Iran’s nuclear program has reached a “breakthrough point”

MOSCOW, 20 Nov 2021, RUSSTRAT Institute.

Behrouz Kamalvandi, the official representative of the Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran (AEOI), said on November 5, 2021: “To date, we have produced 25kg of uranium enriched to 60%. No country has such capabilities, with the exception of states that possess nuclear weapons.”

Behrouz Kamalvandi said that “according to the Law on Strategic Measures to Lift Sanctions, adopted on November 28, 2020, the AEOI was required to produce 120kg of uranium enriched to 20%.” He also added: “At the same time, today we have already produced more than 210kg of it.”

It should be noted that Iran started the actual enrichment of uranium to the level of 20% on January 4, 2021. Uranium enriched to 20% is considered weapons grade. The fact is that 92% of the costs are spent to bring uranium to the level of enrichment of 20%. Then only 8% of the costs remain to enrich uranium to 90%, the level necessary to create a nuclear munition. That is why in Israel the level of enrichment of 20% is called a “breakthrough point”.

Returning to the information message of the official representative of the AEOI Behrouz Kamalvandi, it should be noted that it is addressed primarily to the United States and, of course, to Israel. By the way, in 2012, Israel openly stated that 240kg of uranium enriched to 20% would become a “red line”, the crossing of which would cause a blow to Iran’s nuclear infrastructure facilities, because to create a nuclear charge, a certain amount of uranium with an enrichment level of 80-90% is needed, which can be obtained just exactly from 240-270 kg of uranium enriched to 20%.

If we recalculate 25kg of 60% uranium into 20% uranium, we get about 83kg. That means, on November 5, 2021, Iran had at least 293kg of uranium enriched to 20%. To produce one simple-design nuclear munition, about 60kg of uranium with an enrichment level of 90% is required. To get this amount, there is a need of about 270kg of uranium enriched to 20%.

The essence of the statement of the official representative of the Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran dated November 5, 2021 is that Tehran has a sufficient amount of uranium with an enrichment level of at least 20% necessary to create one nuclear munition.

Thus, as of November 5, 2021, Iran has reached the “breakthrough point” and, if desired, can obtain 90% uranium to create nuclear weapons in the shortest possible time. Some experts believe that, theoretically, one month will be enough for Tehran.

Let’s consider the current situation more broadly and comprehensively.

It should be understood that having the right amount of uranium enriched to 90% is only the first step. It is also necessary to make a nuclear charge itself, the detonation of which will ensure the occurrence of a so-called chain reaction with the release of a large amount of energy. In addition, there is a need of means for delivering a nuclear warhead, the best option at the first stage is a ballistic missile. An unmanned aerial vehicle can also be considered as a means of delivery, but it is vulnerable to modern air defence systems.

And again, in order to declare the possession of nuclear weapons to the whole world and convince the whole world of their presence, a real test should be conducted with the detonation of a nuclear munition. Plus, it is necessary to have at least several more delivery vehicles with nuclear warheads at the ready, let’s assume 3-4 units, because the detonation of the only available nuclear device will not ensure nuclear deterrence.

So, compared to November 5, 2021, Tehran needs to have 4-5 times larger reserves of uranium enriched to 20% (1080-1350kg), which can be quickly converted into 240-300kg of 90% uranium.

If to talk about the means of delivering nuclear weapons, Iran possesses sufficiently advanced ballistic missiles with a warhead mass of 500 to 1000kg and a maximum flight range of 1500-2500 km. In particular, we are talking about ballistic missiles of the Ghadr-110, Sejjil and Emad types.

The technical task of choosing a delivery vehicle capable of carrying a warhead with certain weight and size characteristics can be solved in advance if you have a nuclear charge design, even in drawings. It is this technology that comrades from North Korea can provide, if Iran does not already have it. It is realistic to conduct practical launches of missiles with a mass-dimensional mock-up of a nuclear charge in advance.

However, the legal side of the issue and Iran’s international obligations should not be forgotten. In August 2021, the Iranian Foreign Ministry made the following statement: “Until the United States and other parties to the agreement resume full and unconditional implementation of the nuclear deal, Iran will continue to develop its nuclear program according to its needs, orders of the authorities and in accordance with its obligations under the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT).”

Theoretically, uranium enrichment up to 20% can be justified by the need for its use in experimental nuclear reactors, enrichment up to 60% – by use in medicine. The question, of course, is also in quantities. But there is nothing to justify higher degrees of enrichment. It will be obvious that the country is moving towards the creation of nuclear weapons. And this will no longer concern the nuclear deal (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action – JCPOA), but Iran’s obligations under the NPT.

Tehran’s violation of its obligations under the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons will expectedly lead this country to very tough sanctions through the UN being imposed on it. And in this case, both Russia and China in the UN Security Council will be forced to support them, in order to deter others, for example, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Ukraine from committing the same.

In such a scenario, Iran will find itself in the position of North Korea (there are nuclear weapons and there are very tough sanctions) and after a while it will be destroyed from the inside, because the degree of controllability and control inside Iran, the loyalty of the population to the Iranian authorities and the willingness to endure hardships and deprivations is an order of magnitude lower than in the DPRK.

Therefore, the information message of the Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran dated November 5, 2021 should be considered as an increase in the stakes before the seventh round of negotiations in Vienna on the resumption of the JCPOA, which will begin on November 29.

If we consider the situation regarding the resumption of the nuclear deal with Iran as a whole, then it is in a stalemate. In order to return to its obligations under the JCPOA on its nuclear program, Tehran demanded the lifting of all US sanctions, and there were 1,733 of them as of January 2021. And without the lifting of a significant number of sanctions, the JCPOA has no sense for Iran.

However, no US presidential administration will lift such a number of sanctions at once, because this fundamentally contradicts America’s political tradition. At best, this will lead to the beginning of the impeachment procedure of Joe Biden, or he will be quickly removed from the duties of the president for health reasons and replaced with Kamala Harris.

Thus, in the near future, we should not expect serious progress on the resumption of the JCPOA. There will be a bargaining between Washington and Tehran. Iran is likely to balance at the “breakthrough point”, gradually increasing the amount of 20% uranium, but not crossing the red line in the form of obligations under the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.

Institute for International Political and Economic Strategies – RUSSTRAT

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