced and for its conversion into research reactor fuel plates, Western countries accusing Iran of seeking to produce a nuclear weapon in the near term will have to change the nature of their accusations. They will either have to move the date for which Iran could have a nuclear weapon into the future by more than a year or they will have to accuse Iran of having additional uranium enrichment capacity beyond that which is known.

On the other hand, should Iran only provide documentation for the fate of just a small fraction of the known production capacity for 20% enriched uranium, then Western pro-war factions will have perhaps their most credible argument to date for Iranian intentions to build a nuclear weapon.

17 replies
  1. PeasantParty says:

    Thanks, Jim.

    Lindsey Graham and John McCain are going to continue to push that meme no matter what. Their congressional lives depend on it and their military backers.

  2. Benjamin Franklin says:

    30 kilos of the enriched uranium is what, in terms of say, a 10-kiloton weapon? Any engineers in the audience?

    “Sanctions will not cause serious problems for the Iranian nation, Salehi said, adding that, however, Iran does not welcome sanctions and hopes the Europeans will adopt a wise attitude towards Tehran.”

    In connection with the question I asked; Is the above statement more a measure of their hurting, as a Nation, or is it buying time for their weapon program?

  3. Jim White says:

    @Benjamin Franklin: One analysis of where Iran stands in terms of production of enough material for weapons comes from this article published at (pdf):

    Fissile material. The first component is easiest to calculate because the IAEA keeps close track of Iran’s reported production. According to the latest IAEA report, Iran has produced over 4,500 kilograms of 3.5% LEU, some portion of which has been further enriched to 20%. This stockpile of 3.5% LEU is enough for at least two weapons if further enriched. Some analysts assess that it is enough for four weapons, but they do not take into account the larger amount needed for the first bomb.

    This article goes on to state Iran has more than seven years’ worth of fuel for the Tehran reactor in the 20% enriched material they have produced, but the precise amounts on hand should be the object of this IAEA visit, as well as whether all this material is indeed being converted into fuel for the research reactor.

  4. CTuttle says:

    @Jim White: You know what’s lost in all this hue and din about the Iranian enriched uranium(besides the fact it needs to be further enriched to 95%+) is the fact that uranium hasn’t been used for bombs since Hiroshima and Nagasaki…! It’s plutonium…! 8-(

  5. Kris says:

    slightly OT

    remember when Iran “captured” that intact drone? and people were wondering if it was a repeat of the israeli: give them a drone and then blow them the hell up strategy?

    everytime that a scientist was killed in an explosion iran was quick to blame the U.S. and the mossad.

    in the recent large explosion on the military base 28 miles from tehran they are claiming it was a “gas leak” at an ammunitions depot, but MEK claims it was a secret missle facility… and it killed one of their leading scientists… leading scientists that might be studying captured drones technologies….

    I think the size of the explosion and Iran’s awkward silence about it seem to indicate that something is off… something they would rather not talk about.

  6. Benjamin Franklin says:


    in the recent large explosion on the military base 28 miles from tehran they are claiming it was a “gas leak” at an ammunitions depot, but MEK claims it was a secret missle facility… and it killed one of their leading scientists… leading scientists that might be studying captured drones technologies….

    Did I miss that link, earlier?

  7. Jim White says:


    I’m guessing that doesn’t come with a 30 minutes or less guarantee. And let’s hope the old US antiaircraft devices aren’t still tuned to Iraqi fighter jets from the days of Saddam’s no-fly zone.

  8. Benjamin Franklin says:

    @Jim White:

    Tasking you once more, if you’re still here. Does the US still consider MEK a terrorist organization?

    Perhaps they do, since they not only oppose the current regime, but also opposed the US backed Shah.

  9. Benjamin Franklin says:

    BTW, the AP article linked is no longer available. It would be interesting to know, generally, what AP’s practice is for scrubbing their archives. It could be server capacity, or I could be imagining other reasons.

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