The very earliest Iran would have enough 5% low enriched uranium is next year. They have enough centrifuges to, in theory only, turn that 5% into 90% (weapons grade) uranium by 2011. Enough for three bombs.
However, the efficiency and reliablity of their centrifuges is poor.
Even with the 90% they need at least 3 years to weaponize it. They could have 12 operational nukes by 2014. But they would need railroad cars or ships to deliver them.
They need "heavy water" to make the weapons compact enough to fit into a missile. They are starting construction of a heavy water plant in 2013, should be operational by 2019.
Once they Iranians have heavy water, production of weapons grade uranium will greatly accelerate.
By 2021, Iran could have a large number of intercontinental ballistic missiles with atomic bombs on board.
These are aspects to the problem:
- Can Iran get enough yellow cake uranium from vendors and mining for both power plants and weapons?
- Can Iran highly enrich uranium to a minimum 90% weapons grade?
- How soon?
- Can Iran do so, secretly?
- Can Iran mill weapons grade uranium into hemispheres?
- Can Iran precisely implode those hemispheres? (Electrical Bridge Wire) detonators synchronized at 130 nanoseconds
- How would “heavy water” improve Iran’s weapon?
No way to stop it, it is just a matter of time. It will be awhile. The Iranians have enough low enriched uranium (LEU), if enriched would be enough technically for three small atomic weapons. However, even the Iranians admit the LEU is only 4.6% and our intel shows it to be only 4%. The minimum enrichment for critical mass is 90%. If you can get to 95% you only need 1/4 the uranium.
So, the Iranians have a long way to go. They claim to have 5,000 centrifuges, but we know that only about 3,000 are running. And those centifuges will only get you to about 9% and take 2-3 years to do it. They do have two cascading centrifuges that will get you to maybe 80% but they are just coming on line in the next couple of months. They need at least 30 to get significant enrichment in the next 4-5 years. We have interdicted the sale of a particular kind of power inverter that is only made in England that gives you enough DC power to spin the centrifuges fast enough to get over 80%.
So there are big technical obstacles to the Iranians. They are very clever and the Russians and Chinese may help them out so they could surprise us. All in all, most believe it is a matter of time, no more than five to seven years or so to get the fuel and a couple of years to figure out how to weaponize it. Remember, too, that Iran needs that LEU for fuel to run Bushehr which comes on line on 022509. Their two uranium mines are low production of very impure uranium ore. That is a major limiter to their nuke weapons. Nukes are expensive and divert significant fuel away from energy production that Iran desperately needs. There are many practical thinkers in Iran that don't see the benefit.
By then, we will have a missile shield completely in place, the Iranians may change governments and stop the nuke program, or, there are significant opportunities for the Iranians to cooperate with us regarding Afghanistan and the drug trade which is wrecking Iran.
Will Israel have a different option,
Letting Iran have a nuke is a Bad move.
US invaded Iraq for the same reason.
How will this play out?
Obama lets Iran get Nuke?