More on Iran Timeline

The “AP”:;_ylt=AtBUUsclasQkDD7VSO2xa6cUewgF;_ylu=X3oDMTA3MXN1bHE0BHNlYwN0bWE has more about the alleged accelerated “pace of Iran’s centrifuge program”:

Some people at the IAEA are none too amused by recent press reports on the matter:

U.N. inspectors should know by next week how far Iran has advanced on the path to nuclear enrichment, diplomats said Saturday †findings that could shape Security Council action against Tehran and hurt U.S. claims that Iran has accelerated its efforts.

The International Atomic Energy Agency †the U.N. nuclear watchdog †is clearly rankled by the U.S. assertions just days ahead of a trip by IAEA inspectors to Natanz, the site of Iran’s known enrichment efforts.

IAEA officials normally refuse to be identified as such when discussing sensitive topics such as disputes with leading IAEA board members, such as the United States.

But reflecting exasperation, a senior agency official dropped such reservations Saturday as he called the U.S. claims that an agency briefing on the advances made by Iran on enrichment was a bombshell “pure speculation and misinformation.”

“It comes from people who are seeking a crisis, not a solution” to the confrontation over Iran, the official said.

The senior IAEA official did not offer details on the spat.

But a diplomat in Vienna, who demanded anonymity in exchange for discussing confidential information, said some U.S. administration officials were misrepresenting a recent briefing by the agency to Vienna-based representatives of America, Russia, China, France, and Britain †the five permanent Security Council members.

The information on where Iran was on enrichment and where it was headed was not new, but the U.S. officials claimed “the … IAEA was blown away by (Iran’s) progress and had the U.S. redefining its timeline” for Iran’s capacity to make its first nuclear weapon down to three years, the diplomat told The Associated Press.

The 2008 worst-case estimate described in the “Knight-Ridder piece”: is about a year ahead of “David Albright and Corey Hinderstein’s”:

It seems likely that this accelerated timeline has its roots in “ElBaradei’s last report to the IAEA BoG,”: which says that Iran plans to install 3,000 centrifuges in the Natanz FEP beginning late this year. That is about “twice the number”: of centrifuges ISIS says Iran needs for producing enough HEU for a weapon within a year.

So if we take Iran’s claim at face value, Natanz will have more cascades operating by 2007 than the ISIS timeline posits.

Whether Iran will get its _first_ cascades running sooner than ISIS estimates is unclear. US officials may be assuming that Iran’s ability to install more centrifuges earlier than previously thought also indicates that it can get the cascades up and running sooner than previously thought.

8 thoughts on “More on Iran Timeline

  1. Yale Simkin

    Albright and Hinderstein assume 1500 centrifuges to produce 1 nuclear weapon a year.

    This is based upon enrichment from natural uranium to Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU).

    There is a much faster route.

    The Brushehr nuclear power plant is near completion. It is a Russian VVER-1000 light water reactor (LWR). The Russians may soon deliver the fuel for this reactor. It will likely be the initial reactor core load and the first re-fueling (at least). This is 100 tons of Uranium dioxide with an enrichment of 4.4%. Bunn and Malecki suggest stockpiling even more fuel.

    This fuel is already purified with none of the tricky contaminants that are slowing down the Iranian production.

    It is ready for direct conversion to Uranium hexafluoride (UF6) centrifuge feedstock. Even more importantly, VVER-1000 fuel is enriched 88% of the way to HEU. The enriching capacity of a centrifuge is measured in Separative Work Units (or SWU). Iran’s centrifuges can each process about 2.5 SWUs per year. An HEU implosion bomb requires much less than 20 kilograms of Highly
    Enriched Uranium (HEU).

    It take 4,000 Separative Work Units (SWU) to make 20 kilograms of HEU from natural uranium.

    If instead Iran using Low Enriched Uranium (LEU), diverts a small amount of the 4.4% VVER-1000 fuel to create 20 kilograms of 90% HEU, then not 4000 SWUs are needed, but only 500 SWU are required (a cream-skimming, leaving 3.3% enriched “tails”)

    Only 1 and a half tons (a volume 2 foot on a side) of diverted reactor fuel (which will still be suitable for use in the reactor after the HEU is extracted) is needed.

