New Uranium Enrichment Calculator

Our ace FAS researcher, Lucas Royland, has developed a simple calculator that allows prediction of when Iran will first have enough highly enriched uranium to build a simple gun-assembled nuclear bomb. We must emphasize that the calculator gives the best case (from the Iranian point of view, the worst case from the rest of the world’s point of view). In other words, the user enters, for example, the rate at which Iran can produce centrifuges. The calculator assumes those are used to best efficiency as produced. There are never any management errors, supply problems, or misallocation of resources, that is, the things that always slow down any real-world construction project. So, for the parameters entered, the calculator gives the “not before” date.

The President of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad , announced on Tuesday that Iran has successfully enriched uranium to levels useable in a nuclear reactor. The calculator shows that the announcement is important but not quite as momentous as it might first appear. Certain events really are “milestones.” The day before the United States exploded the first nuclear bomb or the day before the Soviets launched Earth’s first artificial satellite, no one could be absolutely certain the feat was possible but the day after we knew it was possible. The Iranian announcement is not in this category.

The Iranians had built some centrifuges using plans and parts bought from Pakistan. The world knew they had some experience operating individual centrifuges. But no centrifuge can enrich uranium to reactor grade; the output from one centrifuge is passed on as the input to the next, and so forth through several layers in what is called a “cascade.” Optimizing a cascade is a complex business and the Iranians linked their 164 centrifuges together to study the problem. Using this small experimental cascade, the Iranians were able, they claim, to enrich some small quantity of uranium from a natural concentration of 0.7% U-235 to 3.5% U-235. This is an important accomplishment but not a Sputnik-like milestone. It is one step in a long engineering and production process that eventually will lead to the capability to produce significant quantities of bomb-grade uranium and, perhaps, the material itself if the Iranians chose to go that route.

The Arms Control Association has a great resource page on Iran. Anthony Cordesman and Khalid R. Al-Rodham released this week a long review of the Iranian nuclear program.

One thought on “New Uranium Enrichment Calculator

  1. While I enjoy the calculator, it might as well be a cartoon clip of Sponge Bob Squarepants .
    Iran has made millions of dollars worth of purchases from the Belarusians, as well as the Chinese and Venezuela. No one wants to hear that Iran already has nuclear weaponry, but Ahmadinejad has been tooting his horn for months.
    He alludes to his own enrichment, because of the need to protect his sources. The Chinese and Russians don’t want the USA to pop them in the eye with sanctions, over the sale of WMD to Iran. Chavez could care less, so he is more vocal over his support of Iran.
    The Leader of Iran has “something” that he believes will wipe Israel off the map. He is insane, and believes that Allah has chosen him for this Sanctified Mission.
    He does not care if the entire world goes down, as HE IS INSANE. When a crazed leader announces that he will strike Israel, and Israel will fall like a “rotted tree”, you must realize he already has those missiles locked and loaded, and aimed at Tel Aviv.

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