Iran’s promise to clarify its use of detonators marks only an initial step by Tehran to address long-standing allegations of past nuclear weapons research, the UN atomic watchdog said yesterday.
“This is the first step that is taking place now,” International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) lead inspector Tero Varjoranta told reporters at Vienna airport after returning from Iran.
“There is still a lot of outstanding issues, so now we are starting on the PMD [possible military dimensions],” he said.
On Sunday, Iran and the IAEA agreed a new seven-step plan to increase transparency, including a pledge by Iran to provide “information and explanations for the agency to assess Iran’s stated need or application for the development of exploding bridge wire detonators.”
These detonators, known as EBWs, can have “non-nuclear applications,” the IAEA said in a November 2011 report, but mostly they are used in weapons research and therefore Iran’s stated development of them “is a matter of concern.”
The 2011 report detailed information made available to the agency, much of it thought to be provided by Western and Israeli intelligence, about suspected “possible military dimensions” of Iran’s program.
More than two years of talks between the agency and Iran on addressing these claims failed to make progress. Iran denies it ever worked on nuclear weapons technology and says the evidence outlined by the IAEA is fabricated.
However, following the election of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani last year, the two sides have been trying a different approach, agreeing in November last year on six steps, which have now been completed.
Progress has also been made in parallel talks between Iran and world powers, with Iran agreeing in November in Geneva to freeze parts of its nuclear program for six months in return for minor sanctions relief.
Talks between Iran and the six powers — the US, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany — on a long-term, “comprehensive” accord are due to start in Vienna on Tuesday next week.
They are expected to last for months.
In the latest agreement, the IAEA will also have “managed access” to the Saghand uranium mine and the Ardakan yellowcake facility where an impure form of uranium oxide is prepared to be fed into centrifuges for enrichment.
Officially unveiled in April last year, the plant in Ardakan receives raw material from Saghand, about 120km away. It can reportedly produce up to 60 tonnes of yellowcake annually.
Iran also agreed to submit updated design information and finalize a safeguards mechanism for the so-called heavy water reactor under construction in Arak.