Risk is sometimes defined as the product of capability and intent. As risk regards a nuclear Iran, the capability is quite evident and their intent can be better understood by looking at what they do versus what they say. Where to start? How about at the beginning…
From Greg Jones, writing at the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center on Iran’s nuclear program(s), an article that addresses almost everything except nuclear delivery systems:
Though Iran claims that it is producing this enriched uranium for peaceful uses, all of the 3.5% enriched uranium and the 19.7% enriched uranium is just being stockpiled.
Iran’s stockpiles of 3.5% and 19.7% enriched uranium, its enrichment capacity of 4,600 SWU at the FEP, it [sic] ability to manufacture new centrifuges as well as its ability to transfer centrifuges from one facility to the other, all give Iran a number of options for producing the 20 kilograms of HEU required for a nuclear weapon.
And there is a two-part enrichment option which exist which could create 20kg of 90% highly enriched uranium—-a weapon’s worth–in as little as 62 days.
Only the second step of batch recycling [enrichment] might be considered a violation of safeguards but by then Iran would need only about two weeks to produce the HEU required for a nuclear weapon.
Further as noted above, if Iran wanted to produce a second 20 kilogram batch of 90% enriched uranium (so that it would have a total of 40 kilograms, enough for two nuclear weapons), then it would require 1,900 kilograms of 3.5% enriched uranium. Added to the 1,735 kilograms required for the first 20 kilogram batch of 90% enriched uranium, Iran would need to produce just over 3,600 kilograms of 3.5% enriched uranium in total. Given that Iran has already produced 2,775 kilograms of 3.5% enrich uranium and is producing about 105 kilograms, by the beginning of next year Iran will be in a position to produce two nuclear weapons worth of HEU.
The production of the HEU for two weapons would have to be carried out sequentially with the production of the HEU for the first weapon taking about two months (Table 2) and the production of the HEU for the second weapon taking about two and one half months (Table 3) for a total of about four and one half months. These times should be considered the maximum since by the beginning of 2012, Iran will have produced more 19.7% enriched uranium and likely will have added even more enrichment capacity which will shorten the time required.
Two weapons could mean one for use and one held in reserve.
So is Jones a voice in the wilderness? Hardly, and to make the point, he compares his figures with those offered by others including Kemp and Glaser and The International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS). While there is variation, when the assumptions are harmonized, the results are quite close to Jones’ 62-day estimate.
But, but, but… what about Stuxnet the destructor? Jones is not a believer:
Indeed during 2010 and the first part of 2011, it [Iran’s enrichment production] has significantly increased. Again, this [Stuxnet] story appears to be nothing but more self-deception to avoid facing up to the great strides that Iran has made with its uranium enrichment program and how the time that it will take Iran to produce the HEU needed for a nuclear weapon has been steadily shrinking.
More potential self-deception is later attributed to former VJCS James Cartwright regarding the non-nuclear development for a nuclear weapon and the timeline required, which Jones ably deconstructs.
And what about the stopping power of the atomic mall cop (observe if they’ll let you and report), the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)?
The IAEA like the Pope does not have any divisions. It does not even a police force. By itself, it cannot take any military or law enforcement action to stop Iran or any other country from acquiring the fissile material required for nuclear weapons. Rather, according to the IAEA “…the objective of safeguards is the timely detection of diversion of significant quantities of nuclear material…” [Emphasis in original]
Another weakness of the IAEA is that its reporting is unlikely to be timely enough to provide timely detection of HEU towards a military application. But even then, so what?
After all, the IAEA has already reported repeated violations of Iran’s safeguards agreement, including activities that indicate the development of nuclear weapons but thus far all that has been done is that the UN Security Council has passed five resolutions which in part have called for Iran to stop its uranium enrichment effort. Iran’s rising enriched uranium production, shown in Table 1, demonstrates how ineffective these resolutions have been.
Read it (or at least read the summary) and weep? No, read it and think about how to proceed.