Iran's Rapid Expansion of its Enrichment Facilities Continues as the Entire Nonproliferation System Threatens to Unravel
Centrifuge Enrichment and the IAEA May 22, 2013 Safeguards Update
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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 May 22, 2013, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) published its latest safeguards update which shows that Iran has continued the 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 14,244, installing 3,830 centrifuges in just the last six months. In addition, since the summer of 2011 Iran has installed 2,710 centrifuges at its underground facility at Fordow. In less than two years, Iran has installed about 9,000 new centrifuges at these two facilities which are enough to more than double its number of centrifuges.
Some of the new centrifuges at Natanz are more advanced. Iran has installed 689 of these more advanced centrifuges 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 two years Iran’s stockpile of 3.5% enriched uranium has increased from about 2,500 kilograms to about 4,300 kilograms.
Despite converting some of its stockpile of 20% enriched uranium into research reactor fuel, in the last two years Iran’s stockpile of 20% enriched uranium has grown from 38 kilograms to 123 kilograms, increasing 10 kilograms in the last quarter. (This stockpile is in the form of 182 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.
My most recent report is: 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: Centrifuge Enrichment and the IAEA February 21, 2013 Safeguards Update,” March 19, 2013, http://nuclearpolicy101.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/Iran-Enrichment-Update-03-2013.pdf
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