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IRAN’S URANIUM ENRICHMENT CAPACITY REACHES RECORD HIGH

Region of Concern: Iran

Written By Cayla Lee; Edited by Jennifer Loy

Date: December 17, 2022

Natural Uranium Ore[1]



Event: On December 17, 2022, head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, Mohammad Eslam, told state media that the country’s capacity to enrich uranium had reached, “more than twice the entire history of this industry.”[2] Iran’s announcement comes just a day before the UN’s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), was set to travel there. Iran’s last recorded stockpile was estimated at 62.3 kilograms of uranium enriched to up to 60% fissile purity and a collective total of 3673.7 kilograms. 90% fissile purity levels are considered weapons-grade. Nonproliferation experts have been warning that Iran has enough 60%-enriched uranium to produce at least one nuclear bomb.[3]


Significance: Iran is very likely close to enriching its uranium to weapons-grade levels of 90% purity. This will almost certainly allow Iran to have the ability to construct nuclear weapons at a quicker rate. Iran’s growing arsenal very likely poses a threat to its neighboring countries and larger powers, such as the US and EU, which will likely lead to further implementation of sanctions. More sanctions placed on Iran will very likely negatively impact civilians, but will likely not deter the government. Iran’s new capacity will very likely call the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) into question, as some participants, especially the US and EU, will likely push for negotiations once more. The government is likely to challenge the JCPOA, rather than agree to previous terms of dismantling much of its nuclear program. This is very likely due to the recent military partnership between Iran and Russia, which was one of the negotiating nations along with China. Russia, as part of the UN Security Council which oversaw the JCPOA, is likely to favor Iran’s interests if negotiations recommence. Moscow is also likely to gain more influence in the Middle East through the partnership with Iran, which will very likely heighten tensions within the region and with other powers, especially the US and EU.


Recommendations: Nations involved in the JCPOA negotiations should revive discussions to address Iran’s growing capacity. Middle Eastern nations, such as Saudi Arabia and Israel, should be included in new rounds of negotiations, as a nuclear-armed Iran will cause immediate security concerns in the region. Negotiations should focus on limiting or deterring nuclear weapons production, rather than dismantling Iran’s nuclear program. Cooperation with the IAEA should also be a focus during negotiations to monitor and verify Iran’s materials. The IAEA should continue promoting safe usage of uranium as nuclear energy by stressing its willingness to cooperate with the Iranian government.

 

[1]Natural Uranium Ore” by Nuclear Regulatory Commission licensed under CC BY 2.0

[2] Iranian atomic official says uranium enrichment capacity hits record highs, The Times of Israel, December 2022, https://www.timesofisrael.com/iranian-atomic-official-says-uranium-enrichment-capacity-hits-record-highs/

[3] Ibid

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