The Institute for Science and International Security said Iran was moving steadily toward nuclear weapons capability. In a report, the institute said Tehran would reach this goal in 2009.
In a report titled “Has Iran Achieved a Nuclear Weapons Breakout Capability?” the institute said Iran has expanded operations of its gas centrifuges. The report said Iran was amassing enough centrifuges to produce a nuclear bomb every four months.
“Although some media reports in November 2008 concluded prematurely that Iran has reached a nuclear weapons capability, Iran is moving steadily toward this capability and is expected to reach that milestone during 2009 under a wide variety of scenarios,” the report said. “As Iran’s operation of its gas centrifuges has expanded and improved, there is growing focus on the quantity of low enriched uranium produced at the Natanz Fuel Enrichment Plant.”
Authored by David Albright, Jacqueline Shire and Paul Brannan, the report said Iran requires at least 1,534 pounds of low-enriched uranium, or LEU, to achieve nuclear weapons capability. Last month, the IAEA said Tehran reported production of 937 pounds of enriched uranium.
“To produce sufficient material for a nuclear weapon, Iran would need to further enrich the LEU in centrifuge cascades, either at the Natanz Fuel Enrichment Plant or an undeclared facility,” the institute said. “This enrichment can occur quickly and this process is referred to as ‘break-out.’ “
The report said Iran could rapidly remove LEU from storage to assemble a nuclear bomb. Under the scenario, Iran would deny access to IAEA inspectors.
“The ISIS estimate assumes an efficient, reliable centrifuge capability able to further enrich the LEU into weapon-grade uranium, a capability more likely to reside in a clandestine facility than at the Natanz enrichment plant,” the report said. “It also assumes that Iran would need about [45-55 lbs.] of weapon-grade uranium to fashion a crude nuclear weapon.
“The actual amount that Iran might require is unknown, but this range of values is sufficient for several designs of crude nuclear weapons, some of which are small enough to be mounted on ballistic missiles.”
The institute envisioned that Iran would operate 6,000 centrifuges in 2009, which would produce enough uranium for a nuclear bomb by the middle of the year.
Under the worst-case scenario, Tehran would reach a nuclear weapons capability toward the end of next year.
“If the cascades operate better than historically achieved levels, these dates could occur earlier,” the report said. “If the second module does not operate as well as the first one, these dates could be delayed by several months.”
David Bedein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org