ISIS Iran Report

Has Iran painted itself into a corner?

January 24, 2009

A piece in today’s Times (UK) suggests that Iran has depleted much of its yellowcake stockpile, most of it procured from South Africa in the mid-1970s, and may be having trouble acquiring additional supplies on the open market.  We know from IAEA reports that Iran’s own uranium ore mining capacity is limited (the November 2004 IAEA report states that Iran would have a total production capacity of 70 tonnes of ore annually, 50 from the Saghand mine and 20 from Gchine; it is not clear today whether Saghand is even operational).  This points up the issue of scale, which has long been at the root of skepticism over Iran’s intentions with its nuclear program:  If Iran seeks self sufficiency across the entire nuclear fuel cycle on a scale suitable for commercial production of reactor-grade fuel, it lacks the indigenous ore reserves and enrichment capacity (though with enough time and luck it might overcome the latter obstacle).  If, on the other hand, Iran’s intention is a weapons capability, its existing infrastructure, including limited ore reserves, are scaled nicely to those objectives.  We discuss some of these issues in our latest report, which also contains a series of policy recommendations for the Obama Administration.

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