The Iranian nuclear program: Timelines, data, and estimates

Reuters

Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (2nd L) attends the unveiling ceremony of new nuclear projects in Tehran February 15, 2012.

KEY FINDINGS

IRAN IS DEVELOPING A RAPID NUCLEAR WEAPONS BREAKOUT CAPABILITY BY REDUCING THE TIME IT NEEDS TO PRODUCE FUEL FOR AN ATOMIC WEAPON.

  • Iran would need 4.3 MONTHS to produce 25 kg of weapons-grade uranium and 1.9 MONTHS to produce 15 kg of weapons-grade uranium at the buried Fordow enrichment facility.* IT CAN CUT THESE TIMES SIGNIFICANTLY USING THE NEWLY INSTALLED CENTRIFUGES AT FORDOW. 

  • Iran would need 3 WEEKS to produce 25 kg of weapons-grade uranium and 1 WEEK to produce 15 kg of weapons-grade uranium at the larger Natanz enrichment facility.*

  • These estimates are based on data from Iran’s declared operating facilities. The existence of undeclared (covert) enrichment sites, which cannot be ruled out given Iran’s record of deception, would have an impact on breakout estimates.

IRAN IS HARDENING ITS ENRICHMENT CAPACITY AND INCREASING INFRASTRUCTURE FOR ~20% LOW-ENRICHED URANIUM (LEU) PRODUCTION.

  • growing proportion of Iran’s near-20% enriched uranium is being produced in the more hardened Fordow facility built under a small mountain, rather than in the more vulnerable underground Natanz facility.

  • The recent installation of 1,076 additional centrifuges at Fordow has more than doubled capacity at that facility. 

IRAN’s <5% AND NEAR-20% ENRICHED URANIUM PRODUCTION IS AT HISTORICALLY HIGH RATES.

IRAN HAS PRODUCED ENOUGH LOW-ENRICHED URANIUM TO FUEL FIVE NUCLEAR WEAPONSAFTER CONVERSION TO WEAPONS-GRADE.   

IRAN IS PURSUING MULTIPLE PATHS TO OBTAINING NUCLEAR WEAPONS FUEL.

  • Iran recently told the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that it plans to begin operating the Arak heavy water reactor in Q3 2013. This reactor will be capable of producing two warheads’ worth weapons-grade plutonium per year once operational.

*Estimates assume Natanz and Fordow are used with the operational capacity reflected in the August 2012 IAEA report. Iran may need 15-25 kg weapons-grade uranium for an implosion-type bomb design depending on its level of technical ability. 

Please read the full text at Critical Threats.

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About the Author

 

Maseh
Zarif
  • Maseh Zarif is the deputy director and Iran research Team Lead for the American Enterprise Institute’s Critical Threats Project. He works on national security issues related to the Middle East and South Asia, with a particular focus on Iran’s nuclear program and its regional activities. He has written for The Wall Street Journal, The Weekly Standard, National Review Online, and Foreign Policy, among others, and has appeared on CNN and Fox. Before joining AEI, he worked for several years in corporate finance as an analyst and a consultant.

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