Iran can produce enough weapons-grade material to power a nuclear bomb in just 12 days and could produce another four bombs within a month’s time, according to a watchdog group.
The Islamic Republic can enrich enough uranium to power a total of seven nuclear weapons in three months, the Institute for Science and International Security concluded in a report analyzing information provided by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the United Nations’ nuclear oversight group.
The findings show that Iran is closer than ever before to crossing the nuclear threshold. The country, in recent months, has been enriching uranium to levels just below weapons-grade levels, fueling concerns the Islamic Republic could move towards testing a weapon at any moment. The IAEA in its most recent reporting disclosed that Iran has likely enriched up to 83.7 percent at its Fordow nuclear facility, a military site dug deep inside a mountain. These are the highest levels detected at Iranian enrichment sites and highlight the country’s growing technical knowhow.
The detection of more highly enriched uranium at the Fordow site is raising concerns “Iran is undertaking covert experiments that add to its ability to more rapidly break out,” according to the report. “Worrisome possibilities include that Iran tested a way to produce near weapon-grade uranium without IAEA detection, or to syphon off a small amount of near 84 percent enriched uranium.”
Iran’s decision to stop cooperating with the IAEA also has limited its window into the country’s nuclear activities.
“The IAEA reports that it can no longer reestablish continuity of knowledge about Iran’s activities under a revived [nuclear deal], such as production of advanced centrifuges and heavy water, due to Iran’s decision in February 2021 to deny the IAEA access to data from key JCPOA-related monitoring and surveillance equipment and Iran’s decision in June 2022 to remove all such equipment, including video cameras and online enrichment monitors,” the institute said.
Iran’s refusal to permit international inspectors access to these sites has severely limited the international community’s knowledge of current Iranian enrichment activities. It also raises the possibility that “Iran could accumulate a secret stock of advanced centrifuges, deployable in the future at a clandestine enrichment plant or during a breakout at declared sites,” according to the institute’s analysis.
Another concern is that Iran will install additional centrifuge manufacturing sites, the equipment used to enrich uranium to levels needed to power a bomb, according to the watchdog group. “Iran is fully capable of moving manufacturing equipment to new, undeclared sites, further complicating any future verification effort and contributing to uncertainty about where Iran manufactures centrifuges,” the institute said.
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