IRAN’S NUKESHow Quickly Could Iran Make Nuclear Weapons Today?

By David Albright

Published 12 January 2024

For Iran, two of the three poles in the tent of building nuclear weapons – fissile material and delivery vehicles — are essentially complete. It will take them one week to enrich enough uranium to 90 percent for one bomb (and one month to enrich enough uranium for six bombs). Iran also has a variety of delivery systems, including nuclear-capable missiles: the delivery pole is ready. Weaponization is the pole that needs more work. The accelerated weaponization program can be accomplished in a matter of six months.

Iran’s growing nuclear weapons capability is often condemned, most recently in a December 28th joint statement by the United States and its close European allies.1 The occasion was the Iranian action to expand its output of 60 percent enriched uranium. This level of enrichment is a hair’s breadth from 90 percent enriched or weapon-grade uranium, the enrichment level most desired for making nuclear weapons. That is also the enrichment level used in Iran’s nuclear weapons designs, which it nearly perfected during its crash nuclear weapons program in the early 2000s, codenamed the Amad Plan. This program was shut down in 2003 and replaced with a smaller, more dispersed nuclear weapons effort, with the decision to make them postponed.2

The unfortunate reality is that Iran already knows how to build nuclear weapons, although there are some unfinished tasks related to the actual construction of them. If the regime’s leadership decided to build them, how would it proceed? How long would it take?

The long pole in the tent of building nuclear weapons is essentially complete. Iran can quickly make enough weapon-grade uranium for many nuclear weapons, something it could not do in 2003. Today, it would need only about a week to produce enough for its first nuclear weapon.3 It could have enough weapon-grade uranium for six weapons in one month, and after five months of producing weapon-grade uranium, it could have enough for twelve.

The other major poles in the tent are “nuclear weaponization” and delivery. Iran has a variety of delivery systems, including nuclear-capable missiles: the delivery pole is ready.

Weaponization is the pole that needs more work. It involves theoretical calculations and simulations; development, testing, and construction of the other components of the nuclear weapon; the conversion of weapon-grade uranium into metallic components; the integration of all the components into a nuclear weapon; and the preparation for mounting the weapons on aircraft or missiles or for use in a full-scale underground test. This pole includes the mastery of the high explosive triggering system, the molding and machining of high explosives, and the building of a neutron initiator that starts the chain reaction at just the right moment to create a nuclear explosion.