The 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), implemented in January 2016, specified that the Fordow enrichment facility in Iran would be converted into a “nuclear, physics and technology centre” with the purpose of international scientific collaboration. Yet, little has been converted, beyond explicitly mandated work on stable isotope separation, and the language in the JCPOA is ambiguous in any case in terms of what exactly the Fordow facility should become. The Fordow compound includes both the well-known tunnel complex housing gas centrifuges and an above-ground support area a few kilometers away. Since the implementation of the JCPOA, however, Iran has been bolstering its ability to build gas centrifuges at the support area, while maintaining its surge capability to produce weapon-grade uranium in the tunnel complex. In an ominous development, Iran recently announced the opening of key new centers at the support area, which in part aim to ease Iran’s dependence on importing controlled goods for its centrifuge program through the establishment of what appears to be a semi-indigenous nuclear-related equipment production line. The development of these capabilities exploits a JCPOA loophole and is unlikely to fulfill what was envisioned as international collaboration for the Fordow facility under the JCPOA. Iran’s activities may also involve violations of the JCPOA’s procurement restrictions and strategic trade controls and sanctions of individual countries. Suppliers need to be on guard against Iran violating sanctions and strategic trade controls in its efforts to obtain relevant subcomponents for the new center from abroad.
Read the full report at the Institute for Science and International Security.