Iran Could Have Enough Weapons Grade Uranium for a Nuclear Bomb in Three Weeks

Iran can have enough weapon-grade uranium for a nuclear weapon in as little as three weeks per the Institute for Science and International Security.

Per ISIS – As of November 2021, Iran had enough enriched uranium hexafluoride (UF6) in the form of near 20 and 60 percent enriched uranium to produce enough weapon-grade uranium (WGU), taken here as 25 kilograms, for a single nuclear weapon in as little as three weeks. It could do so without using any of its stock of uranium enriched up to 5 percent as feedstock. The growth of Iran’s stocks of near 20 and 60 percent enriched uranium has dangerously reduced breakout timelines.

The Institute for Science and International Security is a non-profit, non-partisan institution dedicated to informing the public about science and policy issues affecting international security. Its primary focus is on stopping the spread of nuclear weapons and related technology to additional nations and to terrorists, bringing about greater transparency of nuclear activities worldwide, strengthening the international non-proliferation regime, and achieving deep cuts in nuclear arsenals.

Iran could detonate a nuclear explosive underground in as little as six months, rattling the Middle East profoundly, destabilizing the region perhaps irretrievably.

Although Iran would need longer to field a credible, reliable nuclear-tipped ballistic missile, it knows enough to build a nuclear explosive and build an underground nuclear test site. While most of the public focuses on deliverable nuclear weapons, many lose sight of Iran’s extensive knowledge and experience in building nuclear weapons and the immense damage resulting from a nuclear explosion.

Iran is mastering the construction and operation of advanced centrifuges far faster than anticipated.

Iran has rapidly increased its number of advanced centrifuges, so far doubling the number from before the JCPOA and planning to triple the pre-JCPOA quantity over the next several months. The most important advanced centrifuges today are the IR-2m, IR-4, and IR-6 centrifuges. Because of their far greater enrichment outputs, they are more useful in a speedier breakout to weapon-grade uranium or a more difficult to detect sneak out in a clandestine enrichment plant.

In January, 2018, the Israeli Foreign Intelligence Service Mossad broke into a warehouse in Tehran and seized a large cache of documents detailing Iran’s darkest and long-denied secret. The Amad Plan, the codename for its crash nuclear weapons program, was far larger and made much more progress than previously known. Containing many top secret details, the seized documents offer unprecedented insights into Iran’s progress—and the hurdles it faced in building nuclear weapons.

Iran had accumulated enough information and experience by the end of the Amad Plan to be able to design and produce a workable implosion nuclear device. This device benefited from a relatively compact high explosives initiation system, the shock wave generator, and a specialized neutron initiator. The nuclear weapon design has a diameter roughly the same as a car tire.

By the end of the Amad Plan, Iran was preparing to conduct a cold test of a nuclear explosive, typically the last step before building a prototype nuclear explosive and then making nuclear weapons.

About half of the facilities in the Amad Plan were undiscovered or unknown until after the seizure of the Iranian Nuclear Archive in 2018.

Iran decided under the Amad Plan that it would use low-enriched uranium from Natanz for further enrichment to weapon grade uranium at what is now known as the Fordow site.

Iran’s decision to halt the Amad Plan merely served as a tactical retreat, not an abandonment of its nuclear weapons ambitions or activities, a step taken earlier by other countries, notably Taiwan and South Africa.

Three of the five key leaders of the Amad Plan and post-Amad organizations have died violent deaths. Two others narrowly escaped death.

The Institute’s 2021/2022 Peddling Peril Index (PPI), the only public effort to comprehensively rank national strategic trade control systems ranks Iran as 196 out of 200, clustered with the likes of North Korea, South Sudan, and Yemen.

Highly Enriched Uranium Production

Stocks of enriched uranium are easily blended down or shipped out of Iran, allowing the reestablishment of the JCPOA’s enriched uranium limits. Yet, this is not the case regarding Iran’s newly gained experience in making highly enriched uranium.

