- Articles and Reports
Iran has been building a secret uranium enrichment plant that, according to the United States, would house 3,000 centrifuges and be capable of enriching enough uranium for one or two bombs per year. Yet, at their present rate of production, 3,000 of Iran's existing IR-1 centrifuges would take two years to fuel a bomb and ten years to produce the minimum arsenal of five weapons that a new nuclear power can be expected to require. To achieve what the United States projects, Iran would have to quadruple the centrifuges' present production rate, a feat that is theoretically within the centrifuges' design limits, but not one Iran appears to have achieved. (See option 1)
Iran may have been planning to install more advanced centrifuges at the plant, such as a modified version of the P-2 machine deployed in Pakistan. These could fuel a five-bomb arsenal in just over a year. But while Iran has tested such machines, there is no evidence that it can manufacture them in bulk or operate them on a production basis. (See option 3)
Or perhaps Iran intended to use the Qum plant in a diversion scenario. Low-enriched uranium stockpiled at Natanz and suitable for use in nuclear reactors could be diverted to Qum, or a similar such facility, and processed to weapon-grade. This could allow Iran to fuel one bomb in about seven months even at a low production rate. If the rate were doubled, the plant could fuel one bomb in about four months and three within a year. If the rate were quadrupled, which appears technically feasible, the plant could fuel almost one bomb per month and fuel a five-bomb arsenal in less than a year. (See option 2) This diversion scenario would yield an arsenal even more quickly if the plant were outfitted with more advanced centrifuges. (See option 4)
However, because the Natanz plant is being watched over by international inspectors, diversion of its material would be illegal and soon detected. Iran would also be limited by the size of its declared stockpile. Iran could still be willing to chance diversion if production rates were high enough to confront other countries with a nuclear deterrent before they could organize a response.
The four tables set forth data on the scenarios described above.