“Despite what this White House or its predecessors have repeatedly told the American people, it’s my belief that Iran will soon have nuclear weapons (barring military intervention by us or our allies).”
-Christopher E. Hill, Survival And Prosperity, January 20, 2011
There’s been plenty of talk lately that Iran may be able to produce enough weapons-grade uranium soon to build themselves a nuclear weapon.
To be fair, the prospect of the Iranians carrying out this achievement is something that keeps popping up in the news on a regular basis.
Still, I stand by that initial statement.
And here’s the latest chatter about the Islamic Republic of Iran getting their weapons-grade uranium and nuke. On October 5, AP White House Correspondent Julie Pace interviewed U.S. President Barack Obama on a wide range of topics. One of those was Iran. From their exchange:
Q: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said this week that Iran is about six months away from being able to produce a nuclear weapon. You said in March, before your trip to Israel, that you thought Iran was a year or more away. What’s the U.S. intelligence assessment at this point on that timetable?
THE PRESIDENT: Our assessment continues to be a year or more away.
U.S. intelligence on an Iranian nuclear weapon? One year.
On October 25, Oren Dorell reported on the USA TODAY website:
Iran could produce enough weapons-grade uranium to build a nuclear bomb in as little as a month, according to a new estimate by one of the USA’s top nuclear experts.
The top nuclear expert Dorell was referring to was David Albright, president of Washington, D.C.-based Institute for Science and International Security and a former inspector for the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency. From the non-profit, non-partisan ISIS in an October 24, 2013, summary for their report entitled “Iranian Breakout Estimates, Updated September 2013″:
We evaluated a range of breakout scenarios based on the current enriching IR-1 centrifuges and LEU stockpiles, total installed IR-1 centrifuges, and a possible covert facility containing IR-2m centrifuges. This analysis utilizes a modified form of the well-known four-step enrichment process that was developed under A.Q. Khan for Pakistan’s centrifuge program and transferred to other countries, such as Iran. Using all four steps, Iran would enrich natural uranium to 3.5 percent in step one, then to 20 percent in step two, then to 60 percent in step three, and finally to WGU in step four. This analysis considers the four-step, three-step, and two-step process also with the use of existing LEU stockpiles.
The table lists the major estimated breakout times of the four scenarios considered in this report. Today, Iran could break out most quickly using a three-step process with its installed centrifuges and its LEU stockpiles as of August 2013. In this case, Iran could produce one SQ in as little as approximately 1.0-1.6 months, if it uses all its near 20 percent LEU hexafluoride stockpile. Using only 3.5 percent LEU, Iran would need at least 1.9 to 2.2 months and could make approximately 4 SQs of WGU using all its existing 3.5 percent LEU stockpile.
(Editor’s notes: Italics added for emphasis)
ISIS on Iran being able to produce one significant quantity (SQ) of weapon-grade uranium (WGU)? One month.
It was also noted in that summary:
The estimates in this report do not include the additional time that Iran would need to convert WGU into weapons components and manufacture a nuclear weapon. This extra time could be substantial, particularly if Iran wanted to build a reliable warhead for a ballistic missile. However, these preparations would most likely be conducted at secret sites and would be difficult to detect.
Which doesn’t rule out the possibility then that some manufacturing hasn’t already been going on.
And finally, Raphael Ahren reported yesterday on The Times Of Israel website:
Iran could produce enough weapons-grade uranium to build an atomic weapon within two weeks and has, “in a certain way,” already reached the point of no return in its nuclear program, a former senior International Atomic Energy Association official said Monday.
“I believe that if certain arrangements are done, it could even go down to two weeks. So there are a lot of concerns out there that Iran can hopefully now address, in this new phase, both at the P5+1 [talks between Tehran and six world powers] and with the IAEA,” former IAEA deputy director Olli Heinonen said, confirming a report released last week by the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security, which stated Iran could muster enough uranium for a bomb by converting all of its 20-percent enriched stockpile within 1 to 1.6 months.
Former IAEA deputy director on Iran producing enough uranium for a nuke? Two weeks.
Something tells me that while the Obama administration would have liked to kick the prospect of an Iranian nuclear weapon down the road as far as possible, they might actually welcome these latest estimates as a convenient distraction for the American public away from other problems the White House is currently trying to deal with.
By Christopher E. Hill, Editor
Survival And Prosperity (www.survivalandprosperity.com)
“Full text of Obama’s interview with AP.” Associated Press. 5 Oct. 2013. (http://www.timesofisrael.com/full-text-of-obamas-interview-with-ap/). 29 Oct. 2013.
