Former IAEA official: Iran has 'passed the point of no return' in its nuke program
This analysis by a former International Atomic Energy agency deputy director of Iran's nuclear capabilities takes into account the far more sophisticated centrifuges Iran has been installing at its main enrichment facility at Nantanz.
These centrifuges are not designed to enrich uranium to 20% of bomb-grade uranium. They are designed to enrich beyond that number - a qualitative change in Iran's nuclear capability:
Iran has passed the "point of no return" in its nuclear weapons program and could soon have the ability to enrich enough missile-grade uranium to build a bomb in just two weeks, the former deputy director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency told reporters on Monday.
Olli Heinonen, who served at the IAEA for 27 years until 2010, said the advanced centrifuges that Iran recently began installing in its enrichment facilities will "radically reduce the so-called breakout time" for the regime to quickly produce enough weapons-grade uranium to build a nuclear weapon.
Iran announced in January it would install 3,000 IR-2 centrifuges in its Natanz facility. These produce a four to five times greater output than the older model, according to the Institute for Science and International Security.
A recent ISIS report estimated Iran could achieve breakout in one month, based on its current capabilities. This highlights the advancements Iran has made in its program since last year, when ISIS estimated it could produce the necessary amount of weapons-grade uranium in two to four months.
Heinonen said this window could shrink further.
"I believe that if certain arrangements are done, [the breakout time] can even go down to two weeks," said Heinonen.
If Iran continues to install new centrifuges at its current rate, Heinonen said the time estimates would be shortened significantly by next summer.
"Iran is producing all the time additional centrifuges, and is installing them," said Heinonen. "The last few months, the rate has been about 600 new centrifuges per month, which means that if it continues like this by next summer all these time [estimates] I mentioned will get cut by one-third."
"We are going in the wrong direction and there is now certain capability," he added. "But tomorrow it will be very different."
Heinonen said "in certain ways" Iran has passed the "point of no return" in its nuclear program. But he estimated that Iran would need around one year to complete the weapons component and delivery system to actually launch an attack.
Is it a coincidence that this "final stage" of developing the ability to enrich uranium to bomb-grade levels in a matter of two weeks comes just as Iran invites the west to talk?
It should be pointed out that there is no evidence Iran has a workable bomb design, although the simple "gun-design" of the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima would not be beyond Iran's capabilities. And most experts believe they are still years away from marrying a nuclear device with one of their ballistic missiles.
It is not likely that Iran would ever test a nuclear bomb. Any such test would initiate military action by Israel and perhaps even the US. More likely, they will have one or more devices disassembled, with the ability to quickly (2 weeks) enrich enough 20% uranium to bomb grade levels and assemble the bomb at that time.
Iran would have a hard time assembling a bomb with the IAEA looking over their shoulder. So it is possible that they will withdraw from the non-proliferation treaty and kick the IAEA out before they finish the job of assembling a nuclear bomb. In that scenario, Israel would have a matter of days to decide whether to attack or not.
We've entered a whole new era where the decision making time that we have in stopping Iran from building a bomb has narrowed considerably.