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The IAEA’s Latest Report Falls Short

Olli Heinonen
4th March 2016 - FDD Research

Executive Summary: The International Atomic Energy Agency’s most recent report on Iran’s nuclear activities provides insufficient details on important verification and monitoring issues. The report does not list inventories of nuclear materials and equipment or the status of key sites and facilities. Without detailed reporting, the international community cannot be sure that Iran is upholding its commitments under the nuclear deal. Over the longer term, this will hamper efforts to reach a “broader conclusion” that all nuclear material and activities are accounted for and for peaceful use.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) issued its first report last week since implementation in January of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear deal. The report indicates that Iran is complying with its commitments under the deal, yet lacks relevant details to explain how the IAEA draws its conclusions. The United States has stressed that the JCPOA depends on robust verification and transparency, making detailed reporting on Iran’s implementation of its commitments all the more important.

An Incomplete Report

The IAEA’s first report since the JCPOA’s January 16 “Implementation Day” offers surprisingly scant information on key issues:

Uranium Enrichment: The report does not provide inventories of low-enriched uranium Iran has declared, let alone the actual inventories the IAEA has verified. In its own response to the IAEA report, the Institute for Science and International Security draws attention to the lack of information on uranium inventories enriched to 3.67-percent and 20-percent U-235. As of December 2015, Iran had substantial inventories of the aforementioned nuclear materials as “holdup” – namely a build-up of leftover nuclear material in process equipment, as well as liquid and solid wastes, and scrap.

Given the JCPOA’s requirement that Iran stockpile no more than 300 kilograms of 3.67-percent enriched uranium and no 20-percent enriched uranium, the IAEA should have delineated Iran’s efforts to recover both 3.67-percent and 20-percent materials through decontamination, solidification, and packing for shipment outside the country (to Russia). A precise accounting of the amount of enriched uranium shipped to Russia should have also been included in the report to demonstrate that these nuclear materials are no longer in Iran’s stockpile but rather part of Russia’s nuclear material inventory. Separately, under its own safeguards agreement with the IAEA, Russia is required to report receipt of any nuclear material shipped from Iran.

Other Uranium Inventories: Nuclear material inventories are a staple of IAEA verification. The IAEA monitored the stocks, production, and imports of uranium ore concentrate in Iran in 2003 and 2004, and again since the implementation of the interim nuclear deal in 2014. Since 2014, it has not, however, provided any information on declared inventories and verification coverage, or on inspection visits to mines and uranium concentration plants. Incidentally, Iran has in the past voluntarily submitted relatively detailed information to the IAEA and OECD’s “Red Book” (a biennial report on worldwide uranium stocks) concerning its uranium mines and operations.

Furthermore, the JCPOA stipulates that for 15 years Iran will forego uranium and plutonium metallurgy and reprocessing. Concerning reprocessing, IAEA reporting would have to include the current status of irradiated uranium targets for its early reprocessing experiments still stored in Iran – information that has not been reflected in IAEA reports in the last few years. Similarly, the IAEA has not reported in recent years on any activities (or lack thereof) at the once-active uranium metallurgy laboratories in Tehran and Isfahan, which still possess relevant equipment. Such laboratories, even if they no longer store nuclear material, are sites at which the IAEA should be granted so-called “complementary” access aimed at confirming the absence of undeclared uranium metallurgy research and development.

Centrifuge Components: The IAEA report also does not provide information about the numbers and types of centrifuge rotors and bellows in Iran’s inventory. These components are essential in assessing breakout times, and reinstallation of previously removed advanced centrifuges or installation of new ones can directly affect the one-year breakout time that proponents of the JCPOA maintain it enforces. An accounting of this inventory is also important as a baseline for further monitoring.

Additional Protocol Implementation: The report does not indicate whether the IAEA has conducted complementary access under the Additional Protocol (AP). Access, cooperation, and the ability of inspectors to gain prompt entry are crucial tools in confirming the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities.

Contextualizing Issues: The IAEA report states, “Iran has continued to permit the Agency to use on-line enrichment monitors and electronic seals which communicate their status within nuclear sites to Agency inspectors, and to facilitate the automated collection of Agency measurement recordings registered by installed measurement devices.” A reading of this paragraph could suggest that monitoring is satisfactory. However, the activities outlined in this paragraph represent only one facet of monitoring objectives. Online enrichment monitors and electronic seals have been part of the IAEA safeguards approach for decades. In Iran’s case, Tehran did not permit the use of such equipment until recently, and still does not allow transmission outside of Iran.

The report also implies that the use of enrichment monitors is an enhanced transparency measure, when in fact, it should be viewed as a routine verification tool. Newly developed online enrichment monitors in Iran are more precise in measuring enrichment levels than the earlier equipment. Nonetheless, it is important to understand that these new instruments indicate only that enrichment of uranium is occurring; they do not tell how much enriched uranium is being produced. The instruments by themselves do not detect, for example, unreported excess production of low and high enriched uranium that is siphoned off before reaching the enrichment monitors – a serious diversion and misuse concern. Unannounced IAEA inspections remain cornerstones of the verification processes, as does the monitoring of the uranium feed, withdrawal stations, and centrifuge cascade areas; environmental sampling; and complementary access.


Insufficient reporting does no favors for the IAEA or P5+1 international negotiators. For years, Tehran has advocated for less-detailed IAEA safeguards reports, citing concerns ranging from confidentiality matters to IAEA inspection authorities under the comprehensive safeguards agreement. The IAEA has consistently refuted these arguments. Less-detailed reporting, after all, fails to provide the transparency required for the JCPOA’s verification. Over the longer term, this will only hamper efforts to reach a “broader conclusion” that all nuclear material and activities are accounted for and for peaceful use.

In order to instill the international community’s confidence in its full compliance with the JCPOA, Iran will have to stake a starkly different course. If, as it insists, it is in compliance with the deal, then Tehran should favor much more detailed IAEA reports that document that compliance and explain its nuclear aspirations, both in terms of past and future work. It is in the interest of Iran, the P5+1, and the IAEA to demonstrate, with full transparency, that Iran is in full compliance with its Safeguards Agreement with the IAEA and its other international commitments.

Dr. Olli Heinonen is an advisor on science and nonproliferation at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. He is the former deputy director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and head of its Department of Safeguards.


iaea, iran, jcpoa, nonproliferation