3 Iran's nuclear programme |
IRAN'S NUCLEAR FACILITIES
47. Iran has two nuclear reactors. A third is under
construction, and in February 2013 Iran announced an intention
to build another 16 nuclear reactors.
The Tehran Research Reactorsupplied by the United States
in the 1960suses fuel derived from uranium enriched to
the 20% level in order to produce isotopes
for medical research. Iran has enough stocks of 20%-enriched uranium
to fuel the reactor for at least ten years. The second reactor,
the pressurised water reactor at Bushehr, is part of the Bushehr
Nuclear Power Plant and uses uranium enriched to 3.5%, supplied
by Russia under a contract which in January had nine years left
48. A third reactor is being built at Arak and is
nearing completion. Iran has stated that the purposes of the reactor
at Arak are research and development, production of radioisotopes
for medical and industrial use, and training;
and it claims that the Arak reactor is designed to replace the
ageing Tehran Research Reactor.
The Arak reactor would use not enriched uranium but heavy water,
which is already being manufactured at a nearby plant. The design
of the Arak reactor makes it well suited to the production of
if it was operating optimally, its spent fuel would produce about
9 kilograms of plutonium annuallyenough for one
or two nuclear
weapons. The plutonium would first have to be separated from the
irradiated fuel before it could be used in a nuclear weapon, by
"reprocessing" it; and Iran is not known to have a reprocessing
facility at present.
49. Iran has two sites at which it is known to enrich
uranium. The existence of the Natanz site, where it enriches uranium
to both 5% and 20%, was disclosed not by the Iranian government
but by the National Council of Resistance of Iran, an Iranian
opposition organisation, in August 2002.
In 2009, it emerged that Iran had constructed a second uranium
enrichment facility, underground at Fordow, where uranium is enriched
Box 1: Iran's uranium enrichment programme
|Uranium is a weakly radioactive metallic element, occurring naturally in a number of variants or "isotopes". Uranium is found and mined in Iran, although there are contradictory reports as to how rich its reserves are and how suitable the raw material is for enrichment. U235, a naturally-occurring isotope, is fissile and is capable, when properly manipulated, of undergoing a nuclear chain reaction so as to create enormous energy.
"Enriching" uranium means processing it to increase the concentration of the U235 isotope. Uranium is converted to a gaseous formuranium hexafluoridewhich is fed into centrifuges: cylindrical devices that separate out materials by spinning them at extremely high speed. The more that uranium is enriched, the easier the enrichment becomes. As a general rule, the greatest effort is required to get uranium to 5% enrichment. Less effort is required to get to 20%, and less still to get to 90%. Iran has installed about 19,000 IR-1 centrifuges in facilities at Natanz and Fordow, although only about 9,000 are in operation. A further 1,008 IR-2 centrifuges, capable of an output which is perhaps five times greater than that of IR-1 centrifuges, have been installed but are not in operation.
Uses of enriched uranium
Enriched uranium has a variety of uses, depending on the level of enrichment:
Uranium enriched to just 3-5% U235 is the typical ingredient for use in fuel rods in nuclear power stations;
Uranium enriched to around 20% U235 or over may be used in research reactors; reactors used for medical or other scientific research purposes, rather than to generate energy for domestic consumption;
Uranium enriched to 90% or higher U235 is used to fuel nuclear submarines and ice-breakers, and can be used for nuclear bombs.
Stocks of enriched uranium held by Iran
According to the November 2013 quarterly report from the International Atomic Energy Agency, Iran had stockpiles of 7,154 kg of uranium enriched to 5%, and 196 kg of uranium enriched to just under 20%.
50. It is possible that further, undeclared nuclear
facilities already exist in Iran or are being constructed. Mr
Fitzpatrick believed that this was "a pretty fair assumption",
as it was Iran's policy not to reveal facilities until they were
ready to come into operation.
The National Council of Resistance of Iran has recently claimed
that a new underground nuclear military site exists near Mobarakeh.
The UK Government doubts that the site is used for nuclear weapon
testing, given its proximity to a major centre of population,
but it says that it is "not clear" whether the site
is used for other nuclear-related purposes.
51. Iran signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty
(NPT) in 1968 and ratified it in 1970. Signatories to the Treaty
are required to conclude a Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement
with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), enabling it
to verify reports of declared nuclear material and activities.
Iran signed such an agreement in May 1974.
Most states which are party to the Treaty and which hold significant
quantities of nuclear material have also signed an Additional
Protocol, which would enhance the IAEA's authority to inspect,
in order to enable it to provide assurances about both declared
and possible undeclared activities. Iran agreed to sign such a
Protocol in 2003 and agreed to implement it provisionally until
it had been ratified by the Majlis;
but in the event the Protocol was never ratified, and Iran ceased
its provisional implementation in February 2006.