    An 164 centrifuge cascade, using VVER-1000 fuel, could create a bomb’s worth of HEU in less than 15 months.

    6 such cascades makes a bomb in 2.5 months, and 3,000 centrifuges is 15 bombs in a year.

    This danger is well known:

    John Chipman, Director of IISS:

    ”… Iran could produce (or divert -yale) a stockpile of LEU, ostensibly for nuclear power reactor fuel, and then break out by using this material as feed to produce HEU in a short period of time. In theory, with LEU feed, the 1,000-machine pilot plant could produce enough HEU for a single weapon within several months of operation, even taking into consideration likely inefficiencies and some requirements for reconfiguration.”

    From “expert testimony” at a Brookings Institution, Saban Center Discussion:
    Iran’s Strategic Weapons: A Net Assessment:

    “The expert pointed out that the Iran could significantly accelerate the production of HEU, if it began with LEU rather than natural uranium.”

    David Albright, ISIS in 1999:

    “During its moratorium, Pakistan produced low enriched uranium (LEU), which can be up-graded to weapon-grade uranium relatively rapidly. Given the length of the moratorium, this stock of LEU was relatively large and would have enabled a rapid increase in Pakistan’s stock of weapon-grade uranium.”

    Andrews and Chamberlain:

    “However, whilst LEU has no utility for nuclear weapons, its production in an enrichment plant takes a prospective nuclear-armed country a considerable way, in terms of cost and effort, down the road to producing HEU. Roughly speaking only an additional cost and effort of 20% is needed to produce HEU from LEU, compared to the cost and effort involved in producing LEU from natural uranium.[

    Ponomarev-Stepnoi presenting at a Carnegie conference:

    Criteria and Structure of Innovative Nuclear Technologies: Ensuring Nuclear Weapons Non-Proliferation Measures

    This study demonstrates that, in this case, the scale of relative danger of nuclear matenals is radically different from the scale that is traditionally used.

    The data shows that the highest risk of nuclear proliferation for terrorist purposes results from the use of LEU through isotope enrichment.

    Ephraim Asculai
    Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies Tel Aviv Univ

    …”When (Iran) has accumulated sufficient quantities of low-enriched uranium (LEU) and when the time is ripe, it will do one of two things: either withdraw from the NPT (citing the North Korea precedent) and then enrich the LEU to HEU, or begin enriching the LEU it will have diverted and concealed in order to produce concealed nuclear weapons.

    Victor Gilinsky, Marvin Miller, Harmon Hubbard:

    “It is less appreciated that if the owners divert some of the LEU produced by the declared plant and used as feed for a clandestine enrichment plant, they can reduce the needed plant capacity by a factor of five. Moreover, such LEU feed need not rely on the existence of an LEU plant; it could come from processing the fuel pellets of a fresh LWR fuel reload.

    There needs to be much closer accounting of LEU fuel in view of its significance as possible feed for clandestine enrichment.

    It takes comparatively little additional “separative work” to upgrade LEU to HEU. It would be difficult for the IAEA to keep close enough track of all the LEU to stay ahead of any such conversion. Having a gas centrifuge plants producing LEU makes it much easier to construct and operate a clandestine one. The presence of the larger plant would mask many of the intelligence indicators and environmental indications of a clandestine one so it would harder to find. But even in the absence of any commercial enrichment—in the case of a country with one or more stand alone LWRs—the presence of LWRs means that a substantial supply of fresh LWR fuel would also be present at times. That such fresh fuel can provide a source of uranium for clandestine enrichment is another possibility that has received essentially no attention in proliferation writings. Since the fuel is already low enriched uranium, a much smaller gas centrifuge plant would suffice to raise the enrichment to bomb levels than would be the case if the starting point is natural uranium. By starting with such LEU fuel pellets, which are uranium oxide (UO2), the enricher would be able to skip the first five processes required to go from uranium ore to uranium hexafluoride gas, the material on which the gas centrifuge operate. To go from the uranium oxide pellets to uranium hexafluoride the would-be bomb-maker would crush the pellets and react the powder with fluorine gas. Suitably processed, the LEU pellets could provide feed for clandestine enrichment.

