Does the Iranian nuclear program serve military purposes after all? This assumption is suggested by a report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which was presented in Vienna on Wednesday (September 7th). According to the report, Iran has continued to enrich uranium well beyond the limits agreed in the 2015 nuclear deal. In August, the Iranian stock was estimated at 3,940 kilograms – more than 19 times the contractually agreed limit.
The IAEA said it could not “guarantee that Iran’s nuclear program is exclusively peaceful.” There had been “no progress” on whether nuclear materials were present at undeclared sites. IAEA chief Rafael Grossi expressed “increasing concern” in the report.
He called on Iran to “comply with its legal obligations” and to cooperate as soon as possible.
In another report, the IAEA also regrets Iran’s decision, announced in June, to remove 27 surveillance cameras designed to allow the organization’s inspectors to monitor nuclear activities.
The removal of the cameras had “adverse effects on the organization’s ability to ensure the peaceful character of Iran’s nuclear program,” according to the nuclear agency based in the Austrian capital.
While Iran has restricted access by the IAEA, it has continued to accumulate enriched uranium, according to the IAEA in recent months. Diplomatic circles in Vienna said on Wednesday that Iran, given its progress in uranium enrichment, would now probably need “three to four weeks” to reach the amount required for a nuclear weapon.
However, this does not mean that Iran is in possession of a nuclear bomb at this time. The enriched uranium is enough to make a bomb, says political scientist and Iranian scientist Mohammadbagher Forough from the German Institute for Global and Area Studies (GIGA) in Hamburg.
“But it’s only enough to build a single bomb, not a whole row. In this respect, a single bomb makes no sense militarily. The world’s nuclear powers don’t rely on a single bomb, because you can’t go to war with that. A single bomb is insufficient given that other states have many times that amount that they could use to much more serious effect,” Forough told DW.
For other reasons, too, Iran is still a long way from having an operational bomb, Forough said. For example, Iran currently does not have the technology required to detonate a nuclear bomb. “The history of nuclear power has shown that it takes years to actually build a bomb out of nuclear weapons-grade material. In this respect, the IAEA has described the seriousness of the situation. But one must not conclude from this that Iran is on the verge of possessing a nuclear bomb.”
Political scientist Oliver Meier from the Hamburg Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy considers it worrying that Iran has more and more highly enriched fissile material at its disposal than permitted under the nuclear agreement. In addition, the country had a heavy water reactor for a while that could also have produced plutonium. “But that path is closed at the moment,” Meier told DW.
However, Iran has centrifuges that are more modern than would have been permitted under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JSPOA), as the nuclear deal between Iran and the international community is officially called.
The same applies to the degree of enrichment and the amount of uranium. “There, all limits are exceeded for Iran to be technically capable of producing enough weapons-grade uranium for a nuclear weapon within a few weeks.”
However, Iran also needs other technologies to produce a bomb. “Iran has been working on that too. There has also apparently been research into the manufacture of missile warheads. However, since 2009 there has been no evidence that this research has been continued or resumed.”
Why is Iran enriching uranium to such an extent? Mohammadbagher Forough says that the government in Tehran is primarily concerned with building up political pressure. From an Iranian perspective, the agreements reached in the JCPOA have become obsolete since the US unilaterally withdrew from the agreement under the Trump administration in 2018.
“Uranium enrichment is primarily a means of getting the USA and other actors to sign the agreement that has now been largely negotiated in Vienna.”
This applies all the more as the midterm elections approach in the United States. “It cannot be ruled out that the Democrats led by US President Biden will lose their majority in Congress. In this case, the signing of the agreement is rather unlikely. That’s another reason why Iran is putting pressure on us,” said Forough. In Tehran, it is very important to end the sanctions imposed on Iran.
However, Iran itself stands in the way of further progress in the negotiations, says Oliver Meier. The dialogue is made more difficult by the fact that the IAEA’s verification options are limited.
“Therefore, the IAEA has now stated more clearly that an agreement on the restoration of the JCPOA requires additional measures in order to be able to better monitor the Iranian nuclear program. There are many unanswered questions. And it is important to clarify them quickly.”
Author: Kersten Knipp
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The original of this article “Iran, Uranium and the Bomb” comes from Deutsche Welle.