The Iranian regime announced yesterday that a new line of centrifuges have been activated and domestically-produced fuel rods are being used. The revelations in the state media were scarier: The underground Fordo nuclear site, clearly designed for nuclear weapons production, has become “fully operational,” potentially bringing Iran only a few short months from having bomb-grade uranium.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad proudly announced that Iran had produced its own nuclear fuel rods and installed them into a medical research reactor in Tehran. Iran previously bragged that it made its own rods and the site has no weapons-related purpose. Judith Miller of the Manhattan Institute described the announcement as a “photo opportunity” and “publicity stunt.”
Ahmadinejad also claimed that Iran manufactured 3,000 new “fourth generation” centrifuges for its Natanz site that will have larger and faster output. They will begin making low-enriched uranium called yellowcake next year, the regime said. Experts have serious doubts about the validity of Iran’s boasts in this area.
The announcement on Iran’s state media is of much more concern. The underground enrichment site at Fordo near Qom, built to withstand air strikes, will become “fully operational” in the matter of days. When Israeli Defense Minister warned of Iran reaching an “immunity zone” when military action is no longer viable, he was referring to this site specifically and others built underground and deep in the mountains. The U.S. and Europe point out that the structure of the site makes it incompatible with a peaceful nuclear energy program as Iran claims, but very suitable for nuclear weapons production.
Iran says it is going to enrich uranium at the Fordo site to 20% for use in medical research. A nuclear weapon needs uranium enriched to about 90% but in the words of former Revolutionary Guardsman Reza Kahlili, that 20% threshold brings Iran “9/10 of the way to weaponization.”
David Albright of the Institute for Science and International Security says that it only takes about 6 months to upgrade 20%-enriched uranium to bomb-grade level using 500-1,000 centrifuges. The Fordo site can hold 3,000 centrifuges. Iran has not said how many centrifuges are at the site but an International Atomic Energy Agency report published in November said that 412 were present.
Reza Kahlili reports that Iran just completed its first trigger for detonating a nuclear bomb, a major achievement that the IAEA knows that Iran has been working on. Last year, he was told by sources in Iran that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei ordered the construction of at least two nuclear warheads by next month.
If Kahlili’s sources had accurate information, then Iran is much closer to having a nuclear missile than the West believes. The director of Israel’s military-intelligence says Iran has enough uranium for four nuclear weapons but won’t have a nuclear missile for three years. Mark Fitzpatrick of the International Institute of Strategic Studies says that once Iran makes enough bomb-grade uranium, it’ll still take over a year for a bomb to be assembled.
Iran is becoming more aggressive as its nuclear program advances.
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