Jeffrey Lewis1,300 Centrifuges at the FEP

Ah, the mighty “told you so.”

Paul and moi expressed skepticism last week that Iran had 3,000 centrifuges, sticking with the six cascades (984) reported at the end of March plus one or more 164-machine cascades after.

Now, Paul points to AP, Reuters (Heinrich) and AFP reporting “Iran has provided information to the agency that it has put into operation 1,312 centrifuges” at Natanz.

(Those are at FEP, so the total number may be ten cascades. Put into operation, by the way, means the Iranians are feeding UF6 aka hex.)

Hmm, how could Paul and I have been so prescient? Well, we cheated, of course. “I can’t provide details,” Paul adds, “but the 1312 number is consistent with some information that I received a couple of weeks ago.”

Amazing what a couple of beers will buy you in this town.


All of this distracts from the real story, which concerns the monitoring arrangements at Natanz.

Heinrich cites a letter from IAEA DDG for Safeguards Ollie Heinonen that “indicated that Tehran was not living up to transparency commitments by refusing to allow short-notice inspectors or camera surveillance at Natanz and restricting access to Arak.”

AFP, on the other hand, quotes a diplomat who claims that Iran and the IAEA agreed to “a combination of unannounced inspections and containment and surveillance measures” that did not include camera surveillance. “For the moment, this is all right,”a diplomat told AFP, pointing to the possibility of a semi-permanent IAEA presence in Iran.

The monitoring arrangements are key. Anybody thirsty?

Upate: ISIS has published the letter, adding “the quantity of UF6 introduced at this time is small and that the cascades are operating under low pressure, indicating that Iran is at an early stage of enrichment in the cascades.”


  1. Geoff Forden (History)

    Perhaps the “real” story is that 1,312 is greater than 500, which is the number of component sets that the IAEA says were sold to Iran. Doesn’t that mean that Iran has had to make some components themselves? It is still an open question just how large their production yield is in accepted centrifuge components.

  2. Matthew Bunn (History)

    This letter is interesting, but the more important letter was Heinonen’s previous missive, in which he reportedly said that for the Agency to be able to fulfill its obligations, there had to be cameras in place by the time there were 500 centrifuges in the underground facility at Natanz. There are more than 500 now, and as far as has been reported, still no cameras.

  3. Jeffrey Lewis (History)

    Actually, Geoff, I always thought the component numbers were between 1,000 and 2,000.

    See my April 2006 post:

    Albright and Hinderstein cite “senior diplomats in Vienna” as claiming that Iran has “components for up to 5,000 centrifuges” and “other senior diplomats” suggesting that some components are of poor quality and that Iran has components for an additional 1,000 to 2,000 centrifuges.

    Maybe it was 500 kits plus components? I don’t honestly remember …



    Wasn’t the camera issue linked to concerns about lack of short-notice inspections — concerns which could be (at least temporarily) mitigated by keeping inspectors in Iran?

  4. Jeffrey Lewis (History)

    Re: 500 Centrifuges.

    GOV/2007/8, dated 22 February 2007, explains:

    In the meantime, the Agency agreed to interim verification arrangements at FEP, involving frequent inspector access but not remote monitoring, provided that these arrangements were in place before Iran started feeding UF6 into the cascades. Iran was informed that these arrangements (which are now in place) would be valid only for as long as the number of machines installed at FEP did not exceed 500, and that, once that number was exceeded, all required safeguards measures would need to be implemented.

    The person who has been all over this, is Andreas Persbo.

  5. Haninah (History)

    If you cite an anonymous source, I’ll tend to believe you, Jeffrey, but just for completeness – the report last week that you and Paul differed with was about 3000 centrifuges being installed. The quote you cite in this post states that “only” 1312 have been put into operation (which, as you explain, means hex is being fed). Is it possible that another 10 cascades may be installed but are not yet in operation?

  6. Jeffrey Lewis (History)


    That’s more or less right—the Iranians may have additional cascades “ready to go.”

    I would be surprised if they didn’t have one or two more cascades finished. Andreas Versbow, by the way, notes that the Iranians are assembling at a rate of about 80 machines a week. That means a new cascade every 2-3 weeks until they run out of components.

