Total Transparency

The November report [.pdf] of Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei to the Board of Governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency begins by noting that the Board had adopted a resolution in September in which, inter alia, it “urged” the Islamic Republic of Iran to implement “transparency measures” that extend beyond the formal requirements of the Iranian Safeguards Agreement [.pdf] and the Additional Protocol.

Iran’s Safeguards Agreement – which gave the IAEA the “right and the obligation” to ensure that safeguards are applied on “all source or special fissionable material” in all peaceful nuclear activities “for the exclusive purpose of verifying that such material is not diverted to nuclear weapons” – entered into force in 1974.

Under that agreement, IAEA inspections are routinely limited to those locations within a facility through which safeguarded nuclear material is expected to flow.

Then, in 2002, at the 46th IAEA General Conference, Reza Aghazadeh, president of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, announced [.pdf] that Iran planned to construct within two decades nuclear power plants with a total capacity of 6,000 MW:

"I take this opportunity to invite all the technologically advanced member states to participate in my country’s ambitious plan for the construction of nuclear power plants and the associated technologies such as fuel cycle, safety, and waste management techniques."

In the early 1990s, Russia had agreed, inter alia, to complete the nuclear power plants at Bushehr, whose construction had begun under the shah, and build a gas-centrifuge uranium-enrichment facility at Natanz.

Also in the early 1990s, China had agreed, inter alia, to provide Iran two 300 MW nuclear power plants and a uranium-conversion plant at Isfahan.

But in 1995, as a result of intense U.S. pressure on Russia and China – and on European suppliers of auxiliary equipment – Russia canceled the gas-centrifuge facility contract and China canceled the power plant contract. In 1997, China also canceled the uranium-conversion plant contract.

The Russians continued to honor their contract to complete at least one of the 1,000 MW power plants at Bushehr.

So the Iranians decided to try to develop or acquire (unbeknownst to the U.S.) elements of the nuclear fuel-cycle themselves. It is important to note that under their existing safeguards agreement, they are – and were – under no obligation to inform the IAEA about any of those activities until shortly before they actually involve(d) the chemical or physical transformation of safeguarded nuclear materials.

In August 2002, the Iranians subjected the uranium-enrichment pilot plant they had under construction at Natanz to IAEA safeguards. They had already subjected the uranium-conversion facility at Isfahan.

The IAEA in subsequent inspections has yet to find anything “wrong” at those or other fuel-cycle related safeguarded facilities. However, in 2002 and early 2003, the IAEA did find imports of small amounts of “source or special nuclear materials” and activities involving their physical or chemical transformation that should have been reported, but weren’t.

The most serious Iranian “violation” was the failure to report the importation from China in 1991 of 0.13 “effective-kilogram” of U235 to be used for testing of different processes involved in the then-to-be-supplied Chinese uranium-conversion facility. The facility the Iranians built themselves had been subject to safeguards ever since construction began, but the Iranians had never reported the test materials – which they had not yet used – they got from China. It was the Iranian view – as well as that of South Korea, et al. – that only “significant” quantities (one effective-kilogram) had to be reported.

Then in December 2003, Iran signed the IAEA Additional Protocol and announced it would “cooperate with the Agency in accordance with the [Additional] Protocol in advance of its ratification.”

Now, after two years of intrusive inspections and reporting on imports of nuclear material and related equipment that would be required by the Additional Protocol (if it were in force) and implementation by Iran of some “transparency measures” that extend beyond the formal requirements of the Iranian Safeguards Agreement and the Additional Protocol, ElBaradei had this to say:

"In order to clarify some of the outstanding issues related to Iran’s enrichment program, Iran’s full transparency is indispensable and overdue.

"Transparency measures should include the provision of information and documentation related to the procurement of dual-use equipment, and permitting visits to relevant military-owned workshops and R&D locations associated with the Physics Research Center and the Lavisan-Shian site.

"These should also include interviews on the acquisition of certain dual-use materials and equipment, and the taking of environmental samples from the above [non-safeguarded] locations."


Author: Gordon Prather

Physicist James Gordon Prather has served as a policy implementing official for national security-related technical matters in the Federal Energy Agency, the Energy Research and Development Administration, the Department of Energy, the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the Department of the Army. Dr. Prather also served as legislative assistant for national security affairs to U.S. Sen. Henry Bellmon, R-Okla. -- ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee and member of the Senate Energy Committee and Appropriations Committee. Dr. Prather had earlier worked as a nuclear weapons physicist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California and Sandia National Laboratory in New Mexico.