Visibility into Iran’s nuclear program dimmed last year after the Persian Gulf nation removed cameras and surveillance equipment, raising international concern about the ability to carry out checks.
(Bloomberg) — Visibility into Iran’s nuclear program dimmed last year after the Persian Gulf nation removed cameras and surveillance equipment, raising international concern about the ability to carry out checks.
International Atomic Energy Agency data shows the number of examinations fell by 10% in 2022 after Iran ended monitoring arrangements specified under the now-collapsed agreement with world powers. Inspectors “were seriously affected by Iran’s decision,” IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi wrote in a restricted document circulated among diplomats this week, a copy of which was seen by Bloomberg News.
Iran began to progressively restrict IAEA access after the Trump administration tore up an international agreement aimed at preventing the country’s ability to build a bomb five years ago. The deal had restricted the country’s nuclear work and allowed for expanded monitoring in exchange for sanctions relief, and negotiations to revive it remain in limbo. Meanwhile, Tehran’s atomic activities have advanced and knowledge about past developments have become more opaque.
“Iran has yet to clarify and resolve the outstanding safeguards issues,” Grossi wrote in the 116-page annual Safeguards Implementation Report. “There is important and significant work ahead of us on this matter.”
In March, the IAEA held talks in Tehran after inspectors discovered uranium particles enriched just below the level needed for nuclear weapons. While the sample was likely an anomaly created by a reconfigured uranium-enrichment methods, Grossi used the incident to press for more transparency.
The diplomat wrote that while he “welcomed Iran’s high-level assurances” that it would boost its cooperation, he stopped short of reporting any progress. The IAEA’s Board of Governors will assess the latest data when it convenes next month in Vienna.
Iran’s nuclear program remains the world’s most closely-watched, receiving two-thirds more inspections than second-placed Japan despite possessing just a fraction of the nuclear material.
While the Persian Gulf nation has always maintained its atomic work is exclusively peaceful, international governments negotiated the 2015 nuclear agreement because they doubted that claim.
The IAEA also reported in its annual safeguards review that:
- Russia’s war on Ukraine and occupation of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant prevented inspectors from drawing their so-called broader conclusion all nuclear material remained in exclusively peaceful activities. “Current circumstances prevent the Agency from verifying certain nuclear material previously declared by Ukraine,” according to the report.
- The agency continued negotiations with Australia, the UK and US over ways to monitor highly-enriched uranium used to power conventionally-armed nuclear submarines. Some countries argue the so-called AUKUS deal could exempt uranium fuel from inspections while submarines are deployed, potentially degrading the global monitoring regime. Iran, which is already producing highly enriched uranium, has suggested it too could pursue nuclear submarines.
- Inspectors conducted a total of 2,180 inspections at 722 safeguarded facilities worldwide. They accounted for volumes of uranium and plutonium equivalent to the amount needed to build more than 200,000 nuclear weapons.
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