Share | Contact Us | NPEC Email Alerts |
Americas Asia, Pacific Rim Europe Greater Middle East & Africa Russia South Asia


  
 

Follow @NuclearPolicy to be the first in on NPEC's latest research

 
More of NPEC’s Work
A chronological listing by resource:

Articles | Working Papers | Interviews | Official Docs & Letters | Op-Eds & Blogs | Press Releases | Presentations | Audio & Video | Testimony & Transcripts
 
HOME > REGIONS > Greater Middle East & Africa      
Greg Jones: Iran Could Get Two Bombs in Four Months

In various papers since 2008, this author has outlined how Iran’s growing centrifuge enrichment program could provide it with the ability to produce Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU) and thereby the ability to manufacture nuclear weapons. On February 21, 2013, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) published its latest safeguards update which shows that Iran has continued its rapid expansion of its enrichment program.  

Mar 19, 2013
AUTHOR: Gregory S. Jones

Iran’s Rapid Expansion of its Enrichment Facilities Continues as the U.S. Concedes That Iran Is Getting “Closer and Closer” to Having Nuclear Weapons

(Download Full Paper in PDF Format)

In various papers since 2008, this author has outlined how Iran’s growing centrifuge enrichment program could provide it with the ability to produce Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU) and thereby the ability to manufacture nuclear weapons.[1]  On February 21, 2013, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) published its latest safeguards update which shows that Iran has continued its rapid expansion of its enrichment program. 

At the end of the summer of 2011, Iran had installed approximately 8,000 centrifuges at its main enrichment facility at Natanz and some pundits were claiming that sanctions had cut off Iran’s supply of materials needed to build new centrifuges, thereby capping Iran’s enrichment capacity.  Since that time Iran has increased the number of centrifuges at Natanz to nearly 12,700, installing 2,255 centrifuges in just the last quarter.  In addition, since the summer of 2011 Iran installed over 2,700 centrifuges at its underground facility at Fordow.  Iran has installed enough new centrifuges at these two facilities so as to nearly double its number of centrifuges in just one and one-half years.  Iran has begun to install more advanced centrifuges at Iran’s main enrichment facility at Natanz, installing 180 up to now and has announced plans to install 3,000 such centrifuges.  Iran also has announced plans to start enriching uranium using 326 advanced centrifuges that are operating at its pilot enrichment facility at Natanz.  Despite converting increasing amounts of its stockpile of 3.5% enriched uranium to 20% enriched uranium, Iran’s production rate of 3.5% enriched uranium is sufficiently high so that in the last year and one-half Iran’s stockpile of 3.5% enriched uranium has increased from about 2,700 kilograms to over 4,000 kilograms.  And despite converting some of its stockpile of 20% enriched uranium to research reactor fuel, in the last year and one-half Iran’s stockpile of 20% enriched uranium has grown from 48 kilograms to 113 kilograms, increasing 13 kilograms in the last quarter.  (This stockpile is in the form of 167 kilograms of uranium hexafluoride). 

With this enrichment capacity and these enriched uranium stockpiles, Iran has two different ways to quickly produce the HEU required for nuclear weapons should it decide to do so (I assume that 20 kilograms of HEU is required per weapon).  I have analyzed this issue in detail in Appendix 1 and summarize the results here in Table 1.  Iran can produce the HEU for nuclear weapons by using batch recycling.  In this process the enriched uranium is run through Iran’s enrichment facilities multiple times until it reaches the required enrichment level.  This process has the advantage of requiring only slight modifications to Iran’s enrichment facilities and is entirely permitted by the IAEA as long as Iran notifies it in advance.  It does have the disadvantage of using Iran’s enriched uranium stockpiles inefficiently and in the past Iran would have been able to produce only one nuclear weapon’s worth of HEU by this method.  However now Iran’s stockpiles of enriched uranium have grown large enough that Iran can produce two nuclear weapon’s worth of HEU using batch recycling.  Using Iran’s currently operating enrichment capabilities, Iran could produce the HEU for a nuclear weapon in just two months and enough HEU for a second nuclear weapon two months after that.  Roughly 4,000 of the centrifuges that Iran has installed are not yet enriching uranium.  It is not hard to imagine that these additional centrifuges could come on-line in the next three to six months (i.e. in the “near-term”).  If they do, then by using batch recycling Iran could produce enough HEU for a nuclear weapon in just one and one-half months and enough HEU for two nuclear weapons in three months. 

Read the Full Analysis


[1] My most recent report is: Gregory S. Jones, “Not a Game-Changer But Is the West Playing a Game With Iran That It Has Already Lost?: Centrifuge Enrichment and the IAEA’s August 30, 2012 Safeguards Update,” September 10, 2012 http://www.npolicy.org/article_file/Iran_Enrichment_Update_9-2012.pdf

The Nonproliferation Policy Education Center (NPEC), is a 501 (c)3 nonpartisan, nonprofit, educational organization
founded in 1994 to promote a better understanding of strategic weapons proliferation issues. NPEC educates policymakers, journalists,
and university professors about proliferation threats and possible new policies and measures to meet them.
Feedback
1601 North Kent Street | Suite 802 | Arlington, VA 22209 | phone: 571-970-3187 | webmaster@npolicy.org