Dorell, Oren. “Report: Iran may be month from a bomb.” USA TODAY. 25 Oct. 2013. (http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2013/10/24/iran-bomb-one-month-away/3181373/). 29 Oct. 2013.
“Iranian Breakout Estimates- Summary.” Institute for Science and International Security. 24 Oct. 2013. (http://www.isis-online.org/uploads/isis-reports/documents/Breakout_Study_Summary_24October2013.pdf). 29 Oct. 2013.
Ahren, Raphael. “‘Iran two weeks away from weapons-grade uranium’” The Times of Israel. 28 Oct. 2013. (http://www.timesofisrael.com/iran-two-weeks-away-from-weapons-grade-uranium/). 29 Oct. 2013.
“The Obama administration is warning that the danger of a terrorist attack with nuclear weapons is increasing, but U.S. officials say the claim is not based on new intelligence and questioned whether the threat is being overstated.”
-Washington Times, April 14, 2010
I don’t agree with President Obama on a number of things, but here’s one we do see eye-to-eye on:
The threat posed by nuclear terrorism.
Consider recent events in the former Soviet Union. Desmond Butler of the Associated Press reported back on December 9:
Despite years of effort and hundreds of millions of dollars spent in the fight against the illicit sale of nuclear contraband, the black market remains active in the countries around the former Soviet Union. The radioactive materials, mostly left over from the Cold War, include nuclear bomb-grade uranium and plutonium, and dirty-bomb isotopes like cesium and iridium.
The extent of the black market is unknown, but a steady stream of attempted sales of radioactive materials in recent years suggests smugglers have sometimes crossed borders undetected. Since the formation of a special nuclear police unit in 2005 with U.S. help and funding, 15 investigations have been launched in Georgia and dozens of people arrested.
(Editor’s note: Italics added for emphasis)
And what of the years between 1991 (Georgian independence) and 2005? I shudder to think how much radioactive material might have found their way across the Georgian border and into the hands of the bad guys during those 14 years.
According to the piece, highly-enriched uranium has also recently been seized from smugglers in Moldova, another former Soviet republic.
From the Council on Foreign Relations website:
There have been no confirmed reports of missing or stolen former-Soviet nuclear weapons, but there is ample evidence of a significant black market in nuclear materials. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has reported more than a hundred nuclear smuggling incidents since 1993, eighteen of which involved highly enriched uranium, the key ingredient in an atomic bomb and the most dangerous product on the nuclear black market.
(Editor’s note: Italics added for emphasis)
That portion of the CFR website was last updated in January 2006.
While the Council said there have been no confirmed reports of missing or stolen nuclear weapons, the same can’t be said of nuclear material. Butler added:
Russia maintains that it has secured its radioactive material — including bomb-grade uranium and plutonium — and that Georgia has exaggerated the risk because of political tension with Moscow. But while the vast majority of the former Soviet Union’s nuclear arsenal and radioactive material has been secured, U.S. officials say that some material in the region remains loose.
“Without a doubt, we are aware and have been over the last several years that not all nuclear material is accounted for,” says Simon Limage, deputy assistant secretary for non-proliferation programs at the U.S. State Department. “It is true that a portion that we are concerned about continues to be outside of regulatory control.”
(Editor’s note: Italics added for emphasis)
“U.S. officials say that some material in the region remains loose.”
If smuggling is taking place and the whereabouts of the nuclear material is unknown, I wonder if the above shouldn’t be changed to “some material from the region remains loose?”
Since illegal aliens and drugs routinely manage to find their way into the United States, it requires no stretch of the mind to envision nuclear material for a terrorist weapon also being smuggled in.
Butler’s incredibly-informative piece be read on the Yahoo! News website here.
September 1995. Loyola University of Chicago, Rogers Park campus. My graduate school classmates and I are busy one autumn evening randomly-drawing names of notable political scientists to interview for a class project. I pick Alexander George out of Stanford University (was fantastic and insightful to talk to, by the way). My classmate and good friend Allison ends up with Graham T. Allison out of Harvard. I have no idea at that time how much Dr. Allison, now director of Harvard’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, would eventually contribute to my future knowledge about- and concern over- the threat of nuclear terrorism to America. The author of Nuclear Terrorism: The Ultimate Preventable Catastrophe, which was selected by The New York Times as one of the “100 most notable books of 2004” and is now in its third printing, had this to say about the danger in a 2007 debate (also noted in my “About” page):
This debate asks how likely is it that terrorists will explode a nuclear bomb and devastate a great American metropolis. In the judgment of former U.S. Senator Sam Nunn, the likelihood of a single nuclear bomb exploding in a single city is greater today than at the height of the Cold War. Nuclear Terrorism states my own judgment that, on the current trend line, the chances of a nuclear terrorist attack in the next decade are greater than 50 percent. Former Secretary of Defense William Perry has expressed his own view that Nuclear Terrorism underestimates the risk.
