So, in case you missed it … some members of the news media are freaking out reporting Ahmadinejad’s claim that Iran is enriching uranium “on an industrial scale,” Larijani’s claim that Iran is running UF6 though 3,000 centrifuges,” and the usual pundits warnings that the end of the world is just around the corner … Repent!
Seriously people, you should just write it on a placard and wander the streets ringing a bell.
As far as I can tell, the technical people have said two things:
- Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) Director Gholamreza Aqazadeh said “With the entry into the stage of mass-production of centrifuges and the start of nuclear fuel production on an industrial scale and with several years of efforts and hopes bearing fruit, the (nuclear) project has entered a new stage.”
- AEOI’s Mohammad Saiedi declined to say how many centrifuges Iran had, explaining “We enter the industrial stage after passing the pilot stage. … Our pilot stage included two cascades of 164 centrifuges; we passed the stage and entered the industrial level.”
As I read these statements, the Iranians are confirming what was reported the other day … that Iran has installed additional 164-machine cascades—maybe more than 1,000 centrifuges in total—at the Fuel Enrichment Plant at Natanz.
Three things worth keeping in mind, before you sell that nice little townhouse on Logan Circle and relocate to Montana:
- 1,000 P1 centrifuges (assuming 2 kg SWU per machine) operating continuously require 23-29 months to enrich enough uranium for a bomb; 3,000 P1 centrifuges would take 8-10 months. Either way, we’ve still got time, probably two years assuming the centrifuges can operate continuously.
- Iran still does not operate its centrifuges continuously. Based on Iran’s past consumption of UF6, Iran feeds gas into its centrifuges only about 20 percent of the time, suggesting the machines are either breaking down or that Iran cannot use its own UF6 as feedstock.
- There is no evidence that Iran can mass produce the components of 3,000 centrifuges. The Iranians can claim mass production, but I want to see the evidence that Iran can mass produce ball bearings and maraging steel bellows for the P1. Diplomats have been saying Iran imported enough components for about 1,000 to 2,000 centrifuges. So, my guess is that Iran can make today’s announcement with what they bought from AQ Khan; they may run into problems when they try to push past that number.
All of this is to suggest that today’s announcement seems like a stunt.
After all, a few thousand P1 centrifuges is nowhere near industrial scale. A 1,000 MW(e) reactor requires something like 100,000 SWU each year to keep it fueled. Aqazadeh mentioned plans for an indigenous 360 MW(e) electric reactor—assuming 36,000 SWU to keep it fueled, Iran would need 18,000 P1 centrifuges. Good luck with that.
The technical people have 1-2 thousand reasons, however, to make this announcement now. If Iran relies on imported components, AEOI needs to make the big announcement now because installing more than 2,000 centrifuges or enriching large amounts of uranium may not be possible for a couple of years.
As for A-Bomb and the political people, they also have a motive to exaggerate Iran’s progress. Redefining Iran’s pilot efforts may help hardliners accuse pragmatists of trading away “industrial scale” enrichment capabilities—capabilities Iran does not yet have.
That’s a pretty neat trick. But I don’t see why we need to fall for it.