From Bloomberg, April 12:
Iran Could Produce Nuclear Bomb in 16 Days, U.S. Says
Iran, defying United Nations Security Council demands to halt its nuclear program, may be capable of making a nuclear bomb within 16 days, a U.S. State Department official said.
Iran will move to “industrial scale” uranium enrichment involving 54,000 centrifuges at its Natanz plant, the Associated Press quoted deputy nuclear chief Mohammad Saeedi as telling state-run television today.
“Using those 50,000 centrifuges they could produce enough highly enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon in 16 days,” Stephen Rademaker, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for International Security and Nonproliferation, told reporters today in Moscow.
Rademaker was reacting to a statement by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who said yesterday the country had succeeded in enriching uranium on a small scale for the first time, using 164 centrifuges. That announcement defies demands by the UN Security Council that Iran shut down its nuclear program this month.
The U.S. fears Iran is pursuing a nuclear program to make weapons, while Iran says it is intent on purely civilian purposes, to provide energy. Saeedi said 54,000 centrifuges will be able to enrich uranium to provide fuel for a 1,000-megawat nuclear power plant similar to the one Russia is finishing in southern Iran, AP reported.
“It was a deeply disappointing announcement,” Rademaker said of Ahmadinejad’s statement.
Rademaker said the technology to enrich uranium to a low level could also be used to make weapons-grade uranium, saying that it would take a little over 13 years to produce enough highly enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon with the 164 centrifuges currently in use. The process involves placing uranium hexafluoride gas in a series of rotating drums or cylinders known as centrifuges that run at high speeds to extract weapons grade uranium.
Iran has informed the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency that it plans to construct 3,000 centrifuges at Natanz next year, Rademaker said.
“We calculate that a 3,000-machine cascade could produce enough uranium to build a nuclear weapon within 271 days,” he said.
While the U.S. has concerns over Iran’s nuclear program, Rademaker said “there certainly has been no decision on the part of my government” to use force if Iran refuses to obey the UN Security Council demand that it shuts down its nuclear program.
Rademaker is in Moscow for a meeting of his counterparts from the Group of Eight wealthy industrialized countries. Russia chairs the G-8 this year.
China is concerned about Iran’s decision to accelerate uranium enrichment and wants the government in Tehran to heed international criticism of the move, Wang Guangya, China’s ambassador to the United Nations said.
Here, in contrast, is one from the Memory Hole. Washington Post, Aug. 2, 2005:
Iran Is Judged 10 Years From Nuclear Bomb
U.S. Intelligence Review Contrasts With Administration Statements
A major U.S. intelligence review has projected that Iran is about a decade away from manufacturing the key ingredient for a nuclear weapon, roughly doubling the previous estimate of five years, according to government sources with firsthand knowledge of the new analysis.
The carefully hedged assessments, which represent consensus among U.S. intelligence agencies, contrast with forceful public statements by the White House. Administration officials have asserted, but have not offered proof, that Tehran is moving determinedly toward a nuclear arsenal. The new estimate could provide more time for diplomacy with Iran over its nuclear ambitions. President Bush has said that he wants the crisis resolved diplomatically but that “all options are on the table.”
The new National Intelligence Estimate includes what the intelligence community views as credible indicators that Iran’s military is conducting clandestine work. But the sources said there is no information linking those projects directly to a nuclear weapons program. What is clear is that Iran, mostly through its energy program, is acquiring and mastering technologies that could be diverted to bombmaking.
The estimate expresses uncertainty about whether Iran’s ruling clerics have made a decision to build a nuclear arsenal, three U.S. sources said. Still, a senior intelligence official familiar with the findings said that “it is the judgment of the intelligence community that, left to its own devices, Iran is determined to build nuclear weapons.”
At no time in the past three years has the White House attributed its assertions about Iran to U.S. intelligence, as it did about Iraq in the run-up to the March 2003 invasion. Instead, it has pointed to years of Iranian concealment and questioned why a country with as much oil as Iran would require a large-scale nuclear energy program.
The NIE addresses those assertions and offers alternative views supporting and challenging the assumptions they are based on. Those familiar with the new judgments, which have not been previously detailed, would discuss only limited elements of the estimate and only on the condition of anonymity, because the report is classified, as is some of the evidence on which it is based.
Top policymakers are scrutinizing the review, several administration officials said, as the White House formulates the next steps of an Iran policy long riven by infighting and competing strategies. For three years, the administration has tried, with limited success, to increase pressure on Iran by focusing attention on its nuclear program. Those efforts have been driven as much by international diplomacy as by the intelligence.
The NIE, ordered by the National Intelligence Council in January, is the first major review since 2001 of what is known and what is unknown about Iran. Additional assessments produced during Bush’s first term were narrow in scope, and some were rejected by advocates of policies that were inconsistent with the intelligence judgments.
One such paper was a 2002 review that former and current officials said was commissioned by national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley, who was then deputy adviser, to assess the possibility for “regime change” in Iran. Those findings described the Islamic republic on a slow march toward democracy and cautioned against U.S. interference in that process, said the officials, who would describe the paper’s classified findings only on the condition of anonymity.
The new estimate takes a broader approach to the question of Iran’s political future. But it is unable to answer whether the country’s ruling clerics will still be in control by the time the country is capable of producing fissile material.
And just to jack up the deja vu factor, from the Washington Post, April 12, 2006:
Lacking Biolabs, Trailers Carried Case for War
Administration Pushed Notion of Banned Iraqi Weapons Despite Evidence to Contrary
On May 29, 2003, 50 days after the fall of Baghdad, President Bush proclaimed a fresh victory for his administration in Iraq: Two small trailers captured by U.S. and Kurdish troops had turned out to be long-sought mobile “biological laboratories.” He declared, “We have found the weapons of mass destruction.”
The claim, repeated by top administration officials for months afterward, was hailed at the time as a vindication of the decision to go to war. But even as Bush spoke, U.S. intelligence officials possessed powerful evidence that it was not true.
A secret fact-finding mission to Iraq — not made public until now — had already concluded that the trailers had nothing to do with biological weapons. Leaders of the Pentagon-sponsored mission transmitted their unanimous findings to Washington in a field report on May 27, 2003, two days before the president’s statement.
The three-page field report and a 122-page final report three weeks later were stamped “secret” and shelved. Meanwhile, for nearly a year, administration and intelligence officials continued to publicly assert that the trailers were weapons factories.
The authors of the reports were nine U.S. and British civilian experts — scientists and engineers with extensive experience in all the technical fields involved in making bioweapons — who were dispatched to Baghdad by the Defense Intelligence Agency for an analysis of the trailers. Their actions and findings were described to a Washington Post reporter in interviews with six government officials and weapons experts who participated in the mission or had direct knowledge of it.
None would consent to being identified by name because of fear that their jobs would be jeopardized. Their accounts were verified by other current and former government officials knowledgeable about the mission. The contents of the final report, “Final Technical Engineering Exploitation Report on Iraqi Suspected Biological Weapons-Associated Trailers,” remain classified. But interviews reveal that the technical team was unequivocal in its conclusion that the trailers were not intended to manufacture biological weapons. Those interviewed took care not to discuss the classified portions of their work.
“There was no connection to anything biological,” said one expert who studied the trailers. Another recalled an epithet that came to be associated with the trailers: “the biggest sand toilets in the world.”
See our last post on Iran.