The transformation of Iran

27 September 2016

The impartiality of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) was "indispensable" to the high-level political agreement reached last year on Iran's nuclear-related activities, IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano told delegates at the Agency's 60th General Conference in Vienna yesterday.

Salehi and Amano - September 2016 - 460 (Dean Calma -  IAEA)
Salehi and Amano met at the IAEA headquarters in Vienna yesterday
(Image: Dean Calma/IAEA)

The head of the Iranian delegation said the "file" on nuclear safeguard concerns about Iran's nuclear program was "now closed", while Russia's lead representative at the event described assistance to Iran in meeting its commitments. These are to limit its uranium enrichment activities, eliminate its stockpile of medium-enriched uranium and limit its stockpile of low-enriched uranium over 15 years.

Iran signed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in July 2015 with the E3/EU+3 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the UK and the USA - also referred to as the P5+1 - plus the European Union). Implementation of the agreement began in January after the IAEA confirmed that Iran had taken all the necessary measures. Implementation followed the 16 January release of a report by Amano confirming that Iran had completed the necessary preparatory steps based on verification by IAEA inspectors.

Factual assessment

Amano said: "The Agency worked from 2003 onwards to verify Iran's nuclear program. We reported regularly on Iran's implementation of its safeguards agreement with the Agency, and of UN Security Council resolutions. Last year, we provided a clear, factual assessment of Iran's past nuclear activities. The work of the Agency was indispensable in paving the way for the diplomatic breakthrough achieved last year in the form of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action."

He added: "We are now verifying and monitoring Iran's implementation of its nuclear-related commitments under that agreement. The fact that the Agency enjoyed the confidence of all parties in this very complex issue is a tribute to the professionalism, objectivity and impartiality of our inspectors."

The IAEA currently implements safeguards in 181 of its Member States, 173 of which have Comprehensive Safeguards Agreements in force. "As Director General, I have encouraged countries to implement the Additional Protocol, a powerful verification tool that gives the Agency greater access to information and locations," Amano said. "The number of countries with Additional Protocols in force has risen to 128 today from 93 in 2009."

The Additional Protocol is a legal document that supplements IAEA Member States safeguards agreements. It grants the IAEA complementary legal authority to verify a Member State's safeguards obligations.

Mutual respect

Ali Akbar Salehi, Iranian vice-president and chairman of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, said Amano's "official and decisive report on the final assessment of Iran's past and present nuclear issues ... closed forever this false and fabricated nuclear file."

The "epoch making" JCPOA agreement "was undoubtedly achieved as the result of my nation's persistence on its inalienable rights", he said. "This is a diplomatic triumph, not only for Iran, but also for the history of world politics. It is now incumbent upon all of us to work together in good faith to sustain the integrity of the JCPOA, which we believe is in the interests of the entire international community."

He added: "My country has played its role with great efforts by implementing all its JCPOA commitments, which was monitored and verified by the Agency, as well as continuing its close cooperation with the IAEA through voluntary effectuation of the Additional Protocol in accordance with the provisions of the JCPOA. However, expectations regarding comprehensive and expeditious removal of all sanctions [against Iran], as stipulated in the JCPOA, have yet to be met."

Nuclear power program

Iran will accelerate its development of peaceful nuclear technology, "both in power and non-power domains and applications", he said. The country is keen to cooperate, he added, with "technologically advanced" IAEA Member States.

Russian-built Bushehr 1, the first nuclear power unit in the Middle East, started commercial operation in September 2013. The VVER-1000 pressurized water reactor was recently handed over to the Iranian operator after its "successful commissioning and safe operation", Salehi said. Power generation from the unit has so far avoided the use of 25 million barrels of equivalent oil and prevented the emission of about 16 million tonnes of greenhouse gases, he said.

The first foundation stone for Bushehr units 2 and 3 was laid in a ceremony held at the construction site in southern Iran on 10 September.

In addition to Iran's development of "various aspects" of fission technology, Salehi said attempts in developing nuclear fusion technology as a national project is also "under serious consideration". Initial steps in this regard have been taken with the assistance of international partners, such as the EU and the IAEA, he added.

Russian assistance

Sergey Kirienko, director general of Russian state nuclear corporation Rosatom, said Russia is also assisting Iran with measures that are "not directly related to Russian areas of responsibility" under the JCPOA.

"On 28 of December last year we removed from Iran all surplus low-enriched uranium and nuclear materials. This meant that on 16 January we were able to declare JCPOA implementation day," Kirienko said. "On 13 and 20 of September this year, there were two flights to Russia that carried 38 tonnes of Iranian heavy water. And we're working with the Iranian parties to modify two cascades at the Fordow [uranium enrichment] plant to produce stable isotopes."

Safety and security

"As a pioneer country in the region utilising peaceful nuclear energy," Iran has "always attached high priority to nuclear safety," Salehi said. "In this regard, setting up an advanced nuclear safety centre equipped with modern technology and equipment is being contemplated. This centre can be considered as a fulcrum in regional nuclear safety cooperation." A nuclear safety conference is "envisaged to be convened" in Iran, he said, which could be used as a "conduit for collaboration and better understanding" among countries in the Persian Gulf.

The "inclusive participation" of IAEA Member States is essential for developments in nuclear security, he said. Iran will therefore participate in the upcoming IAEA international conference on nuclear security to be held in Vienna between 5 and 9 December, he added.

"One of the most wretched instances of nuclear sabotage is the employment of cyber-attacks, a vivid example of which was the deployment of the Stuxnet virus against nuclear and other civil facilities in my country," he said. "While supporting the implementation of the IAEA safeguards, and the related verification mechanisms, we expect that the application of the state-level concept and approach should not lead to discriminatory implementation of the respective measure and to undermining the sovereignty of Member States."

Implementation of the JCPOA and the safeguards regime, including the voluntary application of the Additional Protocol, has "paved the way" for the IAEA "to expeditiously reach the stage of broader conclusion vis-à-vis my country". The key point, however, is that the IAEA "continues to adhere to the principle of confidentiality", he added.

US support

Ernest Moniz, US energy secretary, read a message from President Barack Obama to the IAEA General Conference, which included reference to the JCPOA.

Implementation of the agreement "demonstrates what can be achieved through a commitment to informed, principled democracy", Obama wrote. "The IAEA's efforts to verify Iran's performance of its commitments under the JCPOA are vital and help assure us that the JCPOA is accomplishing its objectives of ensuring Iran's nuclear program is and remains exclusively peaceful. The United States will continue to fully implement its commitments under the JCPOA, and we urge all parties to provide continued support to the IAEA's important verification role."

Earlier this year, Obama hosted the fourth Nuclear Security Summit, which aimed, he said, "to accelerate international efforts to reduce the evolving threat posed by nuclear terrorism and to make progress toward strengthened international norms and standards for nuclear security."

He added: "I am confident that by working together real progress can be made in enhancing the nuclear non-proliferation regime and promoting the peaceful uses of nuclear energy.

Moniz said that, across the four Nuclear Security Summits, more than 3.8 metric tons of material have been removed or dispositioned; 34 HEU-fuelled research reactors and isotope production facilities in 18 countries have been converted to use LEU and targets or shut down; all HEU has been eliminated from "15 countries and Taiwan"; and 11 countries have ratified the Amendment to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material this year, resulting in its entry in force.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News