IAEA: Iran’s Uranium Stockpile Is Ten Times Negotiated Cap

Lack of negotiation progress leaves stockpile steadily growing

Trying to force negotiations of sanctions relief,  Iran stopped voluntarily complying with a uranium stockpile cap in June 2019. It was expected this could be quickly resolved, and the cap limit would be easily reversible. The deals never came, however, and negotiation didn’t really happen.

Fast forward well over a year, and the 202 kg limit is now far in the mirror, with the IAEA now saying Iran has 2,105 kg of enriched uranium, ten times the cap limit. Absent a deal, that’s just going to keep slowly growing.

In the past, Iran would send excess uranium abroad to Russia to be processed into fuel for its Bushehr reactor. If there was a deal needed to return Iran to immediate compliance they could just dilute the uranium back down.

Enriched to just over 3%, Iran’s uranium is usable for fuel, but far, far below the 90%+ needed for weaponization. Though opponents of Iran’s civilian program often claim Iran’s stockpile represents a breakout capability, Iran remains under IAEA watch, and has never attempted to increase enrichment to anywhere near weaponization, something which would have plenty of advanced warning.

Reflecting this tendency to overstate Iran’s capabilities, the Free Beacon hastily, and very incorrectly, took this story and claimed it meant Iran is 3.5 months from a nuclear weapon.

This timetable seems to be built on the notion that Iran’s 3.5% uranium would, if further enriched to 90%, be enough for a bomb, and a wild guess on how long that might take based on perfect mastery of the enrichment process.

In practice, Iran has never even attempted to enrich about 20%, and the process is non-trivial. Iran would be doing this with its homemade centrifuges which were not designed with high-level enrichment in mind, and with no practical experience of making that happen.

Even if Iran did, miraculously, manage the enrichment process in a timely fashion, turning a stockpile of weapons-grade uranium, something they’ve never had before, into a functional, deliverable weapon is a tall order, and would likely take years, not months.

And even then, giving way too much credit to this allegation, Iran has at most enough uranium for 2 bombs. To go from that to being a real nuclear state would require a test detonation, which would not only start immediate wars against them, but would also cut their putative arsenal in half before it starts.

Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is news editor of Antiwar.com.