Iran’s Claim of Five Days

We may see magnification and misrepresentation of some things Ali Akbar Salehi, Iran’s chief of atomic energy, said.

Let’s get an accurate translation first: Ariane Tabatabai speaks Persian. Her tweetstream starts here. I’ll collect what she translates for easier reading.

What Salehi actually said: “We are so prepared for snapback, that, really, the other party will be surprised. In just 4-5 days, we can start enriching [uranium] at 20%.”

That was several days ago. Tabatabai translates a more recent statement:

If we decide, we can start 20% enrichment in Fordow in maximum 5 days. And this means a lot. From a technical and professional perspective, this would send a signal, and the adversary would understand that. If they torpedo the JCPOA, North Korea will tell then, ‘you don’t stick to your promises.’ Imagine they’d want to solve DPRK politically. If they withdraw from JCPOA, North Korea will tell them, ‘you concluded a deal with Iran, and Iran insists it wants to stay in, so why did you leave?’ Then the North Koreans will ask what kind of guarantee there would be if they reach a deal. If JCPOA is dismantled, everything will part apart, foundation of international relations. And so will credibility of countries like US

Let me expand.

Five days is about what it would take to replumb the centrifuges at Fordow, now set up for enriching lighter nonfissile isotopes, to enrich uranium to 20%. That 20% is probably a rounding-up from 19.75%, which doesn’t seem like a big difference, but it is. Twenty per cent is defined by the IAEA as the lower limit of weapons grade uranium. The higher enrichment level Iran was producing for a research reactor was 19.75%, so that it would be in compliance with the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

But even if 20% – weapons grade – is what Salehi intended, that’s not a big deal. The number of centrifuges at Fordow means that the quantities enriched would probably be on the order of grams per month. A bomb would require hundreds of kilograms of 20% uranium. That’s an impractical bomb and impossible goal with only the centrifuges at Fordow.

But 20% is a jumping-off point for further enrichment to a realistic weapons grade, generally taken to be over 90%. That would require still more centrifuges, or a program of constantly replumbing the centrifuges at Fordow for batches of stepped-up enrichments.

In order to do any of this, Iran would have to throw out the IAEA inspectors, so we would know as they started.

The bottom lines are

  1. The JCPOA is working. Iran remains about a year from a bomb.
  2. Salehi felt he had to bluster back at Trump’s bluster about desiring to find Iran in noncompliance.
  3. Opponents of the JCPOA are running with this and exaggerating it. So don’t believe what you may hear about Iran having a bomb in five days. Yes, there was one idiot headline that said that.

 

Cross-posted at Nuclear Diner.






31 replies
  1. 1

    […] Cross-posted at Balloon Juice. […]

  2. 2
    clay says:

    If they torpedo the JCPOA, North Korea will tell then, ‘you don’t stick to your promises.’ Imagine they’d want to solve DPRK politically. If they withdraw from JCPOA, North Korea will tell them, ‘you concluded a deal with Iran, and Iran insists it wants to stay in, so why did you leave?’ Then the North Koreans will ask what kind of guarantee there would be if they reach a deal. If JCPOA is dismantled, everything will part apart, foundation of international relations. And so will credibility of countries like US

    I believe some very smart people have been making the same argument around here lately. Including one… can’t remember her name… something like Feral Chauffeur?

  3. 3
    oatler. says:

    If the chef of atomic energy makes claims of enriched yellow cake I’d send inspectors to verify.

  4. 4

    @oatler.: But that is not what he is claiming. And it’s unlikely to be yellow cake.

  5. 5
  6. 6
    Hildebrand says:

    @Butthurt Jordan Trombone (fka XTPD): Good lord, just what we needed. This is why I don’t watch cable news.

  7. 7
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    That one idiot headline rules the universe, because it’s clickbait.

  8. 8
    Matt McIrvin says:

    This seems like a post I might end up linking back to.

  9. 9
    West of the Rockies (been a while) says:

    @Butthurt Jordan Trombone (fka XTPD):

    Let us savor….

    Ugh.

  10. 10
    tobie says:

    If they torpedo the JCPOA, North Korea will tell then, ‘you don’t stick to your promises.’

    I fear we’ve already crossed this bridge. This is what made withdrawing from the Paris Climate Agreement so toxic. The entire agreement was crafted so the US could sign on without having to go to Congress to ratify it. No way this will happen in the future.

  11. 11

    @Matt McIrvin: That’s why I do posts like this. I want this information in one place so I can link back to it. Much more convenient than the series of tweets I issued this morning.

  12. 12
    Mnemosyne says:

    Frankly, this sounds like a completely sensible decision on Iran’s part — if the US is going to break its promises, they see no reason to keep their promises to the US.

