Can Iran make a nuclear bomb? Not so fast, analysts say

February 26th, 2009 - 9:38 am ICT by IANS  

Vienna, Feb 26 (DPA) It’s an argument over one figure: With 1,010 kg of low-enriched uranium, does Iran have the capability to make a nuclear weapon? Or is the country still some technical steps away from the bomb, as some nuclear analysts say?

After the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) issued its latest report last week on Iran, several media suggested that the Vienna-based UN nuclear watchdog had determined that Tehran had enough fuel for a bomb.

In fact, the IAEA had simply stated that Iran has enriched 1,010 kg of uranium hexafluoride to a low level - to analysts such as David Albright at the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security, this figure means Iran has reached the “break-out capability” to use the material for one weapon.

To do that, Iran would first have to expel or deceive IAEA inspectors, resign from the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT), enrich the uranium to a higher level needed for weapons, and fashion it into a bomb, Albright and others say.

“At the moment, I’m not very concerned,” said Andreas Persbo, a Swedish analyst at the Verification Research, Training and Information Centre (VERTIC), a London-based think tank.

Given Iran’s technical capabilities, it would theoretically take around six months to take all these steps, Persbo estimated, giving the international community or individual countries enough time to react by diplomatic or military means.

“If they really want a nuclear weapon, they need to come up with a time of two months,” Persbo said.

Iran’s position is that it is enriching uranium only to fuel reactors for nuclear power. So far, three rounds of UN Security Council sanctions have not deterred Tehran from continuing this nuclear activity.

If Iran took all the enriched uranium it has and converted it into a single bomb, one would assume that Tehran was willing to take the big risk of ending up with a small and not very effective weapon, said James Acton, a British expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

“If Iran were prepared to take high risks, they would have been ready for the last three, five or six months,” Acton said from Washington, disputing that it was possible to make a definite statement about Iran’s capabilities.

Jeffrey Lewis at the New America Foundation in Washington called it “a mistake” to focus on the breakout scenario. Instead, attention should be paid to the possibility that Iran could build a secret enrichment plant for military purposes, rather than converting the one currently monitored by the IAEA in Natanz.

However, not everyone agrees with the view that 1,010 kg Iran has amassed through the end of January are not all that significant. The country did not actually have to build a working nuclear weapon to create a threat, Albright said.

“What if they just said they got the bomb?” he asked. “What are you gonna do?”

Albright said that this was why the 1,010 kg meant for Israel that it was losing control over the timing of Iran’s nuclear activities. While Iran might have material for just one bomb at present, the amount was continually growing, he said.

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