Iran is once again testing the limits of the nuclear deal, also known as the JCPOA, by stockpiling much more uranium than it needs for civilian energy generation.
Senior science adviser Olli Heinonen of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a veteran of the International Atomic Energy Agency, notes that Iran is permitted to both produce and import uranium under the JCPOA, but the total of 320 metric tons announced by President Hassan Rouhani in a January 1 speech “suggests it may be stockpiling uranium to reach nuclear breakout before the deal’s initial limitations expire in 2031.”
Heinonen notes that Iran is importing uranium even as it has difficulty finding buyers for the excess enriched material it was required to sell, after producing more than the nuclear deal allowed. The plans Iran submitted to its negotiating partners in the nuclear deal are confidential, but Heinonen argues there is no way they could possibly justify the inventory of radioactive material Tehran is building up.
He calls on Western powers to explain how they will ensure the Iranian stockpile is not enriched to weapons-grade levels and suggests the financing of Iran’s complicated nuclear transactions could do with a cautious review, voicing suspicions that Russia is subsidizing Iran’s questionable activities. (Under the stated terms of the arrangement, Russia is basically swapping nuclear fuel for heavy water from Iran’s reactors.)
The United States signed off on the latest shipment of natural uranium from Russia to Iran, a whopping 116 metric tons — potentially enough for more than 10 nuclear bombs if enriched properly. Two senior diplomats described the shipment to the Associated Press as an incentive for Tehran to remain committed to the JCPOA.
The less charitable interpretation is that it’s another ploy by the departing President Obama to sabotage incoming President Trump, tying the new administration’s hands by making a bigger Iranian uranium stockpile a fact on the ground that Trump won’t be able to change.
The Iranians see the uranium shipment from Russia as “another transparent and clear message to U.S. authorities that the other signatories of the nuclear deal are not going to support Washington’s unilateral sanctions anymore,” as Iranian political analyst Mojtaba Jalalzadeh told Russia’s Sputnik News. He specifically said the uranium would make it harder for the U.S. to “tear up the nuclear deal,” as Trump has vowed to do.