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IAEA voices serious concern over Iran’s nuclear activities

  • Category
    International Relations
  • Published
    25th Jun, 2020

The International Atomic Energy Association raised it serious concern over Iran's Nuclear sites and country's failure to cooperate with agency probe into undeclared nuclear material in the country.

Context

The International Atomic Energy Association raised it serious concern over Iran's Nuclear sites and country's failure to cooperate with agency probe into undeclared nuclear material in the country.

Background

  • Iran's interest in nuclear technology dates to the 1950s, when the country received technical assistance under the S.Atoms for Peace program.
  • While this assistance ended with the 1979 Iranian Revolution, Iran remained interested in nuclear technology and developed an extensive nuclear fuel cycle, including sophisticated enrichment capabilities, which became the subject of intense international negotiations and sanctions between 2002 and 2015. 
  • Negotiations between the P5+1 and Iran yielded the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in July 2015, a comprehensive 25-year nuclear agreement limiting Iran's nuclear capacity in exchange for sanctions relief.
  • Under the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Iran dismantled much of its nuclear program and gave international inspectors extensive access to its facilities in exchange for relief from economic sanctions.
  • The United States withdrew itself from the agreement in May 2018, saying it failed to address Iran’s ballistic missile program and its role in regional wars.
  • The United States reimposed sanctions and moved to wipe out Iran’s oil exports, prompting Iran to resume some of its nuclear activities.
  • US’s withdrawal from the arms control agreement heightened tensions and left the remaining signatories scrambling to keep the deal alive.
  • Following the U.S. killing of Iranian military commander Qasem Soleimani in January 2020, Iran announced plans to halt most of its commitments to the deal.

Analysis

What is the JCPOA deal?

  • The JCPOA, which was signed in July 2015 and went into effect the following January, imposes restrictions on Iran’s civilian nuclear enrichment program.
  • China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States—the five permanent members of the UN Security Council—negotiated the agreement alongside Germany; together they were known as the P5+1.
  • Initially, US’s intention was to set back Iran’s nuclear program so that if Iran were to pursue a nuclear weapon, the amount of time it would need to produce enough fissile material—an indicator known as “breakout time”—would be at least a year, up from just a few weeks.
  • To extend that breakout time, the agreement requires that uranium enrichment at Fordow and Natanz be restricted and a heavy-water reactor, at Arak, have its core rendered inoperable; its plutonium byproduct, the P5+1 countries feared, could have been reprocessed into weapons-grade material.
  • These facilities are now being repurposedfor research, industrial, or medical purposes, and they are subjected to inspections by monitors from the UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). 

What’s the matter now?

  • The agency has expressed “serious concern” about Iran’s failure to cooperate with its investigation of possible undeclared nuclear material and past activity at three sites.
    • Iran refused to allow IAEA access to two sites where it seeks to detect any past nuclear activity by taking environmental samples.
    • The third site has been so thoroughly cleansed that sampling would not be useful.
  • In addition, for almost a year Iran has refused to engage substantively with the IAEA over its questions concerning the use of possible undeclared nuclear material in the early 2000s and what had happened to it since.
  • The most serious questions concern suspected work on an undeclared uranium metal disk that might have been used in the production of uranium deuteride as a component for nuclear weapons.
  • Other issues include the unreported processing and conversion of uranium ore and the possible use and storage of nuclear material at a location where explosive testing may have taken place.
  • As per the report
    • Iran has been enriching uranium hexafluoride gas to 4.5% of the fissile isotope uranium-235 (U-235) over the past year.
    • By 20 May, it had stockpiled 1572 kilograms of enriched uranium, ostensibly for use in civilian reactors.
    • Nuclear bombs require enrichment levels exceeding 90% of U-235.
  • This is just the latest in a long list of Iranian violations of the terms of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), or the nuclear deal. 

About IAEA

  • Widely known as the world’s “Atoms for Peace and Development” organization within the United Nations family, the IAEA is the international centre for cooperation in the nuclear field.
  • The IAEA was created in 1957 in response to the deep fears and expectations generated by the discoveries and diverse uses of nuclear technology.
  • The Agency works with its Member States and multiple partners worldwide to promote the safe, secure and peaceful use of nuclear technologies.
  • India is a founding member of IAEA.

Iran’s Stockpile amount

  • Iran began last year to exceed the 202.8 kg limit on low enriched uranium (commonly expressed as 300 kg of uranium hexaflouride, UF6).
  • It has now accumulated 1,571.6 kg, although 483 kg of that amount is enriched only up to 2 percent or less, far from the 90 percent needed for a bomb.
  • Subtracting the latter leaves 1,085 of useful material, which if further enriched to weapons grade, a process that would take several months, is theoretically enough for one nuclear weapon.
  • It is to be noted that before the JCPOA was negotiated, Iran had about 9,000 kg of UF6, enough for several bombs.
  • Iran is not racing to reach that level, which at the current pace of accumulation would take another three years.

Conclusion

If Iran continues to ignore the IAEA’s questions about the use, storage and location of nuclear materials, the issue could be raised with the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). The recent report show Iran has significantly failed to meet its commitments and that fact will bear on the UNSC’s decision to extend the arms embargo on Iran.

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