Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., in justifying their opposition to the Iran nuclear deal fail to note one basic fact: Iran is already a threshold nuclear weapons state.
According to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), it takes about 25 kilograms of highly enriched uranium-235 to make a bomb.
Iran has about 10,000 kilograms of stockpiled uranium, most at less than 5 percent enrichment. A bomb would need about 85 percent enrichment, but 228 kilograms of Iran’s stockpile is near 20 percent, according to a July 21 report by the nonpartisan Institute for Science and International Security.
Iran has nearly 18,500 IR-1, first-generation centrifuges that could be used to enrich uranium. The Natanz facility has 15,500 and the underground Fordow facility has 3,000. An additional 1,400 advanced centrifuges are at Natanz, including 400 undergoing tests.
Natanz has 9,200 IR-1 centrifuges enriching uranium, while 700 are enriching uranium at Fordow, according to the Belfer Center at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.
Using the 9,200 IR-1 centrifuges operating at Natanz, “Iran could theoretically produce enough weapon-grade uranium to fuel a single nuclear warhead in less than two months,” according to the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control. If it used the more advanced Natanz centrifuges that are not operating now, Iran could produce the bomb-quality uranium “more quickly,” according to the project.
Iran also has been building a new heavy-water reactor at Arak. As originally designed, it could eventually produce plutonium, another route to a weapon.
That’s the situation today.
Iran built this nuclear structure despite a series of increasingly tough economic sanctions. As a result, Tehran’s economy suffered a near collapse.
It’s true that sanctions brought Iran to the negotiating table in October 2013 after the election of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. By that time, however, Iran already had become a threshold nuclear state.
When the 2013 negotiations began, “Iran had accumulated enough 20 percent enriched uranium that the required additional enrichment time for weapons use was only a few weeks,” 29 top U.S. nuclear scientists and engineers said in an Aug. 8 letter to President Obama. That was also the view of the U.S. intelligence community.
The United States and its allies now seek to roll back Iran’s nuclear weapon threshold through the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action that Netanyahu and Schumer want Congress to turn down. Under the JCPOA, Tehran must:
▪ Downblend or sell all its enriched uranium in excess of 300 kilograms. Those remaining 300 kilograms are to be natural uranium, meaning at an enrichment of 3.67 percent for the next 15 years.
▪ Also for the next 15 years, limit to 5,060 the number of IR-1 centrifuges able to enrich at Natanz and store the rest there under IAEA supervision. Only 1,000 IR-1 centrifuges could operate at Fordow, but not for enrichment. One-third would be used in conjunction with Russian scientists to produce stable isotopes for research, and the balance as replacements.
▪ The core of the Arak reactor would be redesigned and rebuilt at a lower power that would produce smaller amounts and lesser quality plutonium, but all that spent fuel would be sent out of Iran for the reactor’s lifetime.
The IAEA would monitor these limits with the most intrusive inspections ever agreed to by a country that signed the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.
Netanyahu, in a conference call last week to members of the Jewish Federations of North America, said that the JCPOA would give Iran “two paths to the bomb. Iran can get to the bomb by keeping the deal or Iran could get to the bomb by violating the deal.”
He called cheating “a difficult path to one or two bombs today,” adding that under the agreement, Iran would have “a much easier path to hundreds of bombs tomorrow.”
In a statement Thursday, Schumer said of a nuclear weapon, “After ten years, it (Iran) can be very close to achieving that goal.”
What neither seems to recognize is that if Congress blocks U.S. participation in the JCPOA, nothing would stop Iran from enriching uranium and building a nuclear weapon in months — except military action.
Schumer refers indirectly to that option. Early in his statement, he cites Obama’s “far-sighted focus” to develop the best military deterrent and antidote to a nuclear Iran, naming the Massive Ordnance Penetrator, a new 30,000-pound bunker-buster bomb that could be used on Iran’s underground nuclear facilities.
Netanyahu’s alternative was to increase the “pressure” of sanctions if Congress rejects the deal. Forgetting the past, he said that the pressure of sanctions has been “absolutely effective throughout the many times we have had to deal with Iran.”
He also said it is “a myth that the sanctions will collapse without this deal.”
Netanyahu then created a mythical financial world of his own by saying that if the United States unilaterally increases its sanctions, after “some initial erosion, the rest of the world will come around” and eventually Iranians will come back.
Why? Because apparently the new sanction he has in mind would be the United States halting any financial business with any country, firm or person that does business with any Iran entity. That will never happen.
© 2015, The Washington Post