US Think Tank Claims Iran Could Have Enough Weapons-grade Uranium for Nuke in a Month
10:41 GMT 14.09.2021 (Updated: 17:46 GMT 14.09.2021)
US and Israeli officials have spent much of the past decade claiming that Iran is on the brink of achieving nuclear weapons capability, alleging that the Islamic Republic may be just “months” or “weeks” away from building a nuke. Tehran denies having any intention to obtain nuclear arms, or weapons of mass destruction of any kind.
Iran will have enough highly enriched uranium to build a nuclear weapon in just a month’s time, claims a new report by the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), a Washington-based think tank focusing on nuclear non-proliferation.
“A worst-case break-out estimate, which is defined as the time required to produce enough WGU [weapon-grade uranium] for one nuclear weapon, is as short as one month. Iran could produce a second significant quantity of WGU in less than three months after break-out commences. It could produce a third quantity in less than five months, where it would need to produce some of the WGU from natural uranium,” the report warns.
The document points to a recent estimate by the International Atomic Energy Agency which says that as of 30 August, Iran had produced 10 kg of “near 60 percent enriched uranium", with a “significant quantity” of that allegedly enough to build a nuclear explosive, according to ISIS. “As this stock grows, Iran can also more quickly produce WGU for a nuclear explosive,” the paper suggests.
Nuclear experts deem weapons-grade uranium to be material with an enrichment rate of 90 percent. The nuclear bomb the US dropped on Hiroshima in 1945 (one of the two nuclear weapons ever used in wartime and against people) had an enrichment level of 80 percent.
ISIS suggests that Iran’s enrichment activities and the production of 60 percent enriched uranium, or highly enriched uranium, is “associated with a key step in the traditional stepwise process of climbing from natural uranium to 90 percent enriched uranium.”
“Sixty percent enriched uranium can be used directly in nuclear weapons, where the amount needed is about 40kg (u mass), compared with the 25kg (u mass) of 90 percent enriched material required. Iran’s accumulation of 60 percent enriched uranium remains a highly provocative, dangerous step,” the report claims.
The think tank admits that it has no actual evidence that Iran is willfully pursuing nuclear weapons, indicating that the country may only work to produce 90 percent enriched uranium “if the leadership orders its production or moves toward the construction of nuclear weapons".
The Islamic Republic has given no indication of any plans to build nukes, and on the contrary, has repeatedly emphasised its opposition to nuclear weapons and weapons of mass destruction of any kind. The country voluntarily eliminated its stocks of chemical weapons in the Nineties before joining the Chemical Weapons Convention in 1997, and did not use them in the Eighties, even as Saddam Hussein’s Iraq used neurotoxins against Iranian forces on the battlefield, and against Iranian civilians in cities.
The Institute for Science and International Security has been scrutinised for its focus on Iran’s nuclear programme - which, according to Iranian officials, is of a strictly peaceful nature - while downplaying or even ignoring completely the Middle East’s other major nuclear power, Israel, which is suspected of already possessing between 80 to 400 nuclear weapons. Iranian officials have not shied away from attacking Israel’s US and European allies over their perceived “double standards” on Iranian and Israeli nuclear activities.
13 September 2021, 17:40 GMT
ISIS’ report isn’t the first attempt to suggest that Iran is on the brink of becoming a nuclear weapons state. Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu famously spent much of the past decade claiming that the Islamic Republic was on the verge of constructing a bomb, allegedly being just “months” or “weeks” away from doing so. When his predictions failed to materialise, the prime minister would make fresh claims, and the cycle would repeat itself.
Western concerns over Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons activities began to grow in 2019, one year after the United States unilaterally pulled out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear deal – a landmark international agreement which compelled Iran to limit its nuclear activities in exchange for the lifting of crushing western sanctions. After the US walked out of the deal, Tehran gave the deal's western European signatories a one-year window to develop mechanisms to bypass US sanctions pressure. When they failed to do so, Iran began to increase its uranium enrichment rate, and to stockpile these materials.
After President Joe Biden’s inauguration, Iran has continued to increase enrichment, from between 5 and 20 percent in late 2020 to 60 percent by the spring of 2021, possibly as a form of pressure on the White House to return to the JCPOA. Iran and the US have held several rounds of negotiations on reactivating the nuclear agreement, but have hit a deadlock, with the US side demanding that Tehran first reduce its enrichment and stockpiling, and the Islamic Republic saying Washington must scrap its illegal sanctions first.