Iran Watch Newsletter: December 2021

December 17, 2021

Publication Type: 

  • Newsletters

This month's newsletter features a table containing information about Iran’s centrifuges, as well as an update to a report estimating Iran’s ability to make a dash to produce fuel for a small nuclear arsenal. The centrifuge table sets out the capacity and primary materials of each of Iran’s currently-deployed centrifuge models as well as the number of each model installed and/or producing enriched uranium, based on the latest International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reports.

The newsletter also features profiles of entities involved in procurement for Iran's military drone program that were sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department in October. Documents from the Iran Watch library include statements by the parties negotiating a return to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in Vienna and participating in the U.N. Security Council meeting on resolution 2231, as well as news about Iranian advances in uranium enrichment and IAEA monitoring of a centrifuge plant at Karaj.

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A hall of centrifuges at an Iranian nuclear facility

Table | Iran's Centrifuges: Models and Status

Iran possesses thousands of gas centrifuges that are the mainstay of its nuclear program. Gas centrifuges spin uranium hexafluoride gas (UF6) to separate uranium isotopes suitable for nuclear fuel, a process known as uranium enrichment. The number and capacity of these machines determine Iran’s "breakout" time: how long it would take Iran—if it decided to do so—to produce the fuel for a small nuclear arsenal. The machines are also key to Iran's ability to "sneakout" by producing nuclear weapon fuel at secret sites. 

This new table sets out the capacity and primary materials of each of Iran’s currently-deployed centrifuge models, as well as the number of each model known from publicly-available IAEA reports to be installed and/or producing enriched uranium at Iran’s three declared enrichment sites: the Fuel Enrichment Plant (FEP) and Pilot Fuel Enrichment Plant (PFEP) at Natanz and the Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant (FFEP). It will be updated periodically as new IAEA reports are released.

See the table here and bookmark it in your browser. For a detailed analysis of each centrifuge model, read our November report on the implications of Iran's advanced centrifuges.

A nuclear countdown clock superimposed on a yellow barrel

Report Update | Iran’s Nuclear Timetable: The Weapon Potential

Although Iran's enriched uranium stockpile contains sufficient uranium to fuel five nuclear warheads, with further enrichment, Iran's known capacity does not pose an imminent nuclear weapon threat. With its known capacity, Iran cannot make a sudden dash to a nuclear arsenal within a practical length of time. Instead, the main nuclear weapon risk comes from secret sites. That risk will increase as Iran develops more powerful centrifuges, allowing sites to be smaller and easier to hide. Perfecting such centrifuges is a vital step in the long nuclear game Iran has been playing for decades.

This update relies on data from the latest public report by the IAEA. Because Iran has reduced its cooperation with the Agency, the IAEA is no longer able to verify Iran's stockpile of enriched uranium. The Agency’s reports are only able to estimate its contents. Our analysis is based on those estimates.

Read the updated report here.



In late October, the U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned several entities linked to Iran's development and use of military drones. Some of those entities had procured items from abroad for the research and development wing of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Aerospace Force.

Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Aerospace Force Self-Sufficiency Jihad Organization
Involved in Iran's ballistic missile research and flight tests; part of the IRGC Aerospace Force. According to Iranian state media, developed and produced the Ghadir (Qadir) radar system, which was reportedly used during the February 2017 "Defenders of the Velayat Skies" military drill, an exercise involving several missile systems.
Abdollah Mehrabi
A brigadier general in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC); head of the Self-Sufficiency Jihad Organization of the IRGC Aerospace Force (IRGCASF) and co-owner of Oje Parvaz Mado Nafar Company.

Oje Parvaz Mado Nafar Company
An Iran-based company specialized in manufacturing unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) components; has procured UAV engines for entities linked to the IRGC, according to the U.S. Treasury Department.



