November 7, 2007

Months, Not Years

Iran announced that it has expanded its working centrifuge system to 3,000, making uranium enrichment to weapons-grade fissile material achievable within a year. The Iranians announced this as an intermediate goal nineteen months ago on the way to 54,000, at which point they could produce a bomb every two weeks:

Iran has achieved a landmark with 3,000 centrifuges fully working in its controversial uranium enrichment program, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Wednesday.

Ahmadinejad has in the past claimed Iran succeeded in installing the 3,000 centrifuges at its uranium enrichment facility at Natanz. Wednesday's claim was his first official statement that the plant is now fully operating the 3,000 centrifuges.

"We have now reached 3,000 machines," Ahmadinejad told thousands of Iranians in Birjand in eastern Iran, in a show of defiance of international demands to halt the program believed to be masking the country's nuclear arms efforts.

In April 2006, the State Department estimated that a 3,000-unit centrifuge cascade could produce enough highly-enriched uranium to produce one working nuclear bomb within 271 days. This announcement starts the nuclear clock. That schedule puts the buzzer at August of next year at the earliest.

The Iranians don't plan on stopping at 3,000, either. Despite their rhetoric about only desiring peaceful applications for their nuclear program, they built Natanz to run the much larger, industrial-size 54,000-centrifuge cascade. Their one uncompleted reactor at Bushehr would have no need for the kind of output produced by such a cascade for the less-enriched uranium used in power plants, but it would allow them to start cranking out nuclear weapons on a much more regular basis than once every nine months.

People used to say that we had years before Iran could build a nuclear weapon. Now we have months. And while they could stick it on top of a Shahab-3 missile and hit as far away as eastern Europe, don't expect them to waste it on one of their rockets when they have suicidal terrorists eager to make a big exit from this world - preferably taking thousands of Israelis or Westerners with them.


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