    Makhijani, Chalmers, Smith:

    Adding to the proliferation concerns regarding the spread of enrichment technologies as part of the spread of nuclear power, it is important to note that if, instead of starting with natural uranium, low enriched uranium (3.6% U-235) was used as the feed material, then it would require just 70 to 78 SWU and 26 to 27 kilograms of feed material to produce one kilogram of highly enriched uranium. Just 1.6 tons of LEU, less than one tenth of the amount needed annually to fuel a single 1000 megawatt reactor, would be enough to yield the HEU required to assemble a Hiroshima style bomb if it was further enriched. Thus, stockpiles of low enriched uranium, if maintained in a form suitable for enrichment, can provide the base material to more easily and more rapidly manufacture highly enriched uranium for use in nuclear weapons. In this example, approximately two-thirds of the total enrichment services necessary to produce weapons usable HEU goes into enriching the uranium from natural uranium (0.7% U-235) to LEU (3.6% U-235) while only about one-third goes into enriching the LEU the rest of the way from 3.6% U-235 to HEU with 90% U-235.


  2. John Field

    Could they really divert the fuel?

    If so,

    Or, divert half as much
    UO2 and only increase the SWU by 20% at 2.2% tails.

    Or, reduce the UO2 to metal and use it in a primitive AVLIS machine taking advantage of the 6x concentration increase and lessened selectivity requirement – e.g. lower vapor pressure, shorter field drift zone, and no continuous feed.

  3. James W

    Soooo…the logic you’re throwing out is that the Iranians COULD take delivery of the fuel, withdraw from the treaty, and then we would “only” have fifteen months to deal with the issue. Fifteen months from the date they have their first thousand centrifuges built and shook down. Once again, I fail to see the imminent threat.

    Fifteen months is a long time. Withdrawing from the NPT would effectively terminate the debate over the direction of their program and lead to instant intervention. Since Iran has already agreed to a much more intrusive inspection scheme, the theory that they could divert tons of fuel, process it, and return it to storage without being detected beggars the imagination.

  4. Paul

    Bushehr and the fuel coming to it will be under so much scrutiny and inspection and safeguards by the IAEA that you can’t imagine. Iran will simply not be able to divert any fuel if they stay in the NPT and the IAEA is there to monitor every step of the way.

  5. Muskrat

    Does anybody remember the Rumasfeld Commission Report in 1998? The one that said that all previous estimates of the time needed by rogue states to get missile technology capable of attacking the U.S. was so short it might happen over the weekend? That was eight years ago, and its scare scenario has yet to materialize.

    Now we have the same thing going on – a threat previously estimated by the experts as being X years down the road is, we are now assured, just months away. Well, I say bull. These are the same people that radically overestimated Iraq’s capabilities and who are now clearly looking to gin up the case for action against Iran for political reasons.

    How many times do we have to be conned before we wise up?

    To take the scenarios outlined above, they all depend on iran diverting several tons of nuclear fuel from Russian shipments. I don’t know what the arrangements are between Russia and Iran, but I can’t believe Iran could do that surreptitiously. It would be an irrevocable step that would directly challenge the international community and slap Russia in the face. All the evidence points to Iran wanting to build up a nuclear capability to enhance and broaden their options in the world, not to limit them.

    Iran doesn’t need to do any such thing because they know we can’t get the support for military action absent such a public transgression. In the meantime, they can make slow and steady progress, postponing any final decision for as long as possible.

    That way Iran gets the domestic political benefits of proliferation without triggering worst-case reactions. Stealing LEU and sprinting to make a single bomb would be stupid—what do you do with one warhead?

    North Korea did it—and got away with it—because it already held Seoul hostage with artillery. More importantly, they felt they had to do it because their state was collapsing from famine. Iran is not North Korea. They have time to wait, they have oil to maintain them, and they can and will play to Russian and China to stall. They’re not going to pull a smash-and-grab job.

  6. Shelby S. Corbin

    I would like to know one simple thing. Does anybody in their mind truly think that the IAEA can effectivly monitor anything?

  7. Paul

    I would like to know one simple thing. Does anybody in their mind truly think that the IAEA can effectivly monitor anything?



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