WASHINGTON – The interim nuclear deal between Iran and world powers will allow Tehran to continue far more research and development on centrifuges to enrich uranium than has been publicly recognized, according to a veteran Washington nuclear analyst.
In a new report, David Albright, president of the nonpartisan Institute for Science and International Security, said the deal may delay development of new centrifuges at the Natanz uranium enrichment facility that haven’t yet been fed with uranium hexaflouride, a compound used to produce nuclear fuel.
But the accord, which went into effect Jan. 20, will allow Iran to continue research over the next six months on several types of advanced centrifuges already at Natanz. Iran also is likely to continue centrifuge research and development at other sites, including undisclosed locations, according to the report.
As a result, the deal is “not expected to seriously affect Iran’s centrifuge research and development program,” the report says.
The interim deal, signed Nov. 24, is aimed at halting Iran’s nuclear progress for six months to a year while negotiators from six world powers and Iran try to reach an agreement imposing longer-lasting curbs on the nuclear program. Many nations fear Iran is aiming for a nuclear weapons capability, despite its denials.
Albright said he hopes to persuade the six powers to push for much stricter limits on centrifuge research and development when they negotiate the final agreement.
The issue “has to be addressed much more aggressively,” said Albright, a former United Nations nuclear inspector who has been frequently consulted by U.S. administrations and Congress.
Centrifuge research is an important issue because advanced machines can generate nuclear fuel more quickly, giving Iran the capacity to reach nuclear bomb-making capability in a shorter time.
The Iranians already have used uranium hexaflouride at Natanz to test five types of centrifuges, the IR-1, IR2-M, IR-4, IR-5 and IR6 models, Obama administration officials said at a Jan. 13 briefing for reporters.
U.S. officials have acknowledged that the deal allows Iran to continue several kinds of centrifuge work. They say their goal was to put the brakes on additional installations to prevent Iran from moving ahead in learning how to generate enriched uranium on an industrial scale.
Albright said that although U.S. officials have clearly expressed their desire to roll back Iran’s nuclear program, it is not yet clear that they intend to press hard in the final negotiations for strict limits on centrifuge research and development.
He said it is likely to be a tough fight because the Iranians have made clear their intention to continue centrifuge work. Last week, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani declared that Iran would not accept obstacles to its “scientific progress.”