    The interesting question, to me, is whether they can push past 2,000 centrifuges using domestically produced components.

  7. Geoff Forden (History)

    The reason I keep coming back to the 500 number is that I’ve been over the IAEA reports that I have and what I found is (from the 2 September 2005 IAEA report):

    “13. As explained by the Deputy Director General for Safeguards (DDG-SG) in March 2005, there have been developments since November 2004 in four areas related to the Agency’s verification of Iran’s P-1 centrifuge enrichment programme, specifically in connection with: (a) a 1987 offer for centrifuge related design, technology and sample components; (b) the genesis of the mid-1990s offer for P-1 centrifuge documentation and components for 500 centrifuges; (c) shipping documents and other documentation related to the delivery of items in connection with the mid-1990s offer; and (d) technical discussions held between Iran and the intermediaries concerning centrifuge enrichment. These developments, as well as the status of the Agency’s inquiries about Iran’s P-2 programme, are addressed below.”

    As far as I know, the IAEA has not changed that account and if Iran had imported more components that would be a finding of deception of major importance.

  8. hass (History)

    El-Baradei: The file continues to move forward. There are still numerous attempts before reaching a peaceful solution. Regarding Iran’s refusal to have the camera, this is untrue, because an agreement on a system had been reached recently, in the past few days, with Iran guaranteeing the agency’s total monitoring over the Natanz installation. It is true that there were some obstacles, but I can tell you that an agreement has been reached with Iran to continue the monitoring over the Natanz installation. The threat of using the nuclear weapon anywhere is a sort of madness. The nuclear weapon cannot be used. Its use anywhere could be the start of the destruction of humanity and its effect on the country which uses it may be equal to the effects on the country against which it is used. There are numerous irresponsible statements by all sides. In fact, our aim is always to ensure that there are no nuclear weapons in Iran, the Middle East or in any c! ountry in the world.

    Source: Al-Ikhbariyah TV, Riyadh, in Arabic 1400 gmt 12 Apr 07

  9. hass (History)

    Meanwhile, back at the ranch:

    India’s list of demands may scuttle nuclear dealUSA Today – Apr 11, 2007WASHINGTON — The Bush administration’s landmark nuclear agreement with India risks collapse because Indian demands — including the right to continue testing…

  10. yale (History)

    Assume Iran gets the 1300 centrifuges running smoothly by June 07.With a production rate of 1.8 kg SWU, then 4.3% LEU sufficient for 20 kg of 90% HEU will be present January 2009.

    If Iran adds one cascade into production every 8 weeks, then the LEU will be available by August 2008.

    At either point, an Iranian breakout is less than 2 additional months to produce the HEU.

    The NIE of mid next decade for an SQ is, was, and shall be, a complete pile of crap.

    (and I’m being generous)

  11. Eaton

    On the topic of LEU, does anyone know how long it takes to dismantle used fuel rods and extract their fissile material for further enrichment? Is this a higly technical process? Does it require specialized machinery and/or techniques? Has it been done before? This could be a relevent issue because Iran claims that it will beginproducing fuel rods next year (i.e. converting enriched UO2 pellets into ceramic pellets and inserting them in to zirconium-encased fuel rods). The time required to reverse this process (or acquire and master the capability to do so) could lengthen the the time it takes for Iran to amass enough HEU for a weapon.

  12. Andreas Persbo

    Presently, Iran’s rate of putting machines together seems to be between 50 and 80 centrifuges per week. However, Gholam Reza Aghazadeh, seems to think that they can assemble centrifuges at a rate of 1.5 to 2 cascades per week during the next 2 to 4 years. Good luck to you, Mr. Aghazadeh.

    In regards to centrifuge manufacture and assembly, the IISS assessed, in 2004, that Iran could assemble 50-100 centrifuges per month. Mark Fitzpatrick writes that “Attributing their information to knowledgeable IAEA officials, Albright and Hinderstein estimated that Iran had about 700 good centrifuges in March 2006, and that it could assemble enough useable centrifuges for a 1,500-machine cascade by the end of 2006 or early 2007”. I have not seen much more on this since, but it would seem like Albright and Hinderstein were quite accurate in their assessment.