While U.S. and Israeli officials claim Iran has slowed down its nuclear drive, new analysis by the Federation of American Scientists demonstrates that Iran’s enrichment capacity grew during 2010 and warns against complacency as five world powers resume talks with Iran this week. Specifically, the report notes that “increased centrifuge performance during 2010 could shorten Iran’s time to a bomb by as much as 60 percent relative to 2009.”
“As total enrichment capacity at FEP grows and especially as Iran continues to stockpile 20-percent uranium, we are entering a phase in which Iran’s enrichment capacity will no longer be the important rate-limiting step in producing a bomb because breakout time will be in the order of weeks, not months,” the report warns.
The FAS report was reviewed by an official with the IAEA who affirmed the study was based on the best possible data with solid conclusions. The report notes that calculations using IAEA data show that the total enrichment capacity at Iran’s commercial-scale enrichment facility at Natanz has grown during 2010 relative to previous years. These finding contradict on recent comments from White House officials.
“January 10, 2011 U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that according to Washington’s “best estimate” Iran’s enrichment program “has been slowed down,” crediting international sanctions against the Islamic Republic adopted over the past year,” the report noted.
The study, “Using Enrichment Capacity to Estimate Iran’s Breakout Potential” (PDF) indicates that Iran’s centrifuges appear to be performing 60 percent better than in the previous year, which would significantly reduce Tehran’s time to produce bomb-grade uranium.
“Iran continues to enrich and has produced more low-enriched uranium than it did the previous year and appears to be more efficient at enrichment,” said Ivanka Barzashka, a research associate with the FAS Strategic Security Program and who authored the report.
The report notes that Iran is developing fuel cycle technology as part of what it asserts is a purely civilian nuclear program.
Since 2007, Iran “has been enriching uranium using gas centrifuges at Natanz. The greatest challenge for a potential nuclear weapons proliferator is acquiring the fissile material and any civilian fuel cycle program has the potential to power both nuclear reactors and nuclear bombs,” notes the report, adding that “the same centrifuges that produce low-enriched uranium (LEU) for reactors could make highly-enriched uranium (HEU) for a bomb.”
The FAS report notes that “there is, therefore, no question that Tehran has the technical capability to produce a nuclear weapon, if it chooses to do so, but there is still ambiguity regarding Iran’s intentions. Tehran could, at minimum, be interested in maintaining the option of developing nuclear weapons in the indefinite future.”
According to the report, “Iran has enough LEU to serve as feedstock for the production of enough HEU for a crude nuclear weapon. Even if its stockpile of LEU is substantially reduced, as long as Iran continues operating centrifuges, it could produce bomb-grade material starting from natural uranium, but this would take longer compared to LEU.”
Contrary to statements by U.S. officials and many experts, Iran clearly does not appear to be slowing down its nuclear drive. On the contrary, it has a greater enrichment capacity and seems to be more efficient at enrichment