    That’s why the US shouldn’t be breaking its promises to Iran, Donnie!

  13. 13
    WaterGirl says:

    @Cheryl Rofer: Just so you can refer back to this post. Not because you care about us? Not because you want to keep us informed? You are just using us. sniff sniff.

    Okay, not really. I finally got my rain overnight, by the way. Just a day behind you.

  14. 14

    Was Iran even mentioned in the speech yesterday.

  15. 15
    RobertDSC-iPhone 6 says:

    ran remains about a year from a bomb.

    Really? How many times have we heard this from Israel and our own right-wing nutcases?

  16. 16

    @WaterGirl: Glad you got your rain.

    I regard it as very important to get this information out to the Balloon Juice community. Also to get feedback on what I’m not making clear.

  17. 17

    @schrodingers_cat: I don’t recall that it was. And that’s probably a good thing. We don’t need any more confusion about Afghanistan, although Iran has interests there too.

  18. 18

    @RobertDSC-iPhone 6: The problem is that with Salehi’s comments, some of them are now claiming Iran is five days from a bomb. Not true.

    The point of the JCPOA is to keep Iran at least a year from a bomb for the next ten to twenty years. We’re two years in, and it’s working.

  19. 19

    @Cheryl Rofer: It is Afghanistan’s other neighbor. Also, an ally of India and one of it major oil suppliers.

  20. 20

    @schrodingers_cat: Yup. Part of what makes Afghanistan so complicated.

  21. 21
    TenguPhule says:

    Opponents of the JCPOA are running with this and exaggerating it. So don’t believe what you may hear about Iran having a bomb in five days. Yes, there was one idiot headline that said that.

    Its no good to tell us that.

    You have to explain this to the idiotic 49% of America who are lazy, stupid and insane.

  22. 22
    TenguPhule says:

    @West of the Rockies (been a while):

    Let us savor….

    The highest quality of bullshit. Raised on only the best lies, believe me.

  23. 23
    KS in MA says:

    Thanks, Cheryl.

  24. 24
    Another Scott says:

    @tobie: A better example of the problems with not keeping agreements in this context might be the Budapest Memorandum.

    Ukraine (and Belarus and Kazakhstan) gave up their nukes in part because of security guarantees.

    The memorandum was originally signed by three nuclear powers, the Russian Federation, the United States of America, and the United Kingdom. China and France gave somewhat weaker individual assurances in separate documents.[1]

    We see that the guarantee hasn’t been worth too much in Ukraine. One can argue about the wisdom and realism of the guarantee, and all the rest, but the fact that it wasn’t sufficient to keep Russia from invading has to serve as a cautionary tale to any nuclear (or nearly-nuclear) state that is considering giving up its arms.

    Cheers,
    Scott.

  25. 25

    @Another Scott: Indeed, Russia’s invasion was in conflict with its obligations to Ukraine under the Budapest Memorandum. But those nukes were always the Soviet Union’s and did not belong to Ukraine, Belarus, or Kazakhstan. Those countries could not build them nor could they launch them by themselves. They were built in factories mostly located in Russia, the one exception being missiles built in Ukraine. The launch codes and such were held by the central Soviet authorities.

    That doesn’t entirely undercut your contention about broken agreements. Trump’s withdrawing from the Paris agreement is a step in the wrong direction, and much more important than any of that would be withdrawing from the Iran agreement or the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, both of which are being advocated by Republicans. There’s a fuzziness to the Budapest Memorandum that is not the case for those agreements.

  26. 26
    WaterGirl says:

    @Cheryl Rofer: I was just teasing, sorry if that wasn’t clear.

  27. 27

    @WaterGirl: It was. But I had thought of saying something like that in my original comment and didn’t.

  28. 28
    Another Scott says:

    @Cheryl Rofer: Good points. Thanks.

    Cheers,
    Scott.

  29. 29
    EmbraceYourInnerCrone says:

    And leave us not forget the U.S. (CIA) backed 1953 coup that overthrew the democratically elected prime minister of Iran and installed the Shah as a US puppet. Why should Iran trust us about anything? Isn’t having nukes one thing that keeps us from pushing Pakistan too hard?

  30. 30
    Robert Sneddon says:

    Is Iran’s research reactor, the Teheran Research Reactor still fuelled with 19.75% enriched uranium or has it been converted down to LEU in the 5%-6% region like many other research reactors around the world? As I understand it they can’t obtain any new fuel for it from sources other than their indigenous centrifuge lines.

  31. 31

    @Robert Sneddon: It’s still fueled with 19.75% enriched. Some of the surplus 19.75% enriched was made into fuel plates. They have a supply now, but I’m not sure for how long.

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