Iran: How’s That Centrifuge Program?

Short answer: Dunno.

Since that answer wouldn’t have cut it with Miles (Pomper, _ACT_ editor), I “wrote a bit more”: for the most recent issue of _ACT_.

p=. *The Cascades*

This is obvious, but one “European diplomat” told me that Iran has _not_ demonstrated that it can run its centrifuges for an extended period of time. The 8 cascades in the commercial Natanz facility are _not_ linked together, another such diplomat told me. [The IAEA DG Mohamed ElBaradei’s “last report”: implies this, but doesn’t say so explicitly. I wrote about the report “here”: and “here.”: ]

We know that the Iranians missed their target date of installing 3,000 centrifuges by the end of May, but they may yet complete the task in short order. Unless they don’t.

I wrote that

bq. a diplomatic source in Vienna close to the IAEA told _Arms Control Today_ -April- May 25 that *Iran is able to build one 164-centrifuge cascade every 10 days. At that rate, Iran will be able to install approximately 3,000 centrifuges by the end of June,* the source said.

More recently, ElBaradei “told reporters”:;_ylt=AtPjTy3FawLY6oJ7olTApRBbbBAF that Iran “could have *just under 3,000 uranium-enriching centrifuges running in series by the end of July,”* _AP_ reported.

[ Jeffrey has a good “post”: up about this subject, which includes a link to the audio file of ElBaradei’s remarks. Also, check out “this post”: from Andreas Persbo. He has two pretty cool tables illustrating Iran’s possible future progress in installing centrifuges. ]

Incidentally, Gholamreza Aghazadeh, the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, said in April that Tehran will take up to 4 years to install all 50,000+ centrifuges in the facility.

p=. *So How Good Are Those Centrifuges?*

Some of us have wondered about Iran’s ability to make centrifuges of sufficient quality and quantity. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of clarity on this subject either. I wrote that

[A] Vienna diplomat said that *Tehran can produce enough centrifuge components for its projected enrichment needs.* But a knowledgeable source told _Arms Control Today_ that *Iran may not be “fully independent” in making such components.*

Asked about the quality of Iran’s centrifuges, the Vienna source added that *Iran “can make functional machines.”* Separately, a European diplomat said that *it is not clear that Iran can do so, explaining that “quite a high number” of centrifuges have crashed at rates “higher than one would expect.”*

p=. *The UF6*

There have also been “questions about”: the quality of Iran’s UF6.

That’s still the case. I wrote that:

bq. Whether Iran’s uranium hexafluoride is of sufficient purity is unclear. The Vienna diplomat said that *Iran is using its own feedstock, noting that the material is “good enough” to produce enriched uranium.* But the two other European diplomats told _Arms Control Today_ that *Iran is probably using uranium hexafluoride obtained from China more than a decade ago.*

Helpful, I know.

One interesting sidenote: I also found out that, according to “one diplomat,” Iran is currently attempting to convert its own uranium oxide into UF6. The process, however, “has not been perfected,” the diplomat said. Iran had previously been converting uranium oxide acquired from South Africa, he added.

Anyway, it’s Friday. Go home.

2 thoughts on “Iran: How’s That Centrifuge Program?

  1. Karl Schenzig

    Dear Mr. Kerr,

    On an issue related to your post, the infamous Israeli website,, has published rumours that Russia has delivered nuclear fuel to Bushehr on “June 10 or 11”. Do you know what the actual status of that fuel is?

    To address briefly the text of your post, I think we would both agree that unnamed diplomats and El Baradei do not qualify as reliable sources. Therefore, the situation regarding the availability of reliable information on Iran’s nuclear development efforts is exceptionally grave.


    Karl Schenzig

  2. yale

    Linked cascades are of value for efficiently creating economic reactor fuel, but nothing at Natanz bears any relationship to an actual fuel plant.

    For bomb-making, unlinked, batch processing cascades can be a distinct advantage.

    It is always important to recognize the difference between trying to create 25 tons a year of LEU versus 0.02 tons of HEU.

    A raggedy-ass process, unfettered by any requirement for efficiency or cost-effectiveness, is good enough for a bomb.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *