Proliferation through civilian nuclear programs: two weeks from NPT-allowable activities to weapons

Written by dkoplow Posted: 01/19/2011 9:19 PM EST

A quite interesting summary of the challenges associated with the Iranian nuclear program has been written by Gregory Jones, and released by NPEC.  Some key points:

  • The Iranian production rate of reactor-grade enriched fuel has been increasing, not decreasing.
  • The conversion of fuel grade to 20% enrichment levels for "research" purposes has been allowed, and not considered a violation of Iran's responsibilities as a signatory to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.
  • Because most of work required to enrich uranium is expended at low concentrations, going from a 20% enrichment level to the 90% level needed for bomb-grade is relatively minor.  Jones estimates it would take only two weeks.  While this step would constitute a violation of the NPT, there would be little lead time to do anything about it.  Jones argues that while Iran also needs to develop a weapon in which to use the bomb-grade material, much of that process could be done in parallel.  Bottom line:  the cover provided by a wildly uneconomic civilian power program in Iran has eliminated most of the leadtime to produce a bomb.