A Comprehensive Survey of Iran’s Advanced Centrifuges

December 2, 2021

Weapon Program: 

  • Nuclear

Author: 

David Albright, Sarah Burkhard, and Spencer Faragasso

Publication: 

Institute for Science and International Security

Iran’s development of gas centrifuges to enrich uranium has been long-standing and seemingly haphazard but in general encompasses a program seeking longer, faster centrifuges, while struggling with reliability. Cost does not seem to be a constraining factor, making the program more strategic than commercial.

Iran’s first centrifuge deployed on an industrial scale is the IR-1, and like the Pakistani model it copied, itself derived from Dutch designs stolen in the 1970s, the IR-1 centrifuge has been rife with problems. Although Iran acquired both designs and several hundred complete centrifuges from Pakistan’s A.Q. Khan network in the late 1980s and early 1990s, it took years to master and deploy the IR-1 centrifuges by the thousands. Ever since the IR-1 centrifuge was first deployed on a development scale in the 1990s and an industrial scale in the 2000s, it has suffered from very low outputs and high failure rates often exceeding 20 percent per year. An Iranian priority has been replacing the IR-1 centrifuge with a more reliable, powerful one. In the 1990s, Iranian centrifuge experts set out to develop a variant of another Pakistani type, the P2 centrifuge, this time a German design also stolen by Pakistan in the 1970s and provided to Iran in the 1990s.

Over the course of the last twenty years, based on modifications to the P2 designs, Iran has worked on upwards of 20 different advanced centrifuge types, abandoning many, and never, during this period, fielding a robust replacement for the IR-1 centrifuge, until perhaps today. Since Iran started its major violations of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in 2019, it emphasized centrifuge research and development, leading to the accelerated development and deployment of three centrifuge types: the IR-2m, IR-4, and IR-6 centrifuges. In addition, Iran continues working on many other advanced centrifuge types.

Because the advanced centrifuges are significantly more powerful than the IR-1 centrifuge, they pose a greater threat from their use in a breakout to nuclear weapons or deployment in a clandestine enrichment plant. As a result, they were a special concern in negotiations of the JCPOA, leading to severe, albeit temporary limits on their testing and development.

Much about Iran’s different types of advanced centrifuges remains publicly unknown, due to Iranian secrecy. This report presents information gathered by the Institute over the last fifteen years on the individual types and the families of centrifuge types, as many individual types are closely related. It is a comprehensive public survey of Iran’s advanced centrifuges.

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Read the full report at the Institute for Science and International Security.