On May 17, Turkey, Brazil and Iran announced an agreement on a proposal for Iran to transfer a portion of its low enriched uranium (LEU) supply to Turkey in exchange for more highly enriched uranium. The proposal followed an agreement between France, Iran, Russia, the United States and the IAEA—the “Vienna Group”—in October 2009 that also focused on a uranium swap. The 2009 proposal was described as a confidence-building measure and was part of a larger effort to get inspections of Iran’s nuclear facilities, including the one at Qom, and Iran back to the negotiation table. Two days after the announcement of this Turkey-Brazil proposal, the permanent members of the UN Security Council announced agreement on a draft for a fourth round of sanctions against Iran.
Below is a comparison of the October 2009 and May 2010 plans.
Iran’s likely uranium supply at the time
2009: 1,500 kg
2010: 2,300 kg
How much uranium would be sent and where
2009: Iran would send 1,200 kg to Russia, which would enrich the uranium from 3.5 percent to 19.75 percent. Russia would then send it to France to be converted into fuel plates.
2010: Iran would send 1,200 kg to Turkey for storage, where the IAEA and Iran could both monitor its safekeeping.
2009: While the LEU was out of the country, Iran would be left with approximately 500 kg of LEU, which is below the minimum amount needed to make one nuclear weapon. It would take the further enrichment of about 1,200 kg and approximately 9-12 months to reach that level. The agreement was also meant to discourage Iran from enriching the uranium at 20 percent.
2010: Iran would be left with a stockpile of uranium that would be enough, or close to enough, to produce a nuclear weapon. In February 2010, Iran began enriching uranium to nearly 20 percent. Tehran has said that enrichment will continue regardless of the recent proposal.
2009: Iran would receive the uranium enriched to 20 percent and converted into fuel plates, which could be used to fuel an Iranian medical research reactor, the Tehran Research Reactor.
2010: Iran would receive 120 kg of uranium enriched to 20 percent and converted into rods as originally promised by the Vienna Group. The rods would be used as fuel for medical purposes. France and Argentina produce this particular fuel; a few other countries produce the fuel also, but in smaller quantities.
Additional elements of the 2010 agreement
- The proposal explicitly allows Iran to continue to enrich uranium, which contravenes previous UN Security Council resolutions.
- The plan fails to outline what happens to the 1,200 kg of LEU being stored in Turkey.
- Iran wants the fuel to be delivered in one year, but France’s fuel fabricator, AREVA EURODIF S.A., has indicated that it would require at least two years to produce that much fuel.
- Iran has the unilateral right to void the agreement and have all LEU returned without specifically outlining what would constitute a breach in contract.