Paul has done a stellar job keeping up on the most recent IAEA report, making Total Wonkerr a go-to resource on Iran’s centrifuges.
The Washington Post’s Karen DeYoung has an excellent, balanced article on the technical and diplomatic implications of the report.
Anyway, now that we are a day out from the release of the IAEA report, I wanted to talk about the technical progress that Iran has made, what that means for diplomacy and the need for an unclassified NIE on Iran’s nuclear programs.
Is the Glass Half Full?
David Albright tells DeYoung that the ever-present metaphorical glass “is a little more than half full.” David and I did essentially the same calculation, so I thought I would be explicit about the assumptions regarding Iran’s centrifuge operations.
Based on the letter from IAEA DDG for Safeguards Heinonen and Paul’s awesome reporting, we can assume that Iran began feeding UF6 into the eight cascades on or about April 15, when most of us were filing our taxes.
Between April 15-May 22 (37 days, not counting the 22nd, or 888 hours), Iran fed approximately 260 kg of UF6 into the eight cascades. Assuming a feed rate of 70 grams an hour, eight cascades should consume approximately 500 kilograms of UF6. If Iran consumes just 260 kilograms, than the centrifuges are operating a little above 50 percent of what one would expect.
First, the Iranians may feeding hex only intermittently for a variety of reasons. Paul, for example, reported that the Iranians were being “cautious.”
Second, Iran might feed the hex more slowly to boost the enrichment levels. Note that the IAEA report claims Iran has enriched to 4.8 percent U-235.
Gary Samore told Chris Nelson that Iran’s centrifuges aren’t spinning at the full 350 m/s clip:
My sources tell me that the machines are NOT operating at full capacity (i.e. they are spinning at lower than optimal speeds to avoid crashing). Also note that the IAEA report on the amount of feel material processed thus far to produce low enrich uranium (260 kg of natural UF6) is a very small amount.
Iran might feed UF6into the centrifuges more slowly to compensate for the slower speed of the centrifuges, producing higher levels of enrichment but at a much slower pace.
This is a straightforward technical tradeoff—the Iranians have rushed ahead, meaning that the corresponding breakout capability is less than one might expect for the same number of centrifuges.
I should note that Nelson-san quote me, too, nodding approvingly at Gary’s bottom line:
Iran is making technical progress but still far from having a credible nuclear weapons break out option.
Missing the Cascades for the Centrifuges
Although I stick by that bottom line, a good friend of mine writes in to observe that the technical discussion “may be obscuring the most important thing.” Iran is “out of compliance with a forceful and unequivocal UNSC resolution. So we may be minutely examining technical points where the issue is really diplomatic.”
At any given moment, the sense of urgency that the international community ought to have, based on the present technical consequences of their non-compliance, is subject to debate. What is not subject to debate is that, left unchecked, they will eventually get to a point where the urgency is not uncertain at all.
So, How’s that Iran NIE Coming Along?
Our public debate would be improved immensely, by the way, if the Bush Administration would release the overdue, unclassified NIE on Iran’s strategic programs—as it is required to do so by law. Word is the NIE is almost done, but not quite.
On that subject, four Democratic Senator’s have written to President Bush, reminding him that the FY2007 Defense Authorization act required reports on our Iran policy (the one we don’t have, literally) and updated NIEs on relevant subjects by January 2007.
My favorite part is when the authors—respectively, the Senate Majority leader and chairmen of the Armed Services, Foreign Relations and Intelligence committees—asked if the President might at least estimate when the overdue reports might be submitted:
May 22, 2007
The White House
Washington, DC 20500
Dear Mr. President:
We respectfully call your attention to an unfulfilled provision of law that would greatly enhance Congressional oversight of U.S. policy on Iran.
As you know, Section 1213 of the fiscal year 2007 Defense Authorization Act (P.L. 109-364) requires you to provide Congress with an unclassified and classified report on your policy objectives and strategy regarding Iran. Congress expects that the Section 1213 report will address questions that have been raised about the role in your strategy of U.S. diplomatic, financial, intelligence, military and other activities, and development, public diplomacy, democracy, education, cultural and other programs relating to Iran.
Section 1213 also requires the Director of National Intelligence to submit to the Congress updated and comprehensive national intelligence estimates (NIEs) on Iran, in both classified and unclassified form, and we understand that several Iran-related NIEs that should address this requirement are nearing completion.
There is great interest in the Senate in ensuring an effective US policy addressing the challenge of Iran. Since the January 2007 deadline in law for filing these reports has long passed, we would appreciate an estimate from you on the expected completion dates for these reports. Rigorous oversight by Congress is an essential part of crafting effective national security policy, and receiving and reviewing these reports as soon as possible is important to accomplishing this task. We look forward to your update, and in the upcoming months, we hope we can work together on crafting an effective policy response to this important foreign policy challenge.
Joseph R. Biden Jr.
John D. Rockefeller IV
JOHN WARNER NATIONAL DEFENSE AUTHORIZATION
ACT FOR FISCAL YEAR 2007
(a) Submittal to Congress of Updated National Intelligence Estimate on Iran-
(1) SUBMITTAL REQUIRED- The Director of National Intelligence shall submit to Congress an updated, comprehensive National Intelligence Estimate on Iran. Such National Intelligence Estimate shall be submitted as soon as is practicable, but not later than the end of the 90-day period beginning on the date of the enactment of this Act.
(2) NOTICE REGARDING SUBMITTAL- If before the end of the 90-day period specified in paragraph (1) the Director determines that the National Intelligence Estimate required by that paragraph cannot be submitted by the end of that period as required by that paragraph, the Director shall (before the end of that period) submit to Congress a report setting forth—
(A) the reasons why the National Intelligence Estimate cannot be submitted by the end of such 90-day period; and
(B) an estimated date for the submittal of the National Intelligence Estimate.
(3) FORM- The National Intelligence Estimate under paragraph (1) shall be submitted in classified form. Consistent with the protection of intelligence sources and methods, an unclassified summary of the key judgments of the National Intelligence Estimate should be submitted.
(b) Presidential Report on Policy Objectives and United States Strategy Regarding Iran-
(1) REPORT REQUIRED- As soon as is practicable, but not later than 90 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the President shall submit to Congress a report on—
(A) the objectives of United States policy on Iran; and
(B) the strategy for achieving those objectives.
(2) FORM- The report under paragraph (1) shall be submitted in unclassified form with a classified annex, as appropriate.
(3) ELEMENTS- The report submitted under paragraph (1) shall—
(A) address the role of diplomacy, incentives, sanctions, other punitive measures and incentives, and other programs and activities relating to Iran for which funds are provided by Congress; and
(B) summarize United States contingency planning regarding the range of possible United States military actions in support of United States policy objectives with respect to Iran.