Iran has been producing 60 percent HEU, the closest in enrichment level it has got so far to 90 percent enriched uranium, or weapon-grade uranium, the most desirable enrichment level for nuclear weapons and a short dash from 60 percent material. Since it started producing at this enrichment level in April 2021 until the end of August, Iran generated a stock of 10 kilograms (uranium mass) or 14.8 kg (uranium hexafluoride (UF6) mass) of 60 percent enriched uranium, and at the end of August, it was increasing this stock at the rate of 2.3 kg per month (uranium mass).20

This amount of HEU could be further enriched to 90 percent in one centrifuge cascade in a few short weeks or even days if two cascades were used. Upgrading to weapon-grade is quick, because in terms of separative work, production of 60 percent enriched uranium represents 99 percent of the work needed to produce weapon grade uranium. Moreover, this enrichment to weapon-grade could proceed in parallel to other centrifuge cascades further enriching near 20 and five percent enriched uranium up to the level of weapon-grade. In this manner, Iran is further shortening its breakout timelines. The production of ten kilograms of 60 percent in effect allows a 20-25 percent reduction in breakout timelines, compared to a situation of only possessing up to 5 and up to 20 percent enriched uranium.

Often lost in the debate is that 60 percent enriched uranium can be used directly in a nuclear explosive, although 90 percent HEU, or WGU, is preferred, because less material is needed for a given explosive yield. In terms of a simple extrapolation from 25 kg of weapon-grade uranium, Iran now has about one quarter of what it would need to produce one nuclear explosive fashioned from 60 percent HEU, factoring in losses and known Iranian nuclear weapon capabilities. With further design improvements, significantly smaller amounts of 60 percent enriched uranium would suffice, but Iran’s past, known nuclear weapons efforts have not demonstrated a capability for such significant reductions in total mass. Adding in expected losses, a reasonable estimate for Iranian capabilities would settle on the 40 kg value, with a recognition that less is possible, as with the case of weapon-grade uranium.

While a new deal would be expected to require the elimination of this dangerous HEU stock, its production has enabled Iran to learn critical information about producing HEU in its cascades. Overall, Iran must be recognized as able to breakout faster and more efficiently than it could do prior to these accomplishments.

For example, Iran has experimented with faster, more efficient production of 60 percent HEU, starting with 5 percent enriched uranium. It has learned how to skip a traditional enrichment step, making the production of HEU more efficient. Iran is learning how to use a cascade declared for production of low enriched uranium to make HEU, without conducting noticeable cascade re-configurations. This advancement may mean that Iran can now make 90 percent enriched uranium directly from 20 percent enriched uranium.

Iran is also practicing re-enriching tails from 60 percent production, resulting in new feedstock that can be more easily and efficiently reused, contributing further to more efficient HEU production and reduced breakout timelines for the production of successive weapon’s quantities of weapon-grade uranium.

Moreover, the 60 percent HEU can stand in for weapon-grade uranium hexafluoride during production, handling, and storing. Further, along with 20 percent enriched uranium, the 60 percent enriched uranium could provide an important surrogate material for weapon-grade uranium during conversion experiments, metallurgy, or weaponization tests.

SOURCES – Institute for Science and International Security

28 thoughts on “Iran Could Have Enough Weapons Grade Uranium for a Nuclear Bomb in Three Weeks”

  1. Weapons from the 50's wow and no-one thinks it isn't already done? Why wouldn't every country want a few nuclear weapons to offset harassments. Peace thru strength if everyone is strong then global peace will break out. Imagine no wars.

  2. They had a small heavy water reactor at Arak. Under the terms of the P5+1 deal it was inspected by the IAEA, modified to be less useable as a plutonium generator, and the old core was supposedly taken out an filled with concrete. We don't know what's happening now, as a very stable genius in the US administration figured he could get a better arrangement.

  3. We don't need to import oil anymore. We could be the exporter earning the big dollars, in that scenario, and many other scenarios (I don't think they will fight each other, though).
    We can't move quickly in response to something like that, it takes time. We need to be pumping far more oil than we consume as soon as possible because, in virtually every future scenario, this is a beneficial thing to our economy.
    I think we should also only permit pickup truck makers to make natural gas powered trucks (electric is fine obviously). This can reduce our oil consumption nontrivially.
    We also need to get heaters running on natural gas on the East coast where they are still using oil. And we need more freight moved by rail, as rail uses far less energy per ton-mile than semis.
    And all new street tires sold in the US should be low rolling resistance tires.
    I think we can use 10% less oil with no pain at all…growing to 15 or 20% in less than 8 years. Yes, electric cars have a role in that, but replacement rate is quite slow, even at 5 million electric cars sold a year, which we are not even close to. We might pass 1 million / year in 2022 or 2023. Even at 17 million cars sold each year (actual US sales), the average car is 12.1 years old. That means it would take 12.1 years if all new cars sold were electric, for half to be replaced.