From the technical side, Richard Garwin, a designer of the hydrogen bomb who Enrico Fermi once called, “the only true genius I had ever met,” told Congress in March that he estimated a “20 percent per year probability with American cities and European cities included” of “a nuclear explosion—not just a contamination, dirty bomb—a nuclear explosion.” My Harvard colleague Matthew Bunn has created a probability model in the Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science that estimates the probability of a nuclear terrorist attack over a ten-year period to be 29 percent—identical to the average estimate from a poll of security experts commissioned by Senator Richard Lugar in 2005.
“The chances of a nuclear terrorist attack in the next decade are greater than 50 percent.” And Dr. Allison said this in 2007. I’ll have to check with the Harvard professor and administrator to see if he still believes this is the case in light of the progress being claimed by the Obama administration in the “War on Terror.” But based on recent reports about advancements in the nuclear programs of both Iran and North Korea, I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s still sticking to his guns here.
Concerning Iran, the Associated Press reported Wednesday:
Iran will step up its uranium enrichment program by sharply increasing the number of centrifuges used to make nuclear fuel, a senior official said Wednesday, in direct defiance of Western demands.
The statement by Iran’s nuclear chief, Fereidoun Abbasi, is likely to escalate tensions…
“Despite sanctions, we will most likely see a substantial increase in the number of centrifuge machines this year. We will continue enrichment with intensity,” Abbasi was quoted by state TV as saying Wednesday. The Iranian calendar year ends on March 20.
His remarks came days after the U.N. agency said Iran is about to double its output of higher enriched uranium at its fortified Fordo underground facility. That could move Iran closer to weapons capability.
Anyone out there still think the Islamic Republic of Iran won’t be getting a nuclear weapon short of a military conflict?
I wonder if the Iranians will be televising the parade from downtown Tehran when that happens?
As for the North Koreans? Reuters’ Fredrik Dahl reported Thursday:
North Korea has made further progress in the construction of a new atomic reactor, the U.N. nuclear chief reported on Thursday, a facility that may extend the country’s capacity to produce material for nuclear bombs.
Pyongyang “has continued construction of the light water reactor and largely completed work on the exterior of the main buildings,” Yukiya Amano, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said…
North Korea says it needs nuclear power to provide electricity, but has also boasted of its nuclear deterrence capability and has traded nuclear technology with Syria, Libya and probably Pakistan.
At the end of summer, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea was already thought to have 23 nuclear weapons in their arsenal.
The world was already a dangerous place, but grows even more so in our time. Especially as it concerns nuclear proliferation.
“Iran nuclear chief: Uranium enrichment to be stepped up with new centrifuges, reactor.” Associated Press. 28 Nov. 2012. (http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/iran-nuclear-chief-enrichment-to-move-ahead-with-intensity/2012/11/28/98834224-3965-11e2-9258-ac7c78d5c680_story.html). 30 Nov. 2012.
Dahl, Fredrik. “North Korea pushing ahead with new nuclear reactor: IAEA.” Reuters. 29 Nov. 2012. (http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/11/29/us-korea-north-nuclear-idUSBRE8AS0OT20121129). 30 Nov. 2012.
As President Obama spoke to world leaders at the U.N. General Assembly this morning and vowed the United States “will do what we must” to prevent Iran from gaining a nuclear weapon, I became curious as to just how close the Western Asia country was to getting a “nuke.”
If you believe the Israelis, the Iranians are several months away from having the capability to build such a weapon. From Matt Spetalnick and Dan Williams on the Reuters website back on September 16:
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned on Sunday that Iran was just six to seven months away from the brink of being able to build a nuclear bomb, adding urgency to his demand that President Barack Obama set a “red line” for Tehran in what could deepen the worst U.S.-Israeli rift in decades.
Taking to the television airwaves to make his case directly to the American public, Netanyahu said that by mid-2013 Iran would be “90 percent of the way” toward enough enriched uranium for a weapon.
(Editor’s note: Italics added for emphasis)
6 to 7 months away from being able to build a nuclear weapon.
Pop this device over the continental United States and we could be in a real world of hurt.
Is Netanyahu’s warning credible? Regrettably, it seems so.
Spetalnick and Williams added:
He appeared to be referring to Iran’s enrichment of uranium to 20 percent purity, a level it says is required for medical isotopes but which also is close to bomb-fuel grade. According to an August report by U.N. inspectors, Iran has stockpiled 91.4 kg of the 20 percent material.
