by Peter Jenkins
Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) issued a joint statement on May 21 to the effect that they had agreed on a further set of practical measures within the framework of their November 11, 2013 cooperation agreement. The first two measures relate to IAEA concerns about a possible military dimension (PMD) to Iran’s nuclear program, and the other three to Iran’s Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) safeguards agreement:
1) Exchanging information with the Agency with respect to the allegations related to the initiation of high explosives, including the conduct of large-scale high explosives experimentation in Iran.
2) Providing mutually agreed relevant information and explanations related to studies made and/or papers published in Iran in relation to neutron transport and associated modelling and calculations and their alleged application to compressed materials.
3) Providing mutually agreed information and arranging a technical visit to a centrifuge research and development centre.
4) Providing mutually agreed information and managed access to centrifuge assembly workshops, centrifuge rotor production workshops, and storage facilities, as well as concluding the safeguards approach for the IR-40 reactor.
The aim is to complete implementation of these measures by Aug. 25, 2014. This is the third of such sets. The first was announced on November 11 of last year, the second on February 20.
The absence in Wednesday’s statement of any news about implementation of the Feb. 20 measures is almost certainly insignificant. The IAEA reported on implementation of the Nov. 11 measures in one of its quarterly reports on Iran to the IAEA Board of Governors. It can be inferred that the IAEA intends to report on those Feb. 20 measures in the quarterly report that will likely be issued some ten days before a June 2 meeting of the Board.
A particularly interesting feature of that report will be the IAEA’s findings in relation to the last of the Feb. 20 measures: “Providing information and explanations for the Agency to assess Iran’s stated need…for the development of Exploding Bridge Wire [EBW] detonators”. Since February 22, 2008, if not earlier, the IAEA has believed that such detonators could “be relevant to nuclear weapon R&D”. Will Iran have succeeded in persuading the IAEA that its development of EBW detonators was for conventional military or even civil applications? “EBW detonators are the standard in virtually all conventional military applications and in the mining industry. There is a huge market for them. So characterising them as an indicator of a nuclear weapons program is odd” Robert Kelley, a nuclear weapons expert who has worked at the IAEA, told LobeLog.
Items 1 and 2 in the new list are IAEA concerns first made public in the annex to GOV/2011/65 of November 8, 2011.
In paragraph 57 of that annex, at the end of a section on the neutron initiation of nuclear explosions, the IAEA stated: “Given the importance of neutron generation and transport, and their effect on geometries containing fissile materials in the context of an implosion device, Iran needs to explain to the Agency its objectives and capabilities in this field”.
Paragraphs 47-51 of the same annex relate to alleged Iranian “hydrodynamic experiments”. They detail information made available to the IAEA by third parties; this information suggested that Iran had manufactured surrogate nuclear weapon components (not using fissile or nuclear material) and might have used those surrogates in high explosive experiments.
The fact that Iran is now ready to address these concerns is promising. It suggests a decision in Tehran to be more cooperative than in the past in resolving issues that have enabled Iran’s enemies to impute to Iran the blackest of nuclear intentions.
Nonetheless, it is to be seen whether the IAEA will be satisfied if Iran declines to provide answers that indicate a nuclear weapon connection — if, for instance, they point to a nuclear reactor connection. “Neutron transport is important in reactors as well as nuclear weapons,” remarks Kelley. Can the IAEA bring itself to accept answers that do not support the nuclear weapon accusations that have been leveled at Iran?
The last point to note about this week’s statement is the target completion date of Aug. 25. This is a reminder that the IAEA is pursuing its investigations into Iranian compliance with its NPT safeguards obligations, and alleged nuclear-related activities, in parallel with, but without any formal connection to the negotiations on which the US, Iran and five other powers have embarked pursuant to the November 24, 2013 Joint Plan of Action (JPOA).
It also suggests that the parties to this negotiation have agreed that the resolution of all PMD concerns is not a necessary precondition for agreeing the “comprehensive solution” envisaged in the JPOA, since the negotiation parties continue to hope that, despite recent difficulties, they can wrap up their work by July 20 or thereabouts.
Photo: IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano meett with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javed Zarif at IAEA headquarters in Vienna on February 18 on the margins of the nuclear-related talks between Iran and world powers. Credit: Dean Calma/IAEA