Iran is not slowing its nuclear program, ok?

I know the headlines keep saying it, but it ain’t so — look for yourself. Count the black and gray bars, not just the black ones.

The most recent IAEA report on Iran makes clear that Iran continues the pattern noted on this blog of installing about three new cascades per month (See previous posts: Nine Cascades in Vacuum, 24 February 2009 and Thirteen Cascades in Vacuum, 6 June 2009.)

Since November 2008, Iran has installed 27 new cascades, bringing the installed total to 50.

In April, then Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) Director Gholam Reza Aqazadeh announced that Iran would complete installation of 54,000 centrifuges (18 modules of 18 cascades of 164 centrifuges) by the end of the current Five-Year Plan (which ends, please correct me if I am wrong, in March 2015).

This huge and complex project has been completed in the Natanz region and to date around 7,000 machines have been installed there. This number will increase to 50,000 by the end of the five year development plan.

The latter goal implies an installation pace of about 5 cascades month.

The IAEA indicates that “installation work” is continuing in two other modules (capable of holding another 6,000 centrifuges).

I continue to believe that Iran will install between 3-5 cascades a month for the next five years, barring some external intervention, until Natanz houses its complete set of 54,000 centrifuges.

Why Is Iran Operating Fewer Cascades?

The short answer is: I don’t know.

Iran is feeding uranium hexafluoride into fewer cascades than it was in May (the black bars). At least two cascades have been taken off line since then for what a “senior diplomat in Vienna” told Mark Heinrich of Reuters was “repair and maintenance.”

It is possible that Natanz experienced some serious technical setback. Wikileaks claimed in July that “a source associated with Iran’s nuclear program confidentially told WikiLeaks of a serious, recent, nuclear accident at Natanz.” Aqazadeh subsequently resigned — though that could be related to Iran’s unstable political situation.

Whatever the reason, the evidence points to Iran continuing to reject suspension as a condition of negotiations. I note, in passing, that Louis Charbonneau, also of Reuters, had an intriguing story sourced to “Western diplomats” claiming that a group of Iranian pragmatists pushed for a suspension:

Speaking on condition of anonymity, several diplomats said the proposal came from “pragmatists” inside Iran and called for a temporary suspension of “limited scope and duration.”

They were slapped down by Iran’s political leaders.

Whatever the reason for taking those two cascades off-line, I don’t think it is political.

I also recommend analyses by David Albright, Jackie Shire, and Paul Brannan ISIS Analysis of August 2009 IAEA Iran Report of the report to you as well as Peter Crail, Daryl Kimball, and Greg Thielmann, Preliminary Analysis of IAEA Report on Iran’s Nuclear Program.