IAEA Director General Grossi meets with Iranian Deputy FM Seyed Abbas Araghchi in 2021

UN Watchdog Says Iran Will Allow New Cameras At Nuclear Site | Associated Press

December 15, 2021 - Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) have reached an agreement to reinstall monitoring cameras at a centrifuge manufacturing plant in Karaj. IAEA cameras at the site were damaged in an alleged sabotage incident in June, and Iran had subsequently refused to allow IAEA inspectors to replace them. Tehran had alleged, without evidence, that the IAEA cameras had been used to plan the June attack. The IAEA denied this claim but agreed to allow Iranian "security and judiciary" officials to inspect its equipment before it is reinstalled. Iran will continue to withhold the cameras' footage from the IAEA until a broader agreement is reached in ongoing negotiations to restore the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).  (Image: Rafael Grossi meets with Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Seyed Abbas Araghchi in early 2021. Via IAEA Imagebank.)

Iran Makes Nuclear Advance Despite Talks To Salvage 2015 Deal | Reuters

December 1: According to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Iran has begun enriching uranium to 20% purity using advanced centrifuges at its underground Fordow facility. Iran is using one cascade of 166 IR-6 centrifuges to carry out the enrichment. The IAEA said it intends to step up inspections at Fordow as a result. An Iranian statement downplayed the report as routine, but IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi expressed concern. Uranium enrichment at Fordow is prohibited by the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). 
Iranian Banks Notch Win In Dispute Over Sanctions Enforcement | The Washington Post

November 26: An international arbitration panel ruled in late November that Bahrain's government acted improperly when it closed Future Bank in 2015. The bank was a joint venture between Bank Melli and Bank Saderat, two Iranian banks that have been sanctioned by the United States. Bahraini officials argued that Future Bank had to be closed to protect investors from alleged corruption and sanctions violations. However, The Hague-based panel found that Bahrain's actions were not consistent with Bahrain's own banking laws and may have had political motivations, as Iran is a regional rival. It ordered the government of Bahrain to pay the banks more than $270 million in compensation, which Bahrain plans to appeal. 



Negotiations to return Iran and the United States to compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) resumed in Vienna after a five-month pause, while a monitoring dispute between Iran and the IAEA continued in the background.

  • Iran and the IAEA reached an agreement to allow the IAEA to replace cameras in the Karaj centrifuge manufacturing plant - December 15
  • The United States and France expressed frustration that Iran had adopted a maximalist position when negotiations resumed - December 14
  • Iran released a statement ahead of the Vienna talks that emphasized removing sanctions over nuclear concessions - November 29
  • The E3 (France, Germany, and the United Kingdom) voiced grave concern about Iran intimidating IAEA inspectors and a lack of meaningful progress in resolving other issues - November 26
  • The United States called for the IAEA board of directors to “break the current pattern of Iran’s eleventh-hour attempts to undercut Board unity” at the board’s late-November meeting - November 25

In New York, the U.N. Security Council began a meeting to discuss resolution 2231, the U.N. text that underpins the 2015 nuclear deal. European countries took a firm line on Iran's recent nuclear advances.

  • The E3 released a joint statement declaring that Iran’s nuclear escalation is undermining international peace and security - December 14
  • The U.K. ambassador said that "in weeks, not months" Iran could be responsible for collapsing the JCPOA if it continues to escalate its nuclear program - December 14
  • The U.S. ambassador stressed the importance of implementing sanctions measures contained in resolution 2231's Annex B - December 14
  • In their remarks, the Russian mission urged other member states to patiently wait for the Vienna negotiations to run their course before making “far-reaching conclusions” - December 14

The United States sanctioned several Iranian entities for human rights abuses and repression and announced a major forfeiture of Iranian arms bound for regional proxies.

  • The Treasury and State Departments designated several institutions and individuals associated with Iran’s Law Enforcement Forces and Basij in connection with mistreatment of prisoners, excessive use of force, and other human rights abuses - December 7
  • A U.S. court granted the forfeiture of two shipments of Iranian antitank and surface-to-air missiles bound for Yemen that were seized by the U.S. Navy in 2019 and 2020 - December 7