Iran already has the capability for a compact nuclear explosive and the Institute for Science and International Security estimates the country is just three months from having four "crude" nuclear weapons.
A nuclear-tipped ballistic missile is still another six months to two years off for Iran, but the think tank warns the Middle East countries — namely rival Israel — should be on alert amid uranium enrichment efforts, The Jerusalem Post reported.
"It has enough 60% enriched uranium or highly enriched uranium (HEU) to be assured it could fashion a nuclear explosive," David Albright and Sarah Burkhard wrote in a paper, estimating the timeline as "within a few weeks, with only a few of its advanced centrifuge cascades."
This would not be a fully capable long-range ballistic missile, according to Albright, who theorizes Iran could make a smaller nuclear weapon at just 60% enrichment as opposed to the long-held scientific norm of 90%, according to the report.
"With this quantity, an enrichment level of 60% suffices to create a relatively compact nuclear explosive," he wrote, the Post reported.
The paper outlined a timeline for nuclear weapons advancements as the world continues to sit on a new Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action — put in place by the Obama administration but decertified by the Trump administration.
"Within a month, it could produce enough weapons-grade uranium for a second nuclear explosive from its existing stock of near 20% low enriched uranium," the paper continued. "Within 1.5 months after starting breakout, it could accumulate enough for a third nuclear weapon, using its remaining near 20% enriched uranium and some of its 4.5% enriched uranium."
Then, the paper concluded, just "2.75 months after starting breakout, it could have a fourth quantity by further enriching 4.5% enriched uranium up to 90%. At six months, it could have produced a fifth quantity by further enriching both 4.5% enriched uranium and natural uranium. The accumulation for a sixth would take several months longer."
Albright and Burkhard already have reported Iran would be at 60% enrichment by late April.
"Iran is expected to reach a new, dangerous, destabilizing threshold, having enough highly enriched uranium (HEU) to fashion a nuclear explosive, about 40-42 kilograms of 60% enriched uranium (uranium mass)," they wrote in a past paper, the Post reported. "With this quantity, an enrichment level of 60% suffices to create a relatively compact nuclear explosive; further enrichment to 80 or 90% is not needed.
"According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, 41.7 kg of 60%-enriched uranium is a significant quantity, which the IAEA defines as the 'approximate amount of nuclear material for which the possibility of manufacturing a nuclear explosive cannot be excluded.'"
"A common fallacy is that Iran would require 90% HEU, more commonly called weapons-grade uranium, to build nuclear explosives," Albright continued.
"Although Iran's nuclear weapons designs have focused on 90% HEU and likely prefer that enrichment, modifying them for 60% HEU would be straightforward and well within Iran's capabilities."
Albright noted lower enriched uranium was combined with the highest-enriched material to form the Hiroshima "Little Boy" bomb dropped by the U.S.
Albright's paper included allegations Iran had engaged in a cover-up of its nuclear program efforts from nuclear inspectors, the Post reported.
The allegations pointed to evidence former Iran nuclear chief Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was involved in the cover-up, according to Albright. Fakhrizadeh was killed in November 2020 by a remote-controlled weapon that Iran believes was the work of Israeli operatives.
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