52. Iran has a long history of failing to meet its
obligations under the Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement. Allegations
were made to the IAEA in 2003 about the transfer of uranium compounds
to Iran from another statesomething which should have been
declared under the Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement but had
not been. In 2005,
the IAEA Board of Governors declared that Iran was not compliant
with the terms of its Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement and referred
the matter to the UN Security Council; and sanctions resulted.
Notably, Iran failed to submit to the IAEA designs for the uranium
enrichment facility at Fordow in advance of construction, as required
under the Safeguards Agreement. The FCO told us that Iran had
continued to violate the six UN Security Council resolutions requiring
Iran to suspend "all enrichment-related and reprocessing
activities" and to suspend "work on all heavy water-related
THE PURPOSE OF IRAN'S NUCLEAR PROGRAMME
53. Iran maintains that its nuclear programme is
entirely for civilian purposes; but, given that Russia already
supplies the enriched uranium required at Bushehr, and given that
stocks of 20%-enriched uranium held by Iran for use at the Tehran
Research Reactor are already plentiful, there is little dispute
that the quantities of highly-enriched uranium which Iran has
produced and which it would be able to continue to produce exceed
those which might be needed for civil use.
54. The widely-held suspicion is that Iran's nuclear
programme has had both civil and military purposes, to enable
production of enough weapons-grade uranium or plutonium for development
of nuclear weapons.
In November 2011, the IAEA reported that it had concerns about
credible information available to it which indicated that Iran
had carried out activities "relevant to the development of
a nuclear device".
The FCO said in its memorandum that
Iran says that it does not want a nuclear weapon.
But the body of evidence pointing to possible military dimensions
of the nuclear programme, the disparity between Iran's nuclear
infrastructure and its civilian need, and Iran's history of non-compliance
with its safeguards agreement and UN Security Council Resolutions,
gives great cause for concern.
55. Although there is little doubt that there has
been some military purpose to Iran's nuclear programme, it is
not clear whether actual manufacture of a weapon is or was the
defined goal. Professor Alan Johnson, Senior Research Fellow at
BICOM, made a neat distinction, suggesting that a strategic decision
to develop a nuclear weapon had probably been taken years ago,
but not an operational decision to "push ahead".
56. Peter Jenkins, the UK Permanent Representative
to the IAEA from 2001 to 2006, was perhaps more sceptical: he
told us that he believed that there was no conclusive evidence,
at least not in the public domain, that Iran had decided to acquire
nuclear weapons or had embarked on producing either highly-enriched
uranium or plutonium.
We note the National Intelligence Estimate published by the US
in November 2007, which included an assessment "with high
confidence" that Iran had halted its work on nuclear weapon
design and weaponisation work in 2003, and a further assessment
"with moderate confidence" that Tehran had not restarted
its nuclear weapons programme as at mid-2007.
In testimony to the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence
in January 2012, James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence
in the US, confirmed that there was no evidence that Iran had
decided to push ahead with building a nuclear weapon, although
it was keeping open the option of developing nuclear weapons.
The then Director of the CIA, David Petraeus, expressed a similar
57. Some have suggested to us that the overall purpose
of the nuclear programme is political rather than military. Sir
Robert Cooper, who was Counsellor for the European External Action
Service from 2010 to 2012 and who was closely involved in negotiations
with Iran at the time, suggested that the Iranian objective was
not a military conquest of the Middle East but "some kind
of political power in the region".
The National Iranian American Council similarly described the
nuclear issue as "more means than goal" for Iran, the
true aim being "recognition and reintegration in the international
system as an equal player".
58. Regardless of Iran's ultimate purpose, the speed
with which Iran has accelerated its production and installation
of centrifuges in recent years suggests that it intends to at
least give itself the option of acquiring nuclear weapons. The
Henry Jackson Society told us that Iran's behaviour over the last
decade left little doubt that it is was either seeking nuclear
weapons, or at the very least, was seeking to reach the threshold
of nuclear-weapons capacity from which it could "break out"
59. Given the extent of Iran's stocks of enriched
uranium, the question is not so much whether or not Iran has a
nuclear weapons capability: it now has the wherewithal to produce
the necessary quantities of weapons-grade uranium, and so in some
senses it already has that capability, as Mark Fitzpatrick, Director
of the Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Programme at the International
Institute for Strategic Studies, explained to us.
