Iran Claims to Have Bolstered Uranium Production

Iran announced today that it has dramatically expanded its uranium production capability to the point where it might actually be able to produce a nuclear weapon.

Iran announced a dramatic expansion of uranium enrichment Monday, saying it has begun operating 3,000 centrifuges nearly 10 times the previously known number in defiance of U.N. demands it halt its nuclear program or face increased sanctions.

U.S. experts say 3,000 centrifuges are in theory enough to produce a nuclear weapon, perhaps within a year. But they doubted Iran really had so many up and running, a difficult technical feat given the country’s spotty success with a much smaller number.

Instead, the announcement may aim to increase support at home amid growing criticism of hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and to boost Iran’s hand with the West by presenting its program as established, said Michael Levi, a nonproliferation expert at the Washington-based Council on Foreign Relations.

“From a political perspective, it’s more important to have (3,000 centrifuges) in place than to have them run properly,” Levi told The Associated Press. “We have an unfortunate habit to take Iran at its word when they make scary announcements.”

The response from most experts quoted in the article appears to be one of skepticism, especially in light of Iran’s past, rather pathetic attempts to enrich uranium:

David Albright, a former U.N. nuclear inspector, said 3,000 centrifuges would be enough to build a nuclear warhead within a year.

But “it would be very hard to believe” that Iran has been able to enlarge its centrifuge cascade so dramatically, he said. “It all hinges on whether Iran will be able to get the machines working together” at a constant rate.

Levi said Iran has only been able to run its two small cascades of 164 centrifuges “perhaps 20 percent of the time.”

No doubt that this will cause a lot of saber-rattling in the American domestic sphere. Which is good for President Ahmadinejad, since hawkish sentiments coming out of the United States appears to bolster his support within Iran, while diplomacy thus far has seemed to diminish it.

At this point, I have to admit to a great deal of skepticism about Iran’s ability to actually produce a nuclear weapon–their record so far just doesn’t seem to indicate that they have the infrastructure or scientific knowhow to actually get a bomb program going. The fact of the matter is, governments run by political fanatics don’t have a good track record for advancement in the sciences and technology. Most of the available evidence seems to be pointing towards a non-nuclear Iran for quite some time. I suppose they could buy a nuclear weapons if they could find a willing seller, but given that they’ve not been able to pay Russia for the supplies necessary for their civilian program, I have doubts about their ability to even get the financing to purchase one, much less take care of all the logistics necessary to transport such a weapon undetected and un-intercepted.

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Alex Knapp
About Alex Knapp
Alex Knapp is Associate Editor at Forbes for science and games. He was a longtime blogger elsewhere before joining the OTB team in June 2005 and contributed some 700 posts through January 2013. Follow him on Twitter @TheAlexKnapp.

Comments

  1. The Sandbox says:

    Iran: “Enriching Uranium With 3,000 Centrifuges”…

    After the distraction of a little British kidnapping, it seems we’ve moved closer to a very scary scenario:Iran on Monday announced that it has begun enriching uranium with 3,000 centrifuges, dramatically expanding a program that the United Nations ha…

  2. DC Loser says:

    Arms Control Wonk has been a good source for unclassified information on this subject. Check out this from 4 days ago:

  3. Anderson says:

    The Iranians are just trying to look tough after they crumpled on the Brit hostages.

  4. G.A.Phillips says:

    Anderson, I believe these are honest evil doers and not like the liberals, but you could be right on this one and only because Muhammad and Allah say it is holy to lie to the infidel.

  5. Tano says:

    “governments run by political fanatics don’t have a good track record for advancement in the sciences and technology”

    I dont know what you mean by “fanatics”, but Stalin and Mao were able to put together a nuclear weapon without much problem, so I dont see why they mullahs couldnt do it.