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Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Iran only 2-4 months away from enough fuel for A-bomb

From WSJ:
Iran has advanced its nuclear program to where it will be able to produce weapons-grade fuel in two to four months, nuclear experts and former United Nations inspectors said.

The new assessments feed growing alarm in the U.S., Europe and Israel that efforts to deny Tehran a nuclear-weapons capability could be rendered futile by as early as next summer.

The Institute for Science and International Security, an independent research institute in Washington with former U.N. inspectors on its staff, concluded in a report this week that Iran could produce enough highly enriched uranium for one atomic bomb, about 25 kilograms, in two to four months using its largest uranium-enrichment facility near the city of Natanz.

The ISIS report offered a faster timeline than Mr. Netanyahu presented to the U.N. on Sept. 27 because of Tehran's growing stockpile of higher-enriched uranium and its expanding numbers of centrifuge machines. The Israeli leader said Iran is expected to have acquired enough higher-enriched uranium by spring or summer to begin conversion to weapons grade. He said Iran then could construct its first nuclear bomb within several weeks or months.

ISIS bases its conclusions almost solely on information released by the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency. The IAEA said in its most recent report in August that Tehran had doubled its capacity to produce 20% enriched uranium at its underground facility near the holy city of Qom. But the IAEA didn't offer a timeline for when Iran might be able to produce weapons-grade fuel.

The think tank said Tehran could combine its stockpiles of low-enriched and higher-enriched uranium to make a dash for weapons-grade fuel, which is around 90% purity. The Iranians could do that by synchronizing the enrichment of these two grades of uranium and cutting out some intermediary steps that slow the process, ISIS said.

"Growth in the stock of near 20% [purity] reduces the time to break out," ISIS said in its report.

Iran has a stockpile 91.4 kilograms of uranium enriched to 20% purity, according to the IAEA. An additional 25 kilograms of the material is committed for conversion into fuel rods for Tehran's research reactor.

ISIS said its faster estimates for Iran acquiring the highly enriched uranium would require Tehran to use its total stockpile of 20% enriched uranium.

The institute played down Mr. Netanyahu's assertion that Iran could quickly convert the weapons-grade fuel into a usable atomic bomb. "Iran would need many additional months to manufacture a nuclear device suitable for underground testing and even longer to make a reliable warhead for a ballistic missile," the report said.
The ISIS report can be read here.