The Iranian nuclear program: timelines, data, and estimates

KEY FINDINGS

IRAN IS DEVELOPING A RAPID NUCLEAR WEAPONS BREAKOUT CAPABILITY BY REDUCING THE TIME IT NEEDS TO PRODUCE FUEL FOR AN ATOMIC WEAPON.

  • Iran would need 7.8 MONTHS to produce 25 kg of weapons-grade uranium and 2 MONTHS to produce 15 kg of weapons-grade uranium at the buried Fordow enrichment facility.*
  • Iran would need 1 MONTH to produce 25 kg of weapons-grade uranium and 2 WEEKS to produce 15 kg of weapons-grade uranium at the larger Natanz enrichment facility.*
  • These estimates are based on data from Iran’s declared operating facilities. The existence of undeclared (covert) enrichment sites, which cannot be ruled out given Iran’s record of deception, would have an impact on breakout estimates.

 

IRAN IS EXPANDING AND HARDENING ITS URANIUM ENRICHMENT CAPACITY.

  • Iran is increasing its stockpile of 3.5% and 20% enriched uranium. Its 3.5% enriched uranium production increased sharply in the last International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reporting period. Its 20% enriched uranium production grew at a constant rate. It has enough low-enriched uranium to fuel five nuclear weapons after conversion to weapons-grade.
  • A growing proportion of Iran’s 20% enriched uranium is being produced in the more hardened facility at Fordow, rather than in the more vulnerable Natanz facility.
  • Iran is expanding both of its declared enrichment facilities. It recently installed an additional 368 centrifuges at Fordow and earlier in 2012 built infrastructure to operate approximately 1,630 additional centrifuges there and several thousand more at Natanz.

IRAN IS PURSUING MULTIPLE PATHS TO OBTAINING NUCLEAR WEAPONS FUEL.

  • Iran recently told the IAEA that it plans to begin operating the Arak heavy water reactor in April 2013. This reactor will be capable of producing two warheads’ worth weapons-grade plutonium per year once operational.

 

*Estimates assume Natanz and Fordow operate with the capacity reflected in the May 2012 IAEA report. Iran may need 15-25 kg weapons-grade uranium for an implosion-type bomb design depending on its level of technical ability.

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About the Author

 

Maseh
Zarif
  • Maseh Zarif is the deputy director and Iran research Team Lead for the American Enterprise Institute’s Critical Threats Project. He works on national security issues related to the Middle East and South Asia, with a particular focus on Iran’s nuclear program and its regional activities. He has written for The Wall Street Journal, The Weekly Standard, National Review Online, and Foreign Policy, among others, and has appeared on CNN and Fox. Before joining AEI, he worked for several years in corporate finance as an analyst and a consultant.

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