Posted November 19, 2012
With Iran already dangerously close to becoming a nuclear state, America must act to stop the clock
By Blaise Misztal
Iran’s nuclear program shows no signs of slowing down, although it is not progressing as rapidly as earlier in the year. The latest report by inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), released on November 16, shows that in every measure Iran has either reached new highs or continues operating at the highest levels previously recorded.* Most disturbingly, Iran has completed the installation of all centrifuges (2,784 total) at its underground Fordow facility, although only a quarter (696) of them are currently operational. Once they are brought online, the remaining 2,088 centrifuges could as much as triple Iran’s production rate of 20% enriched uranium. Interestingly, however, Iranian leaders continue to keep their stockpile of 20% enriched uranium – one of the most important indicators of their proximity to a nuclear weapons capability – at stable levels (about 90 kilograms) by turning it into reactor fuel as quickly as they can produce it.
Enrichment Rate and Output Remains at All-Time High
Production of 3.5% enriched uranium remains at all time high level, triple pre-Stuxnet rate.**
- Between August and November. 2012, Iran produced average of 161kg/month.
- Effectively same rate as between Feb. and August 2012;
- Fastest previous rate (Feb. 2012): 115kg/month;
- 2010 average: 83 kg/month;
- 2009 average: 56 kg/month.
- Known 3.5% enriched uranium stockpile reaches 3,880kg; at current level can fuel nuclear reactor. Enough, when enriched to 90%, for two nuclear weapons.
Highest number of centrifuges ever operating and installed at Natanz.
- 9,156 centrifuges being fed uranium, same as in August;
- 10,414 centrifuges installed total, most ever.
Production rate of 20% enriched uranium fastest ever.
- Combined (Fordow + Natanz) 20% enriched production rate: 10.1kg/month;
- Total (Fordow + Natanz) 20% enriched production: 157.4kg;
- Total (Fordow + Natanz) 20% enriched stockpile: 91.2kg:
- 66.2kg have been removed for processing into reactor fuel.
Fordow facility completed.
- Number of operating centrifuges still at 696;
- Installation of centrifuges finishes with 2,784 total:
- Of these, 696 appear ready to begin enrichment imminently;
Production of 20% enriched uranium could triple when Fordow fully-operational.
- Currently, 696 centrifuges at Fordow produce 6.8kg of 20% enriched per month;
- Additional 2,088 centrifuges at Fordow are triple what is currently operating;
- Once operational, they could produce additional 20.4kg of 20% enriched per month;
- Total 20% enriched production (fully-operational Fordow + Natanz) could reach: 30.5kg/month.
Iranian Defiance Continues
Iran continues to deny IAEA inspectors access to suspected explosives testing site at Parchin.
Effect on Timing
With both Iran’s production rate of 3.5% enriched uranium and 20% enriched uranium stockpile remaining at the same levels as in the previous reporting period, the time Iran would need to produce enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon is also relatively unchanged:
- Depending on the method used, Iran could produce 20 kilograms of highly enriched uranium, enough for a weapon, in between 28 and 103 days.
- In November 2011, that range was between 60 and 180 days.***
- That window could fall to just 8 days by May 2013.****
Iran is already dangerously close to becoming a nuclear weapon-capable state, and it is imperative that the United States act to stop the clock. To meet this most pressing national security challenge, the Bipartisan Policy Center Iran Task Force released a February 2012 report, Meeting the Challenge: Stopping the Clock, co-chaired by former Senator Charles Robb and General (ret.) Charles Wald, calling for a robust and comprehensive triple-track strategy involving the simultaneous pursuit of diplomacy, sanctions, and visible, credible preparations for a military option. Additionally, the task force has released several white papers further detailing specific elements of this strategy, including: mechanisms to assess the effectiveness of sanctions; principles for negotiating diplomatically with Iran; and specific elements of visible, credible preparations for a military option.
Additionally, the BPC’s Iran Task Force recently conducted an analysis of the energy and economic consequences a nuclear Iran would have for the United States, that found that even without any disruptions to the flow of oil a nuclear Iran could raise the price of oil as much as 30% over three years.
For larger versions of the tables below, click here.
* As of latest IAEA report: “Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement and relevant provisions of Security Council resolutions in the Islamic Republic of Iran,” Board of Governors Report, International Atomic Energy Agency, November 16, 2012 (GOV/2012/55)
** For enrichment, uranium must be in gas form as uranium hexafluoride (UF6). The IAEA reports its data in kilograms of UF6. However, for this paper, we will refer to solid form uranium. One kilogram of UF6 yields roughly 0.67kg uranium metal.
*** This range depends on whether Iran uses a two- or three-step batch recycling process to produce highly enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon and is based upon the work of Greg Jones at the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center. Both scenarios assume the use of the Natanz Fuel Enrichment Plant at its current production rate and drawing upon Iran’s current stockpiles of 3.5% and 20% enriched uranium. For a more detailed explanation, see here.
**** If Iran continues to produce 20% enriched uranium at its current rate, by May 2013 it will have stockpiled 155kg, the minimum needed to produce HEU for a nuclear weapon.
Foreign Policy Project