Enough For One Bomb

This morning the New York Times is reporting that, based on the information in the latest update from the IAEA, Iran has produced a quanitity of low enriched uranium that, with enrichment, could be turned into enough highly enriched uranium to make one nuclear weapon:

Iran has now produced roughly enough nuclear material to make, with added purification, a single atom bomb, according to nuclear experts analyzing the latest report from global atomic inspectors.

The figures detailing Iran’s progress were contained in a routine update on Wednesday from the International Atomic Energy Agency, which has been conducting inspections of the country’s main nuclear plant at Natanz. The report concluded that as of early this month, Iran had made 630 kilograms, or about 1,390 pounds, of low-enriched uranium.

Several experts said that was enough for a bomb, but they cautioned that the milestone was mostly symbolic, because Iran would have to take additional steps. Not only would it have to breach its international agreements and kick out the inspectors, but it would also have to further purify the fuel and put it into a warhead design — a technical advance that Western experts are unsure Iran has yet achieved.

The materials to make a bomb are the real stumbling block. Since the development of the very first nuclear weapon once a country had passed that threshold nothing has prevented any country that wanted to do so from developing a nuclear weapon.

Over the years I’ve posted extensively on this subject both here and at The Glittering Eye, so much that I don’t much feel like recapping it now. Suffice it so say that I think that the preponderance of the evidence suggests that either a) Iran is developing nuclear weapons or b) they want us (and their own people) to think that they are. I also don’t believe that we should attack Iran either preventively or even preemptively for the simple reason that it would be counterproductive, not accomplishing what we might wish to achieve and encouraging what we don’t want to happen.

This isn’t good news if not unexpected. President Bush and President Elect Obama have both said that a nuclear-armed Iran was “unacceptable”. I’m not sure what that means. I’d much rather that we prevented that prospect with non-military action than attempted to respond to the fact of it either with non-military or military action. Tick tock.

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Dave Schuler
About Dave Schuler
Over the years Dave Schuler has worked as a martial arts instructor, a handyman, a musician, a cook, and a translator. He's owned his own company for the last thirty years and has a post-graduate degree in his field. He comes from a family of politicians, teachers, and vaudeville entertainers. All-in-all a pretty good preparation for blogging. He has contributed to OTB since November 2006 but mostly writes at his own blog, The Glittering Eye, which he started in March 2004.


  1. Alex Knapp says:

    It’s worth noting, though, that the “added purification” is a tricky part. If you don’t do it right, you won’t get a chain reaction and your bomb is a dud. Plus, if it’s taken this long for Iran to get enough low quality material for one bomb, color me not all that worried about their technical capabilities…

  2. Jake - but not the one says:

    It is a very long way from sufficiently processed fuel for reactors to sufficiently processed fuel for a bomb. Every nation that has fuel for reactors has the fuel for reprocessing into bomb material. It just isn’t that easy.

    Even so, I don’t think that this news proves anything except that Iran can produce reactor grade fuel, which is completely in line with their public statements.

    We don’t need more bombs, that’s a given. But, given that Gates is talking about new bombs for the US, it’s not hard to imagine why other countries might want the bomb as well. As a deterrent, it is a spectacular weapon.

  3. And if your non-military options don’t work, then what? Just shrug your shoulders and say, “Whoops! My bad.” What if it cannot be prevented with soft power? What criteria can be used for determining that soft power won’t work?

    Meanwhile, eventually the arguments offered as to why Iran is still far away from having a working nuclear weapon will eventually morph into sure they did it once but here are the reasons they’ll have trouble doing it again. The only question is whether this is after an underground test somewhere in Iran or an above ground test somewhere in Israel.

  4. Bithead says:

    It’s time to break out the Pirahnna Brothers.

    Hey, that’s a nice bomb you’ve got there, Gov. It’d be same if anything were to happen to it….

    Like it might blow up or something….

  5. Dave Schuler says:

    It’s funny you should mention that, Bithead. I’ve been saying for some time that small numbers of nuclear weapons are better thought of as targets than as deterrents.

  6. Michael says:

    As has already been mentioned, processing raw Uranium ore into low-grade Uranium fuel is not particularly difficult, some naturally occurring ore is already enriched enough to produce fission. Processing that into weapons grade material is by far the most difficult part. A uranium bomb will also not give them as much yield.

    That said, Charles is right that it’s only a matter of time before Iran can build a Uranium bomb. Weapons grade plutonium is significantly easier to produce once you have reactor-grade Uranium, but building a plutonium bomb is also significantly more complicated that a uranium bomb.

  7. Alex Knapp says:

    So what happens if Iran gets the bomb anyway? Israel finally announces what everyone knows–they have them, too. So we have a renewed MAD doctrine in the Middle East? Does anyone think that Iran is so suicidal that they’d risk their own nuclear annihilation for the sake of an unprovoked attack on Israel? Please. The Mullahs aren’t idiots.