French Presentation to the Nuclear Suppliers Group on the Latest Developments in Iran's Nuclear Program, in Particular on the Plutonium Way

Information Exchange Meeting
November 1, 2003

Weapon Program: 

  • Nuclear
Recent disclosures arising mainly from regime opponents, satellite imagery, purchasing attempts and intelligence reports tend to confirm suspicions about the existence of an Iranian hidden nuclear program.
France's assessment is now that this country may obtain a sufficient quantity of fissionable materials to manufacture a nuclear weapon within a few years. This presentation was coordinated with the American one and will therefore mainly focus on the plutonium way.

Iran presents itself as a country that respects international rules in nuclear matters.

Since 1970, Iran is a party to the NPT. A civilian nuclear program under IAEA safeguards is under development in Iran. However, this country has not signed an Additional Protocol to its full scope safeguard agreement with the IAEA. It only agreed very recently to sign a supplementary arrangement requiring to notify new facilities every six months in advance of their construction. It signed the CTBT in 1996 but has not yet ratified it.

Recent public declarations confirmed the will to reach independence on constructing and operating a comprehensive nuclear fuel cycle.

1. A great deal of information about the Iranian nuclear program and its likely continuation towards military applications was released in August 2002 and February 2003 by opponents to the regime. The following issues have been officially confirmed later on:

  • The construction of an important facility devoted to uranium enrichment by centrifugation at Deh Zireh located about 250km South of Tehran between the cities of Kashan and Natanz.
  • The completion of a heavy water production plant at Khondab in the surroundings of Arak about 200km South East of Tehran.

2. At mid February 2003, the Iranian authorities admitted that:

  • They have continued preparation for exploring the uranium deposit of Saghand
  • They have produced yellow cake near the city of Yazd
  • They have completed tetra and uranium hexafluoride production plants at Isfahan
  • They are building an enrichment facility near Kashan
  • They are building a fuel production plant

3. During his visit in Iran, reported from the 26th of November 2002 until the 21s -22nd of February 2003 by request of the Iranian authorities, the General director of the IAEA M. El Baradei noticed the presence of a pilot assembly of 164 centrifuges and 1000 centrifuges under construction. Doubts remains about the introduction of nuclear materials in this facility. We hope that the IAEA will be able to verify Iranian statements that no nuclear materials were introduced into the plant so far.

4. The existence of a heavy water production plant has been confirmed at the end of February 2002 by the director of the Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran.

As long as no nuclear materials are introduced in the enrichment plant, all these activities seems compatible with the international commitments if Iran. The Iranian authorities justify this program by concerns about energy resources in the future and alternate solutions to fuel the Busher reactor. They insist upon its purely pacific aspect and recall the inalienable right for NPT countries to gain access to nuclear technologies.

The official civilian nuclear program is likely to hide a military program.

For several years intelligence sources have been collecting evidence of a covert military program. The Iranians are suspected to develop two routes to produce fissionable materials.

The Uranium Way

The Iranians have taken up all technological steps leading to the development and the manufacturing of gas centrifuges. They now have a model effective enough to consider enrichment on an industrial scale. There are convincing indications about the origin of the technology - it is of Pakistani type- but Iran undoubtedly controls the manufacturing process of centrifuges and seems even able to improve it. Iran has manufactured a number of gas centrifuges to equip a complete uranium enrichment plant. Actually one thousand of centrifuges are now available to be readily installed at the Deh Zierh site under construction.

The Plutonium Way

The recent developments on the uranium way should not hide continuous efforts by Iran to develop a second way to nuclear weapons capacities. This assessment is based on 3 main elements

1. The information given by the opponents in August last year revealed that a very large heavy water facility was under construction in the site of Arak. This information proved to be true, it was confirmed at the beginning of this year by the Iranian authorities. The heavy water production plant is now near completion. The production capacity - about 100 tons per year - largely exceeds usual civilian needs which are for instance medical applications (nuclear magnetic resonance) or chemical industry. Heavy water as a neutron moderator, is an essential component for weapon grade plutonium production plant using natural uranium fuel.

2. The list of Iranian purchasing attempts by Iran in the French nuclear industry and dual use goods manufacturers is clearly pointing to the development of large capacities in terms of reprocessing and spent fuel manipulation. I would like to give you two very recent and interesting examples

a. At the end of 2000, Iran tried to buy 10 high density radiation shielding windows for hot cells providing a protection equivalent to 140 centimeters of concrete.

b. In 2002, a company based in the UAE tried to purchase 28 remote manipulators, half of them above the NSG threshold for control.

3. During its briefing at the IAEA, the chairman of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, M. Aghazadeh informed of Iran's intention to achieve the completion of the heavy water plant and to build a reactor using heavy water and natural uranium. This kind of reactor is producing a low quantity of electricity and given the cost of development we can reasonable have doubts about the actual final intentions. Iran has probably already tried in the recent years to purchase such an equipment but did not succeed.

Besides, France would like to point out that what M. Aghazadeh told to the IAEA during its briefing is contrary to what he had said in February to our Ambassador in Tehran. At the time he had indicated that the heavy water way would be stopped. We have no explanation on this evolution on Iran's nuclear policy.

Iran appears ready to develop nuclear weapons within a few years

To this presentation France would like to add some interesting information. Among recent purchasing attempts by Iran in France, our intelligence services have reported interest from Iran for documentation on generators and tubes for flash radiography and impulsion generators. These items are usable for nuclear tests and simulation. Other purchasing attempts consist of isostatic press, vacuum furnace, items both usable to forge pieces of metallic uranium or plutonium.

To conclude, the French government would like to strongly advise NSG participating governments to exercise the most serious vigilance on their exports to Iran and Iranian front companies.