Claims That Iran Is ‘Close’ to a Nuclear Bomb Ignore Reality
(January 17, 2020) — A new round of alarmist reports on Iran’s civilian nuclear program, and possible weapons proliferation, are being publicized over the past week. As usual, this got its start in Israel, where military intelligence claimed Iran might have enough uranium for a single bomb by year’s end.
The arguments surrounding Iran’s “breakout” time are all built around irresponsible over-simplification of the nuclear process, and the assumption that Iran’s nuclear program has absolute mastery of aspects of enrichment they’ve never attempted.
Breakout time gets calculated on the basis of Iran’s existing stockpile of low-enriched uranium. At 3.67% enrichment, this stockpile is far below the 90%+ used in atomic weapons, and the needs for a weapon are built around the idea that Iran’s stockpile of 3.67% grows to a certain point wherein it is transmutated to weapons grade uranium and weaponized perfectly.
This isn’t how it works, of course. Iran would need a lot of further enrichment to take the uranium from levels needed for fueling a power plant to making a weapon, and Iran has never attempted to enrich uranium to anywhere near that level. This is a substantial set of challenges in the process by itself.
Getting to the point where they have a weapon’s worth of weapons-grade uranium isn’t the end, either, because then Iran has to successfully weaponize that level of uranium, which they’ve never had in the first place, and obviously never attempted to turn into a weapon before.
On top of all of that, Iran still couldn’t be called a nuclear power until they tested that weapon and proved it worked. This is the most foolish aspect of these breakout estimates, as even if Iran got enough uranium to hypothetically make one bomb, then went through all the other steps, and then detonated it as a proof of concept, they would have just used up their entire stockpile. That clearly would do them no good, so clearly a one-bomb stockpile is virtually no stockpile at all.
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