Iran’s nuclear weapons program poses a serious threat to American national security interests. Iran has been working to develop the key components of a nuclear weapons capability for decades – covertly when it can and openly when exposed – in contravention of nuclear nonproliferation pacts it has signed and international obligations it is required to meet. The regime has waged an intensive denial-and-deception campaign intended to facilitate the development of critical technologies and infrastructure and, ultimately, the fulfillment of its nuclear ambitions.
Tehran’s nuclear weapons pursuit has advanced along three interrelated, parallel tracks: acquiring fissile material, weaponization and bomb design, and delivery vehicle development. The acquisition of fissile material is based at facilities near Esfahan, where Iran converts yellowcake into uranium gas, and at Natanz and outside Qom, where Iran enriches uranium gas toward levels required to produce bomb fuel. Iran’s nuclear organizations are also building the foundation for a separate plutonium route for producing bomb fuel at Arak. These facilities, originally built covertly, may be supplemented by additional undeclared sites. The weaponization track of the program, a technically complex step that is nonetheless considered to be less difficult than the mastery of fissile material production, has most recently been associated with a military facility based outside of Tehran at Parchin. Iran used the Parchin facility to conduct nuclear weapons-related experiments, according to information vetted by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
Many observers have tended to dismiss the weaponization program on the grounds that Iran supposedly suspended it in 2003. Tehran’s consistent refusals to allow IAEA inspectors into the Parchin facility, therefore, have received less attention than they merit. That facility, which recent satellite imagery shows to have been extensively reconfigured over the past few months, is of interest not only because of the presumed weaponization facilities there, but because it is a central and vital part of Iran’s diverse and disturbing military industrial program.
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