U.N. Says Iran Adding to Uranium Stockpile, But Still Cannot Verify Exact Numbers

The United Nations' International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) believes that Iran has added to its stock of highly enriched uranium, potentially violating a 2015 agreement with other global leaders, the Associated Press reported.

The agency, which serves at the atomic watchdog for the U.N., said that it was not able to specify exactly how large Iran's cache of uranium has become because of the restrictions imposed on U.N. inspectors by Tehran earlier in 2021.

In its confidential quarterly report for member nations released Wednesday, the IAEA estimated that the country has around 39 pounds of uranium, an increase of more than 17 pounds since August, that has been enriched to up to 60 percent fissile purity, AP reported. Uranium enriched to that level can be easily refined in order to produce atomic weapons.

The 2015 nuclear accord sets an enrichment limit of 3.67 percent, Reuters reported, meaning that Iran would have far surpassed the cap if the estimates are correct. That possibility, along with the knowledge that Iran is increasing its stockpile of a substance that enables atomic weapons production, has concerned world leaders and renewed efforts to restrict Iran's nuclear program.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani claimed in July that Iran would be capable of enriching uranium to 90 percent purity, weapons grade, if the nation's nuclear reactors needed it, according to Iranian state media. At the time, he also said that Iran was still looking to revive the 2015 deal in exchange for the lifting of sanctions, Reuters reported.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Iran Increases Uranium Stockpile
The United Nations' atomic watchdog said it believes Iran has further increased its stockpile of highly enriched uranium in breach of a 2015 accord with world powers. Above, a worker rides a bicycle in front of the reactor building of the Bushehr nuclear power plant, just outside the southern city of Bushehr, Iran, on October 26, 2010. Majid Asgaripour/AP Photo/Mehr News Agency

The IAEA has been unable to access surveillance footage of Iranian nuclear sites or of online enrichment monitors and electronic seals since February. The agency's chief, Rafael Mariano Grossi, told AP this month that the situation was like "flying in a heavily clouded sky."

In a separate report to member states Wednesday about its work in Iran, the agency said Grossi was concerned about inspectors "being subjected to excessively invasive physical searches by security officials at nuclear facilities in Iran."

"He reiterates the call upon Iran to take immediate steps to remedy the situation, and to implement security procedures at nuclear facilities that are consistent with internationally accepted security practices and Iran's legal obligations in relation to privileges and immunities of the agency and its inspectors," the IAEA said, according to the confidential quarterly report seen by AP.

The agency said it "categorically rejects" the idea its cameras at Iranian nuclear sites played a role in a sabotage attack on the Karaj facility near Tehran in June. Iran accuses Israel of being behind the incident.

A senior diplomat who spoke to AP on condition of anonymity said the searches of the inspectors carried out in Iran were very time-consuming and made some feel intimidated. The diplomat was not authorized to be named while speaking to the media about the visits.

Grossi is expected to travel to Tehran this month for direct talks with Iranian officials on restoring the agency's ability to know in real-time what the country is doing.

Iran Upping Uranium Cache
The International Atomic Energy Agency estimated that the country has around 39 pounds of uranium, an increase of more than 17 pounds since August, that has been enriched to up to 60 percent fissile purity. Above, a technician works at the Uranium Conversion Facility just outside the city of Isfahan, Iran, 255 miles south of the capital Tehran, on February 3, 2007. Vahid Salemi/AP Photo