In a close reading of the latest International Atomic Energy Agency report, it’s clear that what is so sophisticated is that Iran — though still in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions — can keep claiming that its enrichment program is not for weapons. It can claim instead that the program is meant to provide fuel for the 45-year-old Tehran Research Reactor, future research or energy-producing reactors.
Of the 437.4 pounds of 20 percent enriched uranium produced through mid-August at Natanz, Iran’s primary enrichment facility, and Fordow, the newer plant under a mountain near Qom, the IAEA reported that 212.3 pounds had been sent for conversion to fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor.
Simultaneously, Iran added 1,076 centrifuges to the Fordow facility, which already had 1,064. Through Aug. 18, however, none of the newly installed centrifuges were connected to pipes, which meant that the IAEA had to guess whether they eventually will produce 20 percent enriched uranium or 3.5 percent. That’s according to the Institute for Science and International Security, a nonprofit group that has studied the Iran program.
One major demand of the United States and its allies is that Iran halt its uranium-enriching program and particularly the 20 percent element. They also want Iran to export the already produced 20 percent enriched uranium. This is all in hopes of preventing Tehran from getting a nuclear weapon.
Irony alert: It was the United States that in 1967 supplied Iran with the Tehran reactor under the Atoms for Peace program. At the time, the fuel, also U.S. supplied, was 93 percent enriched uranium, which could have been used for weapons.
After the 1979 Iranian revolution, when American Embassy employees were taken hostage, the United States stopped supplying fuel, and the reactor was closed. In 1988, Argentina agreed to provide fuel for the reactor, but only after it was converted for enriched uranium at the 20 percent level. The fuel arrived in 1993 and was expected to last through 2010.
Beginning in 2003, the possibility that Iran was pursuing nuclear weapons capability led to linking Tehran’s acquisition of replacement 20 percent enriched uranium to the country dropping its enrichment capability. Negotiations failed; economic sanctions were applied; but Iran continues enriching uranium.
In February, Iran said it had placed new fuel rods made from its own 20 percent enriched uranium into the Tehran reactor, and two months later it claimed the reactor was working.
April was important for another reason. It marked the restart of negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 — Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China, plus the United States. Both sides laid out step-by-step processes that eventually would lead to a final agreement. So far, after two more meetings, little progress has been reported.