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

Published 13 November 2019

The Trump administration’s withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran, and the administration’s “maximum pressure” policy, are failing to yield the desired results, as Iran, pursuing a methodical “creep-out” strategy, is reconstituting its nuclear weapons program. In 2015, Iran’s “breakout” time, that is, the amount of time Iran would need to produce enough weapon-grade uranium for a nuclear weapon, was three months. The 2015 agreement, by imposing serve technical restrictions and intrusive monitoring, increased Iran’s breakout time to about twelve months. Experts now say that since the U.S. withdrawal from the treaty, Iran’s breakout time has been reduced to 6-10 months. “The breakout time will decrease further as Iran increases its stock of enriched uranium and installs more centrifuges,” the experts say.

On 11 November 2019, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) released its latest safeguards report on the verification and monitoring of the Iran nuclear deal in light of UN Security Council Resolution 2231 (2015). David Albright and Andrea Stricker write for the Institute for Science and International Security that thereport offers details of a large number of violations of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – the 2015 agreement Iran signed with the P5 +1 powers — and possibly also violations of Iran’s Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement.

Albright and Stricker lists the main violations, some of which are not fully reversible. They discuss several of the violations in more detail here.

·  The IAEA found natural uranium of “anthropogenic origin” at an undeclared site in Iran;

·  Iran introduced uranium hexafluoride and started uranium enrichment at the Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant (FFEP);

·  Iran further increased its quantity of low enriched uranium above the JCPOA’s 300 kilogram (kg) cap (uranium hexafluoride mass), ramping up monthly production significantly;

·  Iran continued to produce enriched uranium above the limit of 3.67 percent, producing at a level of up to 4.5 percent;

·  Iran initiated the operation of many advanced centrifuges at the Natanz Pilot Fuel Enrichment Plant (PFEP) to accumulate enriched uranium;

·  Iran increased the number and type of centrifuges enriching uranium above the limit of 5,060 IR-1 centrifuges. The total separative work involved in uranium enrichment has increased from an estimated 4,550 to 6,200 separative work units (SWU) per year, a 36 percent increase over the enrichment capacity allowed by the JCPOA (This estimate ignores smaller cascades that are also enriching uranium and includes only production-scale cascades, with the exception of the 30-centrifuge cascade of IR-6 centrifuges, which Iran intends to fill out to 164 IR-6 centrifuges as soon as possible);

·  Iran withdrew advanced centrifuges from storage for installation at the PFEP. It reinstalled a cascade of 164 IR-4 centrifuges and one of 164 IR-2m centrifuges in the PFEP and initiated the collection of enriched uranium;

·  Iran installed and operated several new advanced centrifuge types at the PFEP not listed as permitted for installation in the nuclear deal;

·  Iran enriched uranium in a cascade of 30 IR-6 centrifuges at the PFEP and initiated the installation of a total of 164 IR-6 centrifuges that would accumulate enriched uranium;