A number of new generation Iranian centrifuges are seen on display during Iran's National Nuclear Energy Day in Tehran, Iran April 10, 2021.

Iran Marginally Reduces Its Highly Enriched Uranium Stocks

Monday, 02/26/2024

Iran has diluted some of its near weapons-grade uranium for the first time, but its total stock of nuclear material stands at 27 times the limit agreed in the 2015 JCPOA nuclear deal.

Two confidential reports by the UN nuclear watchdog, sent to member states on Monday, paint an overall bleak picture of Iran’s nuclear program with persisting obstacles to proper inspection casting a shadow over its nature and raising concerns about the intentions of the regime in Tehran.

“Only through constructive and meaningful engagement can these concerns be addressed,” International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief Rafael Grossi wrote in one of his two quarterly reports. “Public statements made in Iran regarding its technical capabilities to produce nuclear weapons only increase the Director General’s concerns about the correctness and completeness of Iran’s safeguards declarations.”

According to the reports, seen by several news outlets, Iran now has more than 5.5 tons of enriched uranium, up by a ton from October. This includes 712.2 kilograms of uranium enriched at up to 20 percent and 121.5 kilograms at up to 60 percent. It’s this latter stock that has decreased by about 7 kilograms in the past hundred days.

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Rafael Grossi attends a press conference, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Kyiv, Ukraine February 6, 2024.

Iran needs a minimum of 42 kilograms of uranium enriched to 60 percent to make a nuclear bomb, based on definitions set by the IAEA. It had enough of this material at the end of 2023 to produce three nuclear bombs. The dilution last quarter means that stock is still more than enough for two.

It’s unclear why Iran decided to get rid of some of its highly-enriched uranium in the last three months. And IAEA has offered no explanation in its reports. It is hard to ignore the fact, however, that the timeframe of this ‘downblending’ matches the timeframe of the recent crisis in the Middle East, which began with Hamas’ rampage of border areas of southern Israel and the ensuing –and ongoing– Israeli onslaught on Gaza last October.

"Maybe they don't want to increase tensions (with the West). Maybe they have an agreement with somebody. We don't know," Reuters quoted a senior diplomat. "At the beginning of the year they decided to do a downblending... A couple of weeks later they did another downblending, this time with a smaller amount."

Whatever the reason behind the decision, the reduction in Iran’s near weapons-grade uranium would likely offer some relief to American and European leaders who have been struggling to find a convincing response to Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

President Joe Biden spent the first half of his term trying to revive the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran –and failed. He then turned to chasing an informal agreement, looking the other way as China purchased tens of billions of Iran’s sanctioned oil, and releasing at least $16 billion of frozen funds, all to encourage the Iranian regime to limit its enrichment program, even temporarily.

As a result of those secret talks, Iran slowed its enrichment of uranium to up to 60 percent last summer. In November, however, it resumed its pre-slowdown activities, according to an IAEA report last December.

Iranian officials have always maintained that Iran’s nuclear program is purely for peaceful purposes. But nuclear experts are almost unanimous in their assessment that enrichment to the levels and in the amounts that Iran has been doing since 2021 cannot be justified in the absence of a weapons program.

Successive US administrations, including the current one, have publicly vowed to prevent Iran from ever obtaining a nuclear weapon. In private, however, politicians and experts say that it’s near impossible to stop the Iranian regime if it ever decides to make a bomb.

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