In the negotiation over Iran’s nuclear program there currently appears to be an unbridgeable gap between Iran’s minimum requirement for enrichment capacity, the equivalent of the approximately 10,000 IR-1 centrifuges currently operating at Natanz, and the U.S. upper limit, which appears to be considerably lower. But there is another variable which also determines how quickly Iran could produce enough 90% enriched uranium for a nuclear explosive if it broke its commitment to stay below 5% enrichment. This variable is the size of Iran’s stockpile of up-to-5%-enriched uranium. Having a large stockpile of low-enriched uranium to feed into its centrifuge cascades shortens by a factor of three, e.g. from six to two months, the time that it would take to produce enough 90% enriched uranium for a bomb.
In this memo, first circulated in late September, Frank von Hippel and Alex Glaser show that it would be possible to reduce Iran’s current stockpile of 5,000 kg of low-enriched UF6 to about 200 kg made possible by using a smaller (12-inch) cylinder for enriched uranium. This would make it possible to recover the factor of three in breakout time and might make it possible for the P5+1 to raise their upper limit on Iran’s centrifuge capacity.
Our book is finally out, and we had the opportunity to present it yesterday at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, DC. Our argument is based on a very simple premise: Banning nuclear weapons will not end the threat of nuclear war and nuclear explosions if countries continue to make, stockpile, and use the fissile materials that make nuclear weapons possible. International efforts to abolish nuclear weapons and to prevent proliferation and nuclear terrorism so far have been acting largely in parallel with no comprehensive underlying strategy. With now enough fissile material around for about 200,000 nuclear weapons, we propose a new framework that puts these materials front and center. We propose a set of policies to drastically reduce fissile material inventories worldwide with a view to their total elimination as irreversibly as possible. Put simply, no material, no problem.
The slides of the briefing are available here.
We have recently published an article on Iran’s Arak reactor in the April 2014 issue of Arms Control Today, proposing technical steps that would provide assurance that Iran could not quickly make sufficient plutonium for a nuclear weapon with the Arak reactor (A Win-Win Solution for Iran’s Arak Reactor, by Ali Ahmad, Frank von Hippel, Alexander Glaser, and Zia Mian). The suggested redesign of the Arak reactor would reduce plutonium production to less than one kilogram per year, comparable to the reduction that would be accomplished by replacing the Arak reactor with a light-water research reactor. At the same time, the proposed changes would not reduce the usefulness of the reactor for making radioisotopes and conducting research. We believe, this approach would meet Iran’s needs and would address the concerns of the international community as reflected by the P5+1.
The story has been picked up quite widely beginning on April 2, 2014, with a Reuters article.