The real issue is whether Iran has reached what is known as "breakout
capacity"a point where it could produce sufficient
weapons-grade uranium for a nuclear warhead quickly enough to
avoid detection or interruption by outside intervention, and how
far advanced Iran is in developing the capacity to manufacture
a warhead from enriched uranium. Further work would then be required
to mount a warhead onto a launchable missile, although it was
suggested to us that Iran could dispense with this stage and use
suicide bombers to detonate a bomb loaded onto a lorry or even
60. The expansion of Iran's enrichment capacity has
shortened the time that it would take Iran to develop weapons-grade
uranium, should it decide to do so.
Peter Jenkins, the UK Permanent Representative to the IAEA from
2001 to 2006, set out a sliding scale of the times required to
produce the necessary quantity for one weapon:
months, using 10,000 first generation IR-1 centrifuges and un-enriched
uranium hexafluoride as feed material
· Six weeks,
using uranium hexafluoride enriched to 3.5%
· Possibly under
two weeks, if 10,000 second generation IR-2 centrifuges are also
The two-week figure has been cited by Mr Olli Heinonen,
a former Deputy Director at the IAEA, who believes that Iran would
then need just "one month or two" to use the highly
enriched uranium to assemble a nuclear weapon.
61. There is
no convincing explanation for why Iran might need for civil purposes
the stocks of enriched uranium which it held in January 2014.
We believe that the primary reason for Iran's decision to build
such a capacity to enrich uranium and to amass stocks to current
levels was to give itself the option to develop a nuclear military
capability. That has almost been achieved. While the Foreign and
Commonwealth Office refers to the body of evidence pointing towards
possible military dimensions of the Iranian nuclear programme,
we are not aware of any unequivocal evidence that Iran has taken
a decision to push ahead and develop a nuclear weapon.
103 Financial Times 24 February 2013 Back
Variants of a chemical element, differing according to the number
of neutrons in the atoms Back
Memorandum from the FCO, page 4 Back
Memorandum from the FCO to the Foreign Affairs Committee inquiry
into Global Security: Iran, Fifth Report of Session 2007-08,
HC 142, Ev 42; see also http://iranprimer.usip.org/blog/2014/apr/28/iran-fact-file-arak-heavy-water-reactor Back
Water composed of deuterium and oxygen, used as a moderator of
neutrons in nuclear power plants Back
Memorandum from the FCO, page 4 Back
See memorandum from Henry Jackson Society, para 14 Back
http://www.isisnucleariran.org/sites/detail/arak; also http://iranprimer.usip.org/blog/2014/apr/28/iran-fact-file-arak-heavy-water-reactor Back
Under the Subsidiary Arrangements to the Comprehensive Safeguards
Agreement which were in force at the time, disclosure of an enrichment
facility was required 180 days before nuclear material was introduced
into it, not at the time of construction. Iran agreed in 2003
that design information on new facilities should be provided to
the IAEA as soon as a decision to construct, authorise or modify
a facility had been taken. See written evidence from the FCO to
the Foreign Affairs Committee inquiry into Global Security:
Iran, published with the Fifth Report of Session 2007-08,
HC 142, paragraph 106 Back
Q 129 Back
HC Deb 2 December 2013 col 568W Back
See Global Security: Iran, Fifth Report of Session 2007-08,
HC 142, FCO memorandum, paragraph 101 Back
See http://www.iaea.org/newscenter/news/2003/iranap20031218.html Back
See Global Security: Iran, Fifth Report of Session 2007-08,
HC 142, FCO memorandum, paragraph 108 Back
120 Memorandum from the FCO, section 2.
See also BBC interview with the Foreign Secretary, https://www.gov.uk/government/news/iran-a-deal-is-on-the-table-and-it-can-be-done Back
See for example Lord Lamont, Q 110; memorandum from the FCO, section
BICOM (The Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre)
told us that there was "near consensus" in Israel that
the programme was intended to provide the capacity to produce
nuclear weapons: see memorandum from BICOM, paragraph 11. Back
See also letter from the Foreign Secretary to the Committee Chairman
on14 May 2013, Back
Memorandum from the FCO, section 2 Back
Q 158 Back
Memorandum from Peter Jenkins, paragraph 5 Back
See New York Times 24 Feb 2012 Back
Q 40 Back
Memorandum from the National Iranian American Council, paragraph 10 Back
Memorandum from the Henry Jackson Society, summary Back
Q 123 Back
Mr Kessler Q 159 Back
Memorandum from the FCO, section 2 Back
Memorandum from Peter Jenkins, paragraph 15 Back
See Times of Israel, 28 October 2013 Back