Amid reports that the emerging nuclear deal between the P5+1 nations and Iran would reportedly allow Iran to keep 6,500 centrifuges operating, a former CIA deputy director who served under President Obama has stated that this number is sufficient for Iran to build a nuclear weapons program.
Michael Morell, now an analyst for CBS news, made those comments on the Charlie Rose show last week. Morell’s statement was analyzed by the fact-checking website Politifact on Wednesday.
One element that’s fully expected in a long-term arrangement is a limit on the number and kinds of centrifuges Iran can use to enrich uranium. Former CIA deputy director Michael Morell said there’s an irony in that.
“If you are going to have a nuclear weapons program, 5,000 is pretty much the number you need,” Morell, now a CBS analyst, said on Charlie Rose. “If you have a power program, you need a lot more. By limiting them to a small number of centrifuges, we are limiting them to the number you need for a weapon.”
In investigating how many centrifuges are necessary to produce enough enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon, Politifact asked another expert, Matthew Bunn to explain further:
Bunn said there are two reasons. First, you need tens of tons of material to fuel a power reactor for a year, but just tens of kilograms to make a bomb. According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, the threshold amount for a bomb is about 25 kilograms of the most highly enriched U-235.
And while yes, it’s harder to make 90 percent enriched uranium (bomb) than 4-5 percent enriched uranium (power), it’s not that much harder, Bunn said.
The toughest part in the process comes when you start with the raw uranium. By the time you’ve brought that to 4-5 percent, “you’ve already done more than 2/3 of the work of going all the way to 90 percent U-235 for weapons,” Bunn said. “So the amount of work needed to make bomb material is only a modest amount more per kilogram, and the number of kilograms you need for bombs is 1,000 times less.
The fact that most of the work of producing highly enrich uranium is done by the time uranium is enriched to 4-5 percent is what Hassan Rouhani, now Iran’s president, was referring to when he said ten years ago that “Having fuel cycle capability almost means that the country that possesses this capability is able to produce nuclear weapons, should that country have the political will to do so.”
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