Iran has tripled its stockpile of enriched uranium over the past three months and failed to provide inspectors access to two undeclared sites, the UN nuclear watchdog said on Tuesday, in two reports that will raise concerns about the pace at which Tehran is ramping up its atomic activity.
One of the confidential reports obtained by the Financial Times from the International Atomic Energy Agency, which is tasked with monitoring Iran’s compliance with its 2015 nuclear accord and other protocols, said Iran’s total enriched uranium stockpile had reached 1,020.9kg, up 648.6kg since the previous quarterly report.
A second report, also obtained by the FT, said Tehran had failed to respond to three letters and follow-up reminders from the IAEA, which had questions “related to possible undeclared nuclear material and nuclear-related activities at three locations in Iran that had not been declared by Iran”.
Iran then refused the IAEA access to two sites at which the agency made a request to carry out “location-specific environmental sampling” after receiving no replies to its six letters. It had asked whether natural uranium or nuclear material was present at three sites, which it did not name in the report.
“In its reply dated January 31 2020, the agency noted with serious concern that Iran had not satisfied the agency’s requests for clarifications and access,” the report said. It added that Iran had offered no other means to resolve the questions or engage in substantive discussions with the agency.
IAEA director-general Rafael Grossi called on Iran “immediately to co-operate fully with the agency, including by providing prompt access to the locations specified by the agency in accordance with its obligations” in the report. Tehran’s refusal was “adversely affecting” the IAEA’s ability to provide credible assurance of the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran, he added.
Iran has been increasing its nuclear activity in stages since May in response to President Donald Trump’s 2018 decision to unilaterally withdraw the US from the nuclear agreement Tehran signed with world powers.
In January Iran said it would no longer abide by any of the uranium enrichment limits it had agreed to under the 2015 deal. That caused European signatories to the accord to trigger a “dispute resolution mechanism” in a sign of growing concern about Tehran’s activities.
The move could ultimately lead to the reimposition of UN sanctions. European diplomats say they are still hopeful of keeping the deal from total collapse through a diplomatic process and have urged Tehran to strike a deal with Washington.
The deal’s remaining signatories — France, the UK, Germany, Russia and China — oppose Mr Trump’s decision to withdraw from the deal and his imposition of swingeing sanctions on the Islamic republic. But the scale of Washington’s punitive measures have stymied their efforts to keep open finance and trade lines with Iran, which has been plunged into a deep recession.
Under the 2015 deal, Iran agreed to limit its stockpile of enriched uranium at 300kg.
Tehran insists it is committed to the deal. It has continued to allow the IAEA to conduct what is described as the UN watchdog’s most stringent inspection regime.
But it accuses the other signatories, particularly the Europeans, of failing to deliver the economic dividend Tehran was promised after it agreed to limit its nuclear activity in return for many sanctions being lifted under the terms of the accord.
Kazem Gharib Abadi, Iran’s representative to IAEA, was muted on access to the two locations. Instead, he said the watchdog acknowledged the republic was still voluntarily allowing inspections and that the IAEA report confirmed Iran’s nuclear activity was not diverted into a weapons programme.
Tehran has always insisted its atomic programme is for peaceful civilian purposes.
The IAEA report said the uranium was enriched to a maximum level of 4.5 per cent, higher than the 3.67 per cent allowed under the nuclear pact, but far short of the 90 per cent that experts say is necessary for a bomb.
The 35 board members of the IAEA are due to meet on March 9 to consider the reports, which were handed out privately to 171 member countries on Tuesday.