  4. Pointless. Israel would swat them like a bug. Also, any nuclear detonation in the area will affect a lot of countries.
    The only utility of the weapon is 1. To stop a US invasion, maybe as a sea mine against aircraft carriers (which hopefully we will never do anyway. and I can't see any scenario, where rationally, we would) 2. To extort money from the US and the EU…to put it on hold (likely the real reason). 3. Prestige. (mostly, for domestic consumption…showing them to be one of the big boys)
    It never had any utility in actual use.

  5. Nobody makes nuclear weapons using uranium. Everyone uses plutonium. And you don't need highly enriched uranium to do so. If Iran wanted nuclear weapons then they went about it the wrong way. They could have built small reactors using enriched uranium, run them for a while, then separate out the Plutonium. They could have even just used natural uranium 238 in a heavy water reactor and gotten the same result. Wouldn't need massive uranium enrichment facilities.

  6. Correct! Brandon is indeed a fascist/national socialist(Nazi). Remember fascism is the union of government, and corporate power, just as Mussolini said.

  7. About time, all the other countries need to follow North Korea and Pakistan's lead. It was a brilliant move killing the nuclear deal that prevented this outcome for so long.

    This is the only solution to the love of adventurism by the geriatric crowd so they can vainly feel firm.

  8. The Iranian bombs will be aimed at their neighbors Israel and Saudi Arabia. Just like the Pakistani bombs are aimed at India.

  9. Have you heard of this thing called "lobbying"? Where a company can 'promote' its products by providing more or less subtle purchase incentives to the buyers' representatives, even against the best interests of the ultimate buyers (the public) and users (e.g. soldiers)?

  10. Iran needs a central bank anyway, so lets get 'em. It doesn't matter if this is just fake warmongering propaganda.

  11. To make one nuclear bomb, one…
    Having one nuclear bomb does not make you a nuclear power, it makes you a nuclear target.

  12. Actually some sources say that Iran has soften its position and the negotiation talks are moving very smoothly as of recent. For some reason it is not being reported by Western media yet. Is it the US suffocating sanctions, the continued sabotage by Israel and also the US of the Iranian nuclear program or the stance that the US is making and more so Israel that a work on a military option is on the move again? Israel has just allocated few Billion dollars, big money in Israeli terms, to its military defense budget essentially for this purpose.

  13. I am certainly not against Israel. But just because Iran says nasty things to us, does not mean we have to respond in kind, or do the dozens of other things to be the enemy they want to paint us as.
    I also don't think we have to be physically present to help insure the existence of Israel. If we think there needs to be a carrier in the gulf, just give Israel one.
    Our presence just irritates.
    The only thing these countries, other than Israel, produce of value is oil. We need to become more efficient and pump more oil ourselves. We need to be a net exporter of oil, and not just barely. We can support the production of electric cars, renewables, nuclear, AND oil. Making oil expensive by scarcity, just shoots our economy in the foot. We need to bring the price of oil down, and if that means exporting several millions of barrels a day beyond our need then that is what we need to do. I am not saying we should cripple the market with a glut, just become a major exporter.
    Defense contractors in the US vastly overcharge the Federal government, but the Fed keeps buying because the contractors make sure there are subcontractors in most of the States so the Congress members will vote for the expenditures to please the companies and those who work for them. Procurement is vastly above any need, even with the absurd gouging.
    You really think it should cost $2B for one bomber?
    These companies also make sure there is very little competition for contracts by acquiring competitors.

  14. As an adult you know that car buyers aren't glued to car companies' wishes and always want so many cars when and how they make them. Of course you know that car companies are glued to car buyers wishes and try to design and produce them when and how they might want them in the future. So why do you put it the other way around with weapons companies and the government? Cheap old conspiracy theory…

    You must leave an old friend because you need to do this to not "make an enemy"? Always or only if the old friend is Jewish?

  15. Self guilt. Their nuclear bomb, if they get to build it, is going to be aimed at us. They deride all what we stand for.

  16. Who seriously thought they were going to be stopped? They have a lot of people, and many very bright people. And they are determined.
    Why do we have to make enemies out of everyone? I am beginning to believe that all this negativity about other countries is just a means to make us squander more money on weapons, making a few corporations rich.

  17. Going from unenriched to slightly enriched uranium is slow process. And Iran was permitted to make all the slightly enriched uranium they wanted.

    Going from slightly enriched uranium to highly enriched is much quicker.

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