EghtesadOnline: Rafael Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said the UN agency has maintained “a good level of cooperation” with Iran over its nuclear program.
Grossi visited Tehran in late August for meetings with top officials and managed to break a months-long impasse over two locations suspected in the early 2000s to have undeclared nuclear material or possibly conducted nuclear-related activities. Tehran has denied the allegations.
Inspectors have now taken samples from both of those sites and Grossi said they are still undergoing lab analysis.
“It was a constructive solution to a problem what we were having,” he said in an interview with AP.
“And I would say since then, we have kept the good level of cooperation in the sense that our inspectors are regularly present and visiting the sites.”
The IAEA chief also said inspectors from the UN atomic watchdog have confirmed Iran has started building an underground centrifuge assembly plant after its previous one was damaged in what Tehran called a sabotage attack over the summer.
“Iran also continues to stockpile higher amounts of low-enriched uranium, but does not appear to possess enough to produce a weapon,” Grossi said.
Tehran says its nuclear activities are totally for peaceful purposes and have no military aspects.
Following the July explosion at the Natanz nuclear site, Tehran said it would build a new, more secure structure in the mountains around the area.
“They have started, but it’s not completed,” Grossi said. “It’s a long process.”
Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, last month told state television the destroyed above-ground facility was being replaced with one “in the heart of the mountains around Natanz”.
Natanz hosts Iran’s main uranium enrichment facility. In its long underground halls, centrifuges rapidly spin uranium hexafluoride gas to enrich uranium.
It became a flashpoint for western fears about Iran’s nuclear program in 2002. In 2003, IAEA visited Natanz, which Iran said would house centrifuges for its nuclear program, buried under some 7.6 meters of concrete. That offers protection from potential airstrikes on the site, which also is guarded by anti-aircraft positions.
Natanz had been previously targeted by the Stuxnet computer virus, which was believed to be a creation of the US and Israel. Iran has yet to say who it suspects of carrying out the sabotage in the July incident. Suspicion has fallen on Israel as well.
Under the provisions of the landmark 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, Iran is allowed to produce a certain amount of enriched uranium for non-military purposes.
In return, Iran was offered economic incentives by the countries involved, which never materialized.
Since US President Donald Trump pulled Washington unilaterally out of the deal in 2018 and reimposed sanctions, the other signatories—Germany, France, Britain, Russia and China— have been struggling to keep the deal alive.
Iran has been steadily exceeding the deal’s limits on how much uranium it can stockpile, the purity to which it can enrich uranium and other restrictions to pressure those countries to come up with a plan to facilitate the economic benefits promised under JCPOA.
Nevertheless, Iran has continued to allow IAEA inspectors full access to its nuclear facilities, including Natanz, Grossi said.
In the latest IAEA quarterly report, the agency reported Iran as of Aug. 25 had stockpiled 2,105.4 kilograms of low-enriched uranium, well above the 202.8 kilograms allowed under the JCPOA. It was also enriching uranium to a purity of 4.5%, higher than the 3.67% allowed under the deal.
In the next report, due in coming weeks, Grossi said, “We continue to see the same trend that we have seen so far.”
According to a western analysis, Iran would need roughly 1,050 kilograms of low-enriched uranium—under 5% purity—in gas form and would then need to enrich it further to weapons-grade, or more than 90% purity, to make a nuclear weapon, an objective Tehran says will never pursue.
IAEA’s current assessment is, however, that Iran does not possess a “significant quantity” of uranium— defined by the agency as enough to produce a bomb—according to Grossi.
“At the moment, I’m not in contact with my inspectors, but by memory, I wouldn’t say so,” he said.
“All of these are projections and the IAEA is not into speculation. What may happen? What could happen? We are inspectors; we say the amounts that we see.”
Grossi noted that before JCPOA, Iran had enriched its uranium up to 20% purity, which is just a short technical step away from the weapons-grade level of 90%. And in 2013, Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium was already more than 7,000 kilograms with higher enrichment, but it did not pursue a bomb.
“The idea of a ‘significant quantity’ is a technical parameter ... that applies in the context of the safeguards agreement to indicate amounts which could be theoretically used for the development of a nuclear weapon,” he said.
“The fact that there could be such an amount would not indicate automatically that a nuclear weapon is being fabricated, so I think we have to be very careful when we use these terms.”