VIENNA – Iran has resolved two outstanding inquiries from the International Atomic Energy Agency over highly enriched uranium particles and a site where man-made uranium was found, according to confidential reports seen Wednesday by The Associated Press.
The IAEA reports ease pressure slightly on Tehran, which has been escalating its program for years since the U.S. unilaterally withdrew from its nuclear deal with world powers in 2018. However, it continues to amass more uranium nearer than ever to weapons-grade level, worrying nonproliferation experts.
The two confidential quarterly reports by the Vienna-based IAEA, distributed to member states of the organization, said inspectors no longer had questions on uranium particles found to be enriched to 83.7% at its underground Fordo facility. That had sparked tensions over the last several months as uranium enriched to 90% is weapons-grade material.
Iran had argued those particles were a byproduct of its current enrichment as particles can reach higher enrichment levels in fluctuations.
"The agency informed Iran that, following its evaluation of the data, the agency had assessed that the information provided was not inconsistent with Iran’s explanation ... and that the agency had no further questions on this matter at this stage,” the reports said.
The report said investigators also have closed off their investigation of traces of man-made uranium found at Marivan, near the city of Abadeh, some 525 kilometers (325 miles) southeast of Tehran.
Analysts had repeatedly linked Marivan to Iran’s secret military nuclear program and accused Iran of conducting high-explosives tests there in the early 2000s. The IAEA reports seen Wednesday also referenced that “Iran conducted explosive experiments with protective shielding in preparation for the use of neutron detectors and nuclear material” at the site.
The report said that “another member state” operated a mine at the area in the 1960s and 1970s under the rule of then-Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. It wasn't immediately clear which nation was involved in the mining.
Iran had argued the uranium traces could have come from “laboratory instruments and equipment” used by miners at the site. The IAEA called the answer “a possible explanation.”
“The agency at this time has no additional questions on the depleted uranium particles detected at Marivan ... and the matter is no longer outstanding at this stage,” it said. The agency also installed enrichment monitoring devices at Fordo and Natanz, Iran's other main enrichment site, the report said.
Separately, the IAEA acknowledged installing new cameras at a workshops in the Iranian city of Isfahan where centrifuge rotors and bellows are manufactured. Centrifuges rapidly spin uranium gas, enriching it.
However, Iran has been withholding surveillance footage from the IAEA since February 2021 amid its tensions with the West, as well as removed cameras and other equipment. That raises the risk of Iran being able to have a covert enrichment program if it chose to do so.
The reports come as tensions between Iran and the West have escalated over its nuclear program. Tehran also has faced mass protests recently and anger from the West over it arming Russia with bomb-carrying drones now targeting Ukraine.
Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal limited Tehran’s uranium stockpile to 300 kilograms (661 pounds) and enrichment to 3.67% — enough to fuel a nuclear power plant. The U.S.′ unilateral withdrawal from the accord in 2018 set in motion a series of attacks and escalations by Tehran over its program.
Iran has been producing uranium enriched to 60% purity — a level for which nonproliferation experts already say Tehran has no civilian use. Iran maintains, however, that its program is for peaceful purposes. The IAEA, the West and other countries say Iran had a secret military nuclear program it abandoned in 2003.
The IAEA report also estimated that as of May 13, Iran’s total enriched uranium stockpile was at 4,744.5 kilograms (10,460 pounds). Of that, 114.1 kilograms (251 pounds) is enriched up to 60% purity, a short, technical step to weapons-grade levels.
The last IAEA estimate in February put Iran’s uranium stockpile at some 3,760 kilograms (8,289 pounds). Of that, 87.5 kilograms (192 pounds) was enriched up to 60% purity.
While the IAEA’s director-general has warned that Iran now has enough uranium to produce “several” bombs, months more would likely be needed to build a weapon and potentially miniaturize it to put it on a missile. The U.S. intelligence community has maintained its assessment that Iran isn’t pursuing an atomic bomb.
In a statement, the U.S. State Department said it had “full confidence” in the IAEA and that President Joe Biden was “absolutely committed to never allowing Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon.”
“We appreciate the IAEA’s extensive efforts to engage Iran on longstanding questions related to Iran’s safeguards obligations,” the State Department said. “We have made clear that Iran must fully uphold its safeguards obligations.”
Associated Press writers Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and Matthew Lee in Oslo, Norway, contributed to this report.