I’ve been writing this now since 2012 or earlier, but reporters and editors don’t care to learn about the uranium supply line and the processes that form it into a nuclear weapon. Or they like sensationalized clicks better. So here it is again.
The IAEA defines what it calls a “significant quantity” of enriched uranium as 25 kg of U-235 in enriched uranium. That’s approximately enough for a nuclear weapon, although it varies with the weapon design. The IAEA needs an arbitrary number like that for reporting on its inspections. It’s a quick rule of thumb. (If you click that link, you’ll see others writing about it in 2012.)
Because the United States has withdrawn from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA, Iran nuclear agreement), Iran has been ramping up its production of low-enriched uranium. That’s a few percent of U-235. You need 90% or more to make a nuclear weapon.
Yesterday, the IAEA’s latest report on Iran was released, with numbers, and oh boy now the reporters and editors can show us they can divide!
The low-enriched uranium that Iran has produced contains more than 25 kg of U-235. It would have to be further enriched to produce bomb-grade uranium. Then it would have to be formed into the proper shapes and explosives and electronics added to make it into a bomb. One bomb. One bomb would have a slight deterrent effect, but it’s not good for much else. In fact, announcing it for that deterrent effect would simultaneously paint a target on Iran.
I’ve seen two headlines this morning that ignore all that in favor of whipping up war fever. It doesn’t help that there are think tanks pushing this line, and that the Trumpies have been working with them hand in glove.
So here they are:
Business Insider: Iran has stockpiled enough uranium to produce a nuclear weapon in the latest sign Trump’s strategy has ‘failed miserably’. The last part is right, anyway.
New York Times: Iran Crosses a Key Threshold: It Again Has Sufficient Fuel for a Bomb. At least their subhead is better: So far, the evidence suggests that Iran’s recent actions are calculated to pressure the Trump administration and Europe rather than rushing for a bomb.
There’s no doubt Iran could build a bomb if they wanted to. The fact that they signed on to the JCPOA and that they haven’t built one is good evidence that they don’t want to. Let’s not convince them otherwise.