Iran’s Nuclear Weapons “Breakout” Time Getting Shorter: Experts

·  For twelve days, Iran conducted mechanical testing of three IR-4 centrifuges simultaneously at the Tehran Research Center;

·  Iran “prepared a new location,” beyond those specified in the JCPOA and unidentified in the report, for mechanical testing of centrifuges;

·  Iran used declared centrifuge manufacturing equipment for activities beyond those specified in the JCPOA, such as for producing centrifuges in type or number not allowed by the JCPOA;

·  Iran continued to use carbon fiber in making rotor tubes that was not subject to continuous IAEA containment and surveillance measures, in violation of conditions in the JCPOA and a January 14, 2016 Joint Commission implementing decision on how rotor tubes would be manufactured with materials such as carbon fiber that must be taken from a designated storage location under IAEA monitoring. This case implies that Iran’s nuclear program had hidden stocks of carbon fiber or had acquired it from abroad or from another Iranian entity without subjecting the carbon fiber to the rules established on storing it under IAEA monitoring prior to its use in manufacturing rotor tubes. (Any such carbon fiber was likely obtained via illicit procurement from abroad);

·  As described by U.S. authorities, Iran may be violating the JCPOA’s procurement restrictions by illicitly importing nuclear dual-use equipment.

Albright and Stricker note that the IAEA report does not discuss Iran’s denial of access to an inspector at Natanz. “Moreover, the report is vague on whether Iran has violated Section T of the JCPOA involving the use of controlled equipment related to the development of nuclear weapons,” they write. “Although not a violation of the JCPOA, Iran may be selling heavy water to a foreign buyer, which could be subject to U.S. sanctions.”

They add:

The IAEA report is completely silent on the issue of the IAEA’s investigation of the Nuclear Archive and whether this matter could rise to the level of a violation of the JCPOA, under which Iran committed “under no circumstances will [it] ever seek, develop or acquire any nuclear weapons.” The existence of archive may also violate the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and Iran’s safeguards agreements.

The report states that the IAEA is continuing to evaluate Iran’s nuclear activities – but the Albright and Stricker note that, in essence, the report states that the IAEA has not determined that Iran’s nuclear program is exclusively peaceful.

Albright and Stricker write:

With the additional production-scale centrifuge cascades enriching, Iran now has an installed enrichment capacity of 6,190 SWU per year, compared to 4,554 SWU per year at the end of the last reporting period.

The breakout time, or the amount of time Iran would need to produce enough weapon-grade uranium for a nuclear weapon, has shifted downward. Based on new modeling by the Institute and Iran’s stock of 550 kg of enriched uranium (uranium hexafluoride mass), Iran’s breakout time has been reduced from about 8-12 months to 6-10 months. The breakout time will decrease further as Iran increases its stock of enriched uranium and installs more centrifuges.

They add ominously: “Additional increases in deployed centrifuges dedicated to uranium enrichment will decrease the breakout time further, as will any production of higher enriched uranium.”