Unexpected! Iran's nuclear stockpile has GROWN by 20% during 18 months of negotiationsIran's nuclear fuel stockpile has GROWN by 20% during the negotiations.
With only one month left before a deadline to complete a nuclear deal with Iran, international inspectors have reported that Tehran’s stockpile of nuclear fuel increased about 20 percent over the last 18 months of negotiations, partially undercutting the Obama administration’s contention that the Iranian program had been “frozen” during that period.
But Western officials and experts cannot quite figure out why. One possibility is that Iran has run into technical problems that have kept it from converting some of its enriched uranium into fuel rods for reactors, which would make the material essentially unusable for weapons. Another is that it is increasing its stockpile to give it an edge if the negotiations fail.
The extent to which Iran’s stockpile has increased was documented in a report issued Friday by the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations organization that monitors compliance with nuclear treaties. The agency’s inspectors, who have had almost daily access to most of Iran’s nuclear production facilities, reported finding no evidence that Iran was racing toward a nuclear weapon, and said Tehran had halted work on facilities that could have given it bomb-making capabilities.
There is little doubt that in the absence of the interim accord, called the “Joint Plan of Action,” Iran would have made even greater strides. But the numbers published Friday by the atomic energy agency show that Iran has continued to enrich uranium aggressively, even though it knew that it was not meeting its goals of converting its stockpile into reactor rods.
The question is: How much of the increased stockpile was done for political reasons, and how much is because adding to the stockpile has proved easier than eliminating it?
The 2013 plan for capping the stockpile relied on Iran’s stated plan to build a “conversion plant” at its sprawling nuclear complex at Isfahan. The plant was intended to turn newly enriched uranium into oxide powder, the first step toward making reactor fuel rods. In other words, while the stockpile would not be reduced, it also should not have grown.
What could go wrong?As the Bipartisan Policy Center, a research group in Washington, said in February, “Iran has failed” to do the conversion. As a result, it added, Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium, compared with when the preliminary accord went into effect, was growing “significantly larger.”