According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, since its last report Iran has continued to disregard demands that it halt enrichment of uranium at its nuclear facilities, instead processing another 689 kilograms of the nuclear fuel to the 5 percent level. Of greater concern to the international community is the uranium Iran has processed to 20 percent, compromising an additional 44 kilograms since February.
Iran’s known enriched uranium stockpile is not currently usable in a nuclear weapon — for that it would need to be enriched to 90 percent level, making it highly-enriched. However, the technology required to produce 90 percent enriched uranium is a small step from that required to reach the 20 percent threshold. Approximately 250 kilograms of 90 percent uranium is required to create one nuclear weapon, and Tehran seems to have been careful not to reach 250 kilograms worth of 20 percent enriched uranium in its stockpile.
To keep it below that level, Iran has continued its efforts to convert some of its 20 percent stockpile into uranium gas, which are then used in constructing fuel plates. These plates are extremely difficult to process further, making them effectively out of the running for being considered part of any possible weaponization. In the latest IAEA update, Iran reported converting 58 kilograms worth of 20 percent enriched uranium into uranium oxide between the end of September and May. Thus, the IAEA reported 182 kilograms of declared material still in the form of uranium hexafloride.
There are also troubling portions of the report dealing with the Agency’s concerns over the Parchin military base. To date, the IAEA has been denied access to the facility, which is suspected to have been involved with earlier regime efforts to design a trigger for a nuclear weapon. Since first requesting access, it appears a cover-up of the facility’s work has been taking place:
55. Since the Director General’s previous report, Iran has conducted further spreading, levelling and compacting of material over most of the site, a significant proportion of which it has also asphalted. There have also been indications of activity within the chamber building.
56. As previously reported, Iran has stated that the allegation of nuclear activities at the Parchin site is “baseless” and that “the recent activities claimed to be conducted in the vicinity of the location of interest to the Agency, has nothing to do with specified location by the Agency”. Iran’s explanation for the soil displacement by trucks is that it was “due to constructing the Parchin new road”.
Iran’s lack of cooperation over Parchin proved a stumbling block in Iran’s ongoing talks with the U.N. over its nuclear program. IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano warned back in December that the site could soon be cleared of any evidence that could have been uncovered. The IAEA, which has been issuing quarterly reports on Iran’s nuclear activities since 2003, still concludes though that none of Iran’s declared nuclear material has been diverted towards producing a nuclear weapon.
Israeli and U.S. intelligence agencies also still believe that Iran has not made a decision to pursue a nuclear weapon at this time. This has not precluded Congress from beginning to pursue a slew of new action against Iran in recent weeks, with bills in both the House and Senate to increase sanctions on the Islamic Republic. Several experts have questioned the wisdom of ratcheting up sanctions on Iran without end, given the still ongoing pursuit of a diplomatic solution to the stand-off.