Experts say about 200-250 kg (440-550 pounds) would be the minimum required to enrich further into enough material for a bomb, a threshold Iran could potentially reach soon by producing roughly 15 kg (33 pounds) a month, a rate that could be speeded up if it activates new uranium centrifuges.
(Editor’s note: Italics added for emphasis)
Glenn Kessler wrote in the Washington Post’s The Fact Checker blog on September 16:
Israeli officials have a long history of claiming that Iran is close to having a nuclear weapon–indeed, in 1992, Israeli officials suggested Iran was just a “few years” from a nuclear weapon. So with that track record, the latest assertion by the Israeli prime minister might be easy to ignore.
But in this case, Netanyahu is on the right track. In fact, a case could be made that Iran already is ahead of his timeline. Note that he did not say Iran would have a nuclear bomb—just that the Islamic Republic would have the material for a nuclear bomb.
The latest report from the International Atomic Energy Agency suggests that Iran already has more than enough uranium enriched to 20 percent that could converted into weapons-grade (90 percent) uranium for at least one nuclear weapon.
(Editor’s note: Italics added for emphasis)
Kessler went on to provide supporting evidence for this fact check.
So 6 to 7 months then.
And I once thought “Atomic Ayatollahs” would be a great name for a rock band.
Not so much anymore.
The allure of having a nuclear weapon is just too great for the Islamic Republic of Iran to let diplomacy get in the way. If anything, they’ll continue using it as a stall tactic to keep on working uninhibited.
Then look for Iran to throw a parade sometime in the near future celebrating its breakthrough.
However, I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s an attack on Iran by Israel alone, the United States alone, one or the other as part of a coalition, or some other combination.
Some even believe such a strike might take place before the November election.
If you believe war is in the cards, it’s probably a good idea to start considering the potential repercussions it could have back on Main Street. Higher energy prices? Retaliatory strikes on U.S. soil by Iran and/or its affiliates? I plan on blogging about this in the coming days.
Spetalnick, Matt and Williams, Dan. “Iran on brink of nuclear bomb in six-seven months: Netanyahu.” Reuters. 16 Sep. 2012. (http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/09/16/us-iran-nuclear-netanyahu-idUSBRE88F06P20120916). 25 Sep. 2012.
Kessler, Glenn. “Netanyahu’s claim that Iran is ‘six months’ from having nuclear bomb material.” The Fact Checker. 16 Sep. 2012. (http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/fact-checker/post/netanyahus-claim-that-iran-is-six-months-from-having-nuclear-bomb-material/2012/09/16/7497078e-002f-11e2-b260-32f4a8db9b7e_blog.html). 25 Sep. 2012.
Who out there believes that Iran is looking to weaponize their nuclear program?
Okay, who out there believes a nuclear-armed Iran would like to be in-range of detonating a newly-acquired weapon or two high in the atmosphere over North America and send the “Great Satan” back to the Stone Age?
If you answered “I do” to both of these questions, then the following two articles may be of some concern. From the Associated Press on the CBS News website yesterday:
Diplomats say the U.N. atomic agency has new intelligence that Iran has advanced its work on calculating the destructive power of a nuclear warhead, a step toward building such a weapon.
The diplomats say the information — from the U.S., Israel and at least one other country — alleges the research was done within the past three years.
Iran denies that it has worked on nuclear arms and says allegations to the contrary are based on fabricated intelligence.
But the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) gives credence to the suspicions and says it cannot disprove them unless Iran starts cooperating with its probe of the allegations.
The information comes from six diplomats who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss intelligence.
Then there’s this excerpt from a September 4 article on the FOX News website that talks about the aspirations of the Islamic Republic of Iran Navy (IRIN), also known as the Iranian Navy. From the Associated Press:
The head of Iran’s navy says the country aims to put its warships in international waters off the U.S. coast “in the next few years.”
The comments Tuesday from Admiral Habibollah Sayyari on state TV are part of Iran’s response to Washington’s beefed up naval presence in the Persian Gulf…
Iran has made similar claims in the past that its ships could soon sail into international waters off the U.S. coast.
In the last two years, Iran has sent naval units to the Mediterranean Sea and the Indian Ocean.
“AP: IAEA has new intelligence showing Iran carried out nuclear warhead research.” Associated Press. 11 Sep. 2012. (http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-202_162-57510180/ap-iaea-has-new-intelligence-showing-iran-carried-out-nuclear-warhead-research/). 12 Sep. 2012.
“Iran’s navy aims to sail off US shores soon.” Associated Press. 4 Sep. 2012. (http://www.foxnews.com/world/2012/09/04/iran-navy-aims-to-sail-off-us-shores-soon/). 12 Sep. 2012.
Christopher E. Hill, Editor
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