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When will Iran have the capability to produce a nuclear weapon? Some experts have said that Iran is a decade or more away from a viable nuclear device, and with only a 164-centrifuge cascade available, that might appear reasonable. However, Iran announced yesterday that it would soon expand its cascade to 3,000 centrifuges at its Natanz facility, and today said that it would expand its program to 54,000 centrifuges:
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Tuesday that Iran for the first time had succeeded on a small scale in enriching uranium, a key step in generating fuel for a reactor or fissile material for a bomb. The U.N. Security Council has demanded that Iran stop all enrichment activity because of suspicions the program's aim is to make weapons.
Iran's small-scale enrichment used 164 centrifuges, which spin uranium gas to increase its proportion of the isotope needed for the nuclear fission at the heart of a nuclear reactor or a bomb.
Saeedi said Iran has informed the International Atomic Energy Agency that it plans to install 3,000 centrifuges at its facility in the central town of Natanz by late 2006, then expand to 54,000 centrifuges, though he did not say when.
With a 54,000-centrifuge cascade, Iran could produce enough fissile material to fuel hundreds of nuclear weapons as well as run a massive nuclear power plant. How soon could that material show up? As soon as a fortnight, according to Bloomberg, which quotes US sources alarmed at the planned expansion of the Iranian cascade:
Iran, which is defying United Nations Security Council demands to cease its nuclear program, may be capable of making a nuclear bomb within 16 days if it goes ahead with plans to install thousands of centrifuges at its Natanz plant, a U.S. State Department official said.
``Natanz was constructed to house 50,000 centrifuges,'' Stephen Rademaker, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for International Security and Nonproliferation, told reporters today in Moscow. ``Using those 50,000 centrifuges they could produce enough highly enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon in 16 days.''
In fact, Iran will move forward to ``industrial scale'' uranium enrichment involving 54,000 centrifuges at Natanz, the Associated Press quoted deputy nuclear chief Mohammad Saeedi as telling state-run television today.
It took Iran several years to develop its 164-centrifuge cascade, and with the attention of the world now firmly fixed on Teheran and Natanz, the secrecy that allowed the mullahcracy to progress this far no longer applies. Unfortunately, the genie is out of the bottle, and their ability to produce centrifuges is no longer dependent on outside resources. Unless we interrupt their manufacturing capability, they will be able to produce centrifuges at whatever rate their resources allow. Ten years is a ludicrous estimate under these circumstances.
So how long before Iran can produce enough highly-enriched uranium? Even with the 3,000-centrifuge cascade the Iranians plan to implement immediately, they could produce enough fissile material within 271 days of its completion. We have only months before Teheran can put a nuke on top of its Shahab-3 ballistic missile and threaten the entire Middle East and most of Europe. If the Iranians develop their 54,000-unit cascade, they could produce two nukes every month, making them capable of developing an inventory of nuclear weapons that will quickly escape accounting -- and enough excess capacity to supply its proxies with smaller, portable devices that could cross borders and strike anywhere around the world.
Months, not years. If the 54,000-centrifuge cascade becomes reality, it will be days instead of months.Sphere It View blog reactions
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» Pondering Iran from The Agonist
Man am I ever sorry I am not going to Iran now. The visa request is still out there and who knows, it might get approved before Christmas. I'm not sure where to start, as I feel like I've consumed a great deal of information about the situation today and [Read More]
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