A recent report by the International Atomic Energy Administration criticized Iran for its efforts to develop uranium metal, a material with no current civilian uses. It’s a violation of the 2015 nuclear agreement signed by Iran which is supposed to prevent Tehran from producing or acquiring uranium metal.
Iran is asking the IAEA not to disclose “unnecessary details” about its nuclear program, presumably including its efforts to make uranium silicide or uranium metal. Tehran says it wants to avoid “misunderstandings” about the intent of its nuclear program.
Three European powers issued a statement warning Iran about its uranium metal production.
“We strongly encourage Iran to end this activity, and return to full compliance with its commitments under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action without delay, if it is serious about preserving this agreement,” France, Britain and Germany said in a joint statement.
“Iran has no credible civilian use for uranium metal,” they said in the statement. “The production of uranium metal has potentially grave military implications.”
Iran claims its development of uranium metal is in order to create a new fuel to power nuclear reactors. The fuel is harder to make than uranium-oxide-based fuels and more expensive, although some studies have shown that it’s safer and more efficient.
The point is, it’s not necessary. Iran now has plenty of low-enriched uranium for fuel and doesn’t need to look for exotic alternatives.
“The advanced fuel production plan … was first submitted to the IAEA more than two years ago, as stated in the IAEA’s recent report; meanwhile more information was sent in several stages and finally the design questionnaire information has been sent to the IAEA,” said a statement carried by state media.
The nuclear deal bans Iran for 15 years from producing or acquiring uranium metal, a material that can be used in the core of a nuclear bomb.
The Iranian breaches raise pressure on U.S. President-elect Joe Biden, who has pledged to return the United States to the deal if Iran first resumes full compliance. Iran wants Washington to lift sanctions first.
“Full compliance” for Iran would be very difficult. It would mean they’d have to stop enriching uranium, cease upgrading their centrifuge program, ship an unknown amount of highly enriched uranium to Russia, and allow for snap inspections by the IAEA. It would be humiliating for Iran to accept that and Iran doesn’t do humiliation.
Iran doesn’t want the IAEA disclosing details of its uranium metal development program because it may tip off the European powers that the program has no civilian uses. Tehran is gearing up its production so that if Biden doesn’t come through for them, it would only be a matter of weeks before they enriched enough uranium for several bombs.
This will be a test for Biden. To what extent will he appease the mullahs in Tehran? He will be under pressure from American doves to make friends with Iran again and rejoining the nuclear deal would signal that. But at what cost?
If Biden accepts a nuclear Iran, it will be a huge blow to our friends in the Middle East who have been resisting Iranian hegemony.