Iran has insisted that it will not give up its 3.5% low enriched uranium (LEU), and this weekend an Iranian MP this weekend also foreclosed concessions on Iran’s enrichment technology, specifically its underground enrichment military bunker at Fordow.
The stance is likely to complicate efforts to reassure the international community that it is meeting the half dozen United Nations Security Council resolutions calling on Tehran to dismantle its nuclear program. Iran has spent much of the last year installing more, and more sophisticated, centrifuges in its nuclear enrichment facilities. Analysts long ago concluded that leaving Iran with LEU and allowing it to continue spinning its centrifuges would enable it to go nuclear more or less at will, and the U.S.-based ISIS think tank estimates more specficially that the regime will be able to conduct a so-called undetectable breakout by the middle of next year.
The Israel Project held a conference call on the issue this morning with Dr. Olli Heinonen, a former Deputy Director of the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog and currently a senior fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School. Evaluating Iran’s newly installed centrifuges, Heinonen revised the ISIS estimate even further downward:
And then there is the other part, which is using of the existing centrifuges. Because there are 19,000 IR-1’s – this is the old type of centrifuge – and those 3,000 IR-2’s which are going to be installed. The radical iritis, the so-called breakout time, you have to have seen the report of ISIS from David Albright last week which now speaks that this breakout time can be one month. And I believe that if certain arrangements are done, it can even go down to two weeks. So there are a lot of concerns out there which hopefully Iran addresses in this new phase, both with the P5+1 and with the IAEA.
Heinonen seperately emphasized that Iran’s stockpile of 3.5% enriched material, which is farther away from weapons grade levels than the 20% enriched material, nonetheless still puts the regime more than half way toward what “you need to do in order to produce weapons-grade uranium.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had on Sunday outlined how Iran’s “technological improvements” mean that it can dash across the nuclear finish line within weeks:
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday that Iran is capable of converting low-grade uranium to weapons-grade within weeks… “The important part stems from technological improvements which allow Iran to enrich uranium from 3.5 percent to 90 percent in a number of weeks. “Pressure on Iran, which continues enrichment while negotiating, must be intensified,” the Israeli leader added.
Netanyahu’s analysis echoes that of U.S.-based analysts, including analysis presented to Congress.
[Photo: Harvard Kennedy School / YouTube]