Survey of Iran’s Advanced Centrifuges - March 2023

·  Iran now has over 3700 IR-2m centrifuges installed, which exceeds not only the 1000 IR-2m centrifuges installed prior to the JCPOA, but also the 3000 IR-2m centrifuges planned prior to the JCPOA. The origin of the newly deployed IR-2m centrifuges could not be determined. They may have been produced since 2018 or produced prior to 2016. In the former case, Iran may have greatly expanded its advanced centrifuge production rate. In the latter case, Iran would have retrieved them from a secret storage location not declared under the admittedly loose rules of the JCPOA. The latter case would confirm a long-held suspicion that prior to the JCPOA, Iran had manufactured 3000 IR-2m centrifuges for installation at the FEP but only installed about 1000 of them, hiding the rest.

·  In November 2022, Iran announced its plan to install 14 IR-6 centrifuge cascades at the Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant Fordow (FFEP), where six IR-6 cascades would replace six currently operating IR-1 centrifuge cascades, and result in a total of 16 IR-6 cascades, or 2656 IR-6 centrifuges, at Fordow. The installation of these extra IR-6 centrifuges has yet to begin, but preparations are ongoing.

·  If Iran finished the installation of these planned IR-6 centrifuges, the potential of the FFEP to be used in a breakout to weapon-grade uranium would change drastically, posing a severe breakout risk in a deeply buried facility. With all 16 IR-6 centrifuge cascades working together to make 90 percent enriched uranium, Fordow could rapidly produce weapon-grade uranium from Iran’s existing stock of 20 percent enriched uranium, enough for one nuclear weapon in nine days, and enough for a total of three nuclear weapons in less than a month. The use of its stock of 60 percent enriched uranium in a breakout would add to these totals.

·  On November 22, Iran began to use the two cascades of IR-6 centrifuges at the FFEP “in an interconnected mode” to produce 60 percent enriched uranium from 5 percent feed.

·  In January, Iran may have purposely and temporarily increased the level of enrichment reached in the IR-6 cascades above 60 percent HEU, potentially gaining valuable experience in how to modify the two cascades to produce near-weapon-grade uranium.

·  On January 21, 2023, during an unannounced inspection, IAEA inspectors found the IR-6 cascades operating in a way that was undeclared by Iran. The following day, the inspectors took environmental samples at the product sampling point and detected the presence of near 84 percent enriched uranium.

·  With the new developments and plans at Fordow, the IR-6 appears to have emerged as Iran’s centrifuge of choice for HEU production . This choice is worrisome, since it is the type that requires the fewest for a secret enrichment plant among the IR-1, IR-2m and IR-4 centrifuges, has fewer design details available than the other production-scale centrifuges, and lacks credible information on the total number manufactured.

·  Iran has met its announced goal of installing 21 cascades of IR-2m centrifuges. However, it has not met its goals for other advanced centrifuges. In addition to the 14 IR-6 cascades discussed above, Iran has yet to begin the installation of the remaining eight cascades of a set of 12 long-announced IR-4 centrifuge cascades at the Natanz FEP. During the last reporting period, Iran completed one additional cascade, the fourth of the set.

·  On February 25, 2023, Iran announced to the IAEA a change in its design information for Fordow, allowing for either IR-1 or IR-6 centrifuge cascades. Thus, if Iran fails to make sufficient IR-6 centrifuges to outfit 14 cascades, it may install IR-1 cascades instead. Pending more concrete results, the Institute’s projection, in which it is assumed that all 14 cascades would be IR-6 centrifuges, is unchanged. However, this change in the design information does highlight the flexibility Iran is seeking and could perhaps indicate an inability to make the required number of IR-6 centrifuges.

·  Based on Iran’s plans reported by the IAEA, the Institute projects that Iran plans on deploying about 3700 additional advanced centrifuges, reaching a total of 9479 advanced centrifuges. Iran did not provide a schedule of deployments and the Institute considers this at least a one-year, perhaps a two-year deployment plan, based on current understandings of Iran’s ability to manufacture and assemble centrifuges.

·  Iran currently has a total installed nominal enrichment capacity of approximately 29,100 SWU per year, where advanced centrifuges account for almost 80 percent of the capacity, or 22,600 SWU per year, compared to the IR-1 centrifuges which account for about 6400 SWU per year. This exceeds any previously installed enrichment capacity, including before the JCPOA.

·  A centrifuge assembly facility continues to be constructed underneath a mountain near the Natanz FEP. Its date of completion is unknown, although it may not be operational this year, perhaps not operational until sometime in 2024.2

·  With Iran accelerating its advanced centrifuge deployments, uncertainties are growing in the estimated number of advanced centrifuges produced in excess of those deployed, increasing concern that Iran will again seek to build a clandestine enrichment plant, using advanced centrifuges manufactured in secret.

·  The IAEA newly reports that it can no longer reestablish continuity of knowledge about Iran’s activities under a revived JCPOA, including the production of advanced centrifuges, and says it would need to establish a new baseline altogether, requiring access to extensive records. It reports, “Any future baseline for [JCPOA] verification and monitoring activities would take a considerable time to establish and would have a significant degree of uncertainty.”

·  Over the weekend of March 4th, IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi traveled to Tehran for high-level meetings and returned with an IAEA/Iran Joint Statement. The statement is vague on Iranian commitments; however, Grossi also received verbal commitments from Iran, which he detailed during two press conferences following the visit. One commitment was to reestablish monitoring at sites involved in making and assembling centrifuge rotors and bellows.

David Albright is President and Founder of the Institute for Science and International Security. Sarah Burkhard is Research Associate, and Spencer Faragasso is research Fellow, at the Institute for Science and International Security. This article is published courtesy of the Institute for Science and International Security.