Nuclear Experts: Iran Failed to Properly Convert its Uranium Stockpile, Violating JPOA

The process by which Iran reduced its stock of low enriched uranium prior to the June 30 negotiating deadline violated the terms of the Joint Plan of Action (JPOA), the agreement it signed with the West in November 2013, according to an analysis (.pdf) published today by the Institute for Science and International Security.

The institute’s analysis was performed in response to an Associated Press report that, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Iran had fulfilled its obligations under the JPOA to reduce its stockpile of enriched uranium.

Iran has met a key commitment under a preliminary nuclear deal setting up the current talks on a final agreement, leaving it with several tons less of the material it could use to make weapons, according to a U.N. report issued Wednesday. …

The report indicated that only several hundred pounds of the oxide that is the end product had been made. But a U.S. official told the AP the rest of the enriched uranium in the pipeline has been transformed into another form of the oxide that would be even more difficult to reconvert into enriched uranium, which can be turned into the fissile core of nuclear arms.

The official said that technical problems by Iran had slowed the process but the United States was satisfied that Iran had met its commitments to reduce the amount of enriched uranium it has stored. He demanded anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the confidential review process.

In addition to disputing the American official’s assertion that the enriched uranium was converted into a material that “was even more difficult to reconvert into enriched uranium,” the institute’s analysis pointed out that Iran wasn’t just obligated to fulfilling a result, but also to abiding by the proper process.

The IAEA reports that since January 20, 2014 until June 30, 2015, Iran produced 4,293 kilograms (kg) of less than 5 percent LEU hexafluoride. As of June 30, 2015 Iran’s cumulative stock of 3.5 percent LEU hexafluoride is 7,537 kg.1 Therefore, Iran has met part of its commitment in the JPA to feed its newly produced LEU hexafluoride into the Enriched UO2 Powder Plant (EUPP) plant. Yet, of this LEU, only 260 kg (uranium mass) of dioxide has emerged, or an equivalent of 390 kg of LEU hexafluoride, which is 9 percent of what was expected. The remainder of the material remains in intermediate forms in the EUPP conversion plant.

According to an anonymous U.S. official interviewed by the Associated Press, the remainder of the material in the conversion pipeline “has been transformed into another form of the oxide that would be even more difficult to reconvert into enriched uranium.” This intermediate form is likely ammonium diuranate (ADU), but it is not the oxide intended as the final form. Moreover, its difficulty of conversion back to uranium hexafluoride has been disputed by an expert we queried. However, this issue is not about the proliferation resistance of the LEU forms. It is about shifting criteria in the JPA.

When it became clear that Iran could not meet its commitment to convert the LEU into uranium dioxide, the United States revised its criteria for Iran meeting its obligations. In this case, the potential violation refers to Iran not producing the enriched uranium dioxide by the end of the initial six month period of the JPA and again after its first and second extensions. The choosing of a weaker condition that must be met is not a good precedent for interpreting more important provisions in a final deal.

The analysis points out that by excusing Iran’s violation of the terms of the JPOA, the United States raised concerns “about the enforcement of a final deal with Iran.” Given that the amount of enriched uranium that needs to be converted under the terms of a comprehensive, permanent deal is much greater, the government’s handling of this case, in the words of the analysis, “leads to legitimate doubts about how well that major endeavor will go.”

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