Policy Brief - Foundation for Defense of Democracies

Iran Stockpiling Uranium Far Above Current Needs

| January 10, 2017

In a televised speech on January 1, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said that Tehran had imported 200 metric tons of yellowcake uranium and would import another 120 tons at an unspecified future date. The imports are permitted by the nuclear deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), but nonetheless significantly exceed Iran’s needs for natural (that is, unenriched) uranium over the next 15 years. Iran’s import of such high levels of uranium suggests it may be stockpiling uranium to reach nuclear breakout before the deal’s initial limitations expire in 2031.

The JCPOA permits Iran to buy natural uranium to “replenish” its stocks as it sells enriched uranium on the international market. To date, Iran has had difficulties locating a buyer for its enriched uranium stocks – unsurprising, given the current excess of commercially available enriched uranium. This, however, has not stopped Iran from buying and stockpiling more yellowcake.

While the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) quarterly reports do not provide any information on the quantities of Iran’s exports of low-enriched uranium, Iranian nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi announced in December 2015 that his country would export around 9 metric tons of its enriched uranium to Russia in exchange for 137 metric tons of natural uranium.[1] In addition, in December 2015, Kazakhstan supplied 60 metric tons to Iran at the request of the JCPOA’s Joint Commission, as part of Iran’s “compensation” for removing its excess low-enriched uranium above the JCPOA limits. Taken together, those totals match Rouhani’s figures from last week.

Iran’s natural uranium acquisitions are not purely open-market commercial transactions as envisioned in the JCPOA. Norway funded $6 million of the shipment from Kazakhstan, which exceeds current market prices of uranium concentrates. This further raises questions over whether Iran paid for the shipment of the remaining 140 metric tons of yellowcake from Russia, or if there are other understandings or subsidies involved to sweeten the deal for the Islamic Republic.

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Heinonen, Olli. “Iran Stockpiling Uranium Far Above Current Needs.” Policy Brief, Foundation for Defense of Democracies, January 10, 2017.

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