Iran's Nuclear Program
- Since the 1970s, even before the revolution, Iran has sought access to the technology that would give it the option to build a nuclear bomb, should it believe its security situation requires it.
- Iran intensified its drive toward nuclear weapons in the 1980s during the Iran-Iraq War, following reports of an Iraqi clandestine nuclear program.
- Iranian leaders continue to advance Iran’s nuclear program and use it as a symbol of national pride. They deny that Iran’s nuclear program has a military purpose.
- As a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), Iran claims its nuclear program is purely for peaceful, energy and medical purposes, despite evidence of possible work on nuclear warheads.
- A starter kit for a gas centrifuge plant
- A set of technical drawings for a P-1 (Pakistani) centrifuge
- Samples of centrifuge components
- And instructions for enriching uranium to weapon grade levels.
- Weapon-grade uranium is the most desirable highly enriched uranium for fission nuclear weapons and is over 90 percent enriched.
- The Natanz Fuel Enrichment Plant has approximately 4,000 P-1 centrifuges enriching, and almost 9,000 P-1 centrifuges installed. The Qom site has a few installed centrifuges, but Iran halted work at the site following its discovery.
- Iran has produced approximately 2,400 kg of 3.5 percent low enriched uranium (LEU) as of May 2010, and 17 kg of 19.75 percent uranium as of June 2010 at Natanz. Iran continues to refine its ability to efficiently produce 19.75 percent enriched uranium and to expand its centrifuge efficiency, as well as the numbers in operation.
- Iran has enough low enriched uranium (LEU) to produce about two nuclear weapons, if it decided to enrich the LEU up to weapon-grade.
- Other undeclared enrichment sites may be under construction. Iran announced it will begin construction on the first of 10 new sites in March 2011. But Iran lacks the capability to outfit 10 enrichment sites.
- A parallel nuclear program could be used for breakout. A secret enrichment site using diverted low enriched uranium from Natanz would require approximately 2,000 P-1 centrifuges to produce about 25 kilograms to 40 kilograms of weapon-grade uranium in one year. The upper bound would require the P-1 centrifuges to operate better than they currently do at Natanz. However, Iran is working to improve the P-1 centrifuges’ operation and in parallel to develop more powerful, reliable centrifuges. Operating with 1,000 centrifuges, a covert enrichment site using P-1s could produce about 40-70 kilograms of weapon-grade uranium per year, starting with 20 percent enriched uranium. A nuclear weapon test device could require less than 20 kg of weapon-grade uranium. A nuclear warhead for a missile may contain as much as 25 kilograms of weapon-grade uranium.
- The IAEA believes Iran has sufficient information to design and produce a workable implosion nuclear device based upon highly enriched uranium as the fission fuel. A high-explosive implosion system developed by Iran could be contained within a payload container small enough to fit into the re-entry body chamber of the Shahab-3 missile. The IAEA does not believe that Iran has yet achieved the means to integrate a nuclear payload into the Shahab-3.
- It is not known whether Iranian leaders intend to break out and build a nuclear weapon. A breakout using facilities under safeguards at Natanz is likely to be detected within weeks, which would likely precipitate a military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities.
- To avoid risking an attack, there are two main ways for Iran to secretly produce highly enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon. One way is to produce it through an entirely secret parallel program, which would duplicate its current capabilities. The other way is to build a secret enrichment facility and divert low-enriched uranium from Natanz to the new facility for further enrichment. Diversion would be detected but inspectors may not be able to determine the new location of the low-enriched uranium.
- Using a military strike to significantly set back Iran’s nuclear program poses immense difficulties. Many of Iran’s nuclear facilities are constructed partially or entirely underground. Research and development as well as centrifuge manufacturing facilities—at least those that have been identified—are widely dispersed and often located in major population centers.
- Several of Iran’s neighbors are now seeking to build nuclear reactors. And Jordan, Egypt, Turkey and Saudi Arabia have not ruled out enriching uranium or reprocessing plutonium domestically. The spread of advanced nuclear technology in the Middle East, combined with the perceived Iranian threat, raises the potential for significant regional proliferation.
- The Obama administration has stated that it will prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Its priority means to achieve this goal is diplomacy, but it has not ruled out use of military force.
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