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Sunday, January 23, 2011

Iran could break out within a month; P 5+1 talks end in failure

Unsurprisingly, the P 5+1 talks with Iran in Istanbul on Friday and Saturday ended in failure.
Announcing the failure of two days of negotiations, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said no new date for another meeting had been set. She blamed what the six consider unrealistic demands by Iran — an end to UN sanctions and agreement that Iran could continue to enrich — for the disappointing results.
Should that really surprise anyone? Didn't we know from the outset those were Iran's demands?
Proposals by the six for improved UN monitoring of Iran's nuclear activities were rejected by Teheran, as were attempts to kickstart dialogue through reviving a subset of international talks focusing on Iran shipping out a limited amount of its enriched uranium in exchange for fuel for its research reactor, Ashton said.

"We had hoped to have a detailed and constructive discussion of those ideas," she said. "But it became clear that the Iranian side was not ready for this unless we agree to preconditions related to enrichment and sanctions.

"Both these preconditions are not the way to proceed," she told reporters.

While no new talks were planned, Ashton said "our proposals remain on the table.

"Our door remains open. Our telephone lines remain open.

"The process can go forward if Iran chooses to respond positively," she said. "We will now wait to see whether they do."
Do they seriously expect Iran to change its mind now? What a bunch of fools....

By the way, the Iranians profess to be prepared to continue to talk (of course they are - talking buys them time!) and blame the P 5+1 for setting pre-conditions.
Iranian chief negotiator Saeed Jalili said his negotiating team had gone “far and beyond what was expected of us” to reach agreement and accused the other side of pushing not “dialogue, but dictation.”

He also told the semiofficial news agency Press TV, “We are still prepared for further negotiations with the P5+1, based on common issues.

[We are] prepared for comprehensive talks.”
But Laura reports that at least one Obama administration official apparently still sees the Iranian position as a negotiating ploy.
We are "disappointed, but I would not honestly say it’s unexpected," a senior U.S. administration official told journalists Saturday. "The Iranians are notoriously tough negotiators. There was bound to be a serious test of international resolve."

"I think it remains to be seen whether the Iranians are serious about engaging in practical steps to get from where we are," the senior U.S. official continued. "And I don't think [we are going to figure that out} in one or two meetings. I think there is still time to test that."
Just how dangerously wrong is that administration official? Please consider this (Hat Tip: IMRA - 16-page pdf link). As you consider it, recall that Iran has already gone from 3.5% enriched uranium (low enriched uranium or LEU) and would need to get to 95% enriched uranium (high enriched uranium or HEU) to produce a nuclear weapon.
Iran is developing fuel cycle technology as part of what it asserts is a purely civilian nuclear program. Since 2007, it has been enriching uranium using gas centrifuges at Natanz. The greatest challenge for a potential nuclear weapons proliferator is acquiring the fissile material2 and any civilian fuel cycle program has the potential to power both nuclear reactors and nuclear bombs. Specifically, the same centrifuges that produce low-enriched uranium (LEU) for reactors could make highly-enriched uranium (HEU) for a bomb. There is, therefore, no question that Tehran has the technical capability to produce a nuclear weapon,3 if it chooses to do so, but there is still ambiguity regarding Iran’s intentions. Tehran could, at minimum, be interested in maintaining the option of developing nuclear weapons in the indefinite future.

How concerned should we be about the possibility of a nuclear Iran? When could Iran produce a bomb, if it decided to do so? How do we know when we are running out of time? Iran’s breakout potential, the time required to make a bomb, is an important measure of the Iranian threat and, as such, plays a significant factor in weighing policy options toward Tehran. Such estimates create a baseline for Iranian latent weapons capabilities, which provide a tangible measure of the relative imminence of the threat and are a touchstone for policy.


Calculations using IAEA data show that the total enrichment capacity at Iran’s commercial-scale enrichment facility at Natanz has grown during 2010 relative to previous years. The boost in capacity is due to an apparent increase in centrifuge performance. The effective separative power of the IR-1 during 2010 is estimated to be 0.77 kg-SWU/yr – a 60 percent increase from 2009. The observed increase in performance could be partially due to salvaged separative work lost as hold up, but a technological improvement in Iran’s centrifuges would not be surprising. Data from Iran’s pilot plant appear to corroborate an increase in centrifuge performance. An increase in IR-1 enrichment capacity would reduce Iran’s time to produce bomb-grade material. We cannot definitively conclude what caused the measured jump in performance, but only that such an increase is observed. Contrary to statements by U.S. officials and many experts, Iran clearly does not appear to be slowing down its nuclear drive.


Once Iran has enough LEU for one bomb, the amount of LEU stops being a limiting factor on the timing -- given a certain number of centrifuges, it would take exactly the same amount of time for Iran to enrich to HEU if it had enough stockpiled feedstock material for 1, 2 or 3 bombs. The amount of LEU is important for how many bombs Iran can make, not how quickly it can produce them. If LEU is shipped out of the country, as was the plan under the recent deal to refuel the Tehran Research Reactor, unless Iran is left below one bomb’s worth of LEU, this would not add time to the clock for the production of the first bomb.

Similarly, if Iran started with 20 percent enriched uranium as feedstock, this would substantially reduce its time to a bomb. Currently, Iran has produced about 40 kg UF6 (27 kg U)28 or roughly 20 percent of the amount needed to produce a SQ of HEU. At its current enrichment pace, it would take Iran about 3.5 years to produce the necessary 20 percent uranium. However, Iran could install more cascades for 20 percent enrichment (there is allocated space for a total of 6 cascades at PFEP). If all 6 cascades or 3 cascade systems are running, Iran could produce enough 20 percent material for bomb feedstock in about a year.


The quickest way for Iran to break out is to expel safeguards inspectors and use the entire enrichment capacity at current facilities to produce HEU. The approach considered below is simplified and assumes that Iran could repipe cascades to enrich from LEU concentrations to HEU and the IR-1 will maintain the same effective performance regardless of the cascade shape. The batch recycling option, or running the product through existing 164 machine cascades, would require more time and is not considered here.


If Iran started from 20 percent enriched uranium, it would take less than a month to enrich enough HEU for a bomb, if the tails are set at +3.5 percent U235. This would need about 146 kg U as feedstock. Alternatively, if material is scarce, Iran could set the tails to 0.7 percent. This scenario would require 129 kg U, and it would take a month and a half to produce the HEU.
Read the whole thing.

What could go wrong?

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At 11:03 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

To me this sounds as if they are going off the figures that Iran has admitted to or what the IAEA knows about. In 2006 the head of the IAEA said if Iran had a parallel weaponization program it could produce a bomb in as little as a few months. That was in 2006, how many secret programs has Iran been caught with since 2006? I think it is at least 2 or 3. Here is the transcript of the report I am referring to. http://www.iaea.org/newscenter/transcripts/2006/newsweek12012006.html - - - - - DICKEY: But there´s another problem. Even if the declared nuclear research is all that Iran has going, there´s nothing in the Non-Proliferation Treaty itself to prevent them from enriching uranium - which they say is their right. They could get to the point of producing their own nuclear fuel, or bomb material, then tell you, "We´re pulling out of the treaty."

ELBARADEI: Sure. And if they have the nuclear material and they have a parallel weaponization program along the way, they are really not very far - a few months - from a weapon. ------------------ It is a shame that national/international media never mention any of this.


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