The United Nations’ atomic watchdog has not been able to access data important to monitoring Iran’s nuclear program since late February when the Islamic Republic started restricting international inspections of its facilities, the agency says.
The International Atomic Energy Agency reported in a confidential document distributed to member countries and seen by the Associated Press that it has “not had access to the data from its online enrichment monitors and electronic seals or had access to the measurement recordings registered by its installed measurement devices” since February 23.
While the IAEA and Iran earlier acknowledged the restrictions limited access to surveillance cameras at Iranian facilities, Monday’s report indicated they went much further.
The IAEA acknowledged it could only provide an estimate of Iran’s overall nuclear stockpile as it continues to enrich uranium at its highest level ever.
Iran started limiting inspections in a bid to put pressure on the government of US President Joe Biden to lift crippling sanctions reimposed after then-president Donald Trump pulled out of the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran unilaterally in 2018.
Under the deal, the IAEA placed about 2000 tamper-proof seals on nuclear material and equipment.
Those seals communicated electronically to inspectors.
Automated measuring devices also provided real-time data from the program.
Talks are currently underway in Vienna for the US to rejoin the deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
Since the US withdrawal from the agreement, Iran has been steadily violating its various restrictions, including on the types of centrifuges it is allowed to use, the amount of enriched uranium it is allowed to stockpile and the purity to which it is allowed to enrich.
In the IAEA report, the agency for the first time released estimates of Iran’s stockpile rather than precise figures, saying that as of May 22, Iran’s total enriched uranium stockpile was 3241 kilograms, up about 273 kilograms from the last quarterly report.
That was down from an increase of nearly 525 kilograms reported in the last quarterly report.
Though it wasn’t immediately clear what led to the decrease, it comes as an explosion in April at its underground Natanz nuclear facility affected centrifuges there.
Iran has yet to offer a full accounting of what happened in an attack it described as “nuclear terrorism”.
Israel, which is widely suspected of carrying out the assault, has not commented publicly on it.
The nuclear deal signed in 2015 with the US, UK, Germany, France, China and Russia only permits Iran to keep a total stockpile of 202.8 kilograms of enriched uranium.
The agency said the current stockpile includes 62.8 kilograms of uranium enriched up to 20 per cent purity and 2.4 kilograms enriched up to 60 per cent purity – well above the 3.67 per cent purity allowed under the JCPOA.
Despite Iran’s violations of the deal, the other countries involved have stressed that the agreement was still important as it allowed international inspectors to continue their surveillance of Iran’s nuclear facilities.
Under a confidential agreement called an “Additional Protocol” with Iran, the IAEA collects and analyses images from a series of surveillance cameras installed at Iranian nuclear sites.
Those cameras helped it monitor Iran’s program to see if it is complying with the nuclear deal.