Iran has been expanding its uranium enrichment capability and now requires as little as one month to just over one-and-a-half months to produce enough highly enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon, according to a new report.
The finding by the Institute for Science and International Security and the University of Virginia's School of Engineering and Applied Science compares to a 2-4 month time frame that the organizations assessed a year ago. Their assessments are based on reports by the International Atomic Energy Agency, which monitors Iran's nuclear facilities.
"As in the October 2012 iteration, the estimates in this report do not include the additional time that Iran would need to convert WGU (weapons grade uranium) into weapons components and manufacture a nuclear weapon," the ISIS-UV assessment said. "This extra time could be substantial, particularly if Iran wanted to build a reliable warhead for a ballistic missile."
The new report follows the opening last week of new negotiations on resolving the Iran nuclear crisis between the recently elected Iranian government of President Hassan Rouhani and international powers known as the P5 Plus One: the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany.
Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi, who is Tehran's chief negotiator, Thursday said that nuclear and sanctions experts from the sides would meet next week in Geneva in advance of a second round of full-scale talks on Nov. 7-8.
Iran insists that its enrichment program, which it kept secret for 18 years and is based on technology and knowhow acquired from a smuggling ring led by the father of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal, is strictly for peaceful purposes. The United States believes Iran is putting in place the ability to produce a nuclear weapon if it decides to do so.
Enrichment is the process by which uranium hexifluoride gas is refined in high-speed spinning machines known as centrifuges. The procedure produces low-enriched uranium for power reactor fuel and highly enriched uranium for nuclear warheads, depending on the duration that it is undertaken.
Since October 2012, the new report said, technicians have "steadily expanded" the number of first generation Iranian-made centrifuges at Iran's main enrichment center at Natanz and at Fordow, an airstrike-resistant facility built deep beneath a mountain outside the holy city of Qom.
Iran also has begun installing more advanced Iranian-made centrifuges at Natanz, the report said.
ISIS and UV experts considered four scenarios in determining how much time Iran would need to produce 25 kilograms of highly enriched uranium, the amount required for a single nuclear weapon. This is known as "breakout" because it would represent Tehran's breakout from the Non-Proliferation Treaty, the bedrock accord of the international system to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, of which Iran is a signatory.
The scenarios are based on the numbers of centrifuges now operating as well as the stockpiles of 3.5 percent enriched low-enriched uranium and near 20 percent low-enriched uranium that Iran had accumulated as of August.
According to the report, Iran could produce enough highly enriched uranium for a single weapon in as little as one month to just over one-and-a-half months if it used all of its stocks of 3.5 percent low-enriched uranium and near 20 percent low-enriched uranium.
Other scenarios involving Iran's known facilities and stockpiles give longer breakout times. It could take less time - 0.7-to-1.4 months - to achieve breakout if Iran has a secret facility employing the more advanced centrifuges, the report said.
The report recommended that negotiators seek ways to lengthen the times to six months or longer, which would give the IAEA sufficient time in which to detect any Iranian breakout attempt.