IAEA report warns Iran modernizing its uranium-enrichment facilities

posted at 9:01 am on January 31, 2013 by Ed Morrissey

The problem of the Iranian nuclear program may become acute more quickly than analysts predicted.  The IAEA has warned its member states that Tehran has embarked on a modernization program of its uranium enrichment facilities that will speed up production of weapons-grade fissile material — by a factor of five:

The U.N. nuclear agency has told member nations that Iran is poised for a major technological upgrade of its uranium enrichment program, in a document seen Thursday by The Associated Press. The move would vastly speed up Tehran’s ability to make material that can be used for both reactor fuel and nuclear warheads.

In an internal note to member nations, the International Atomic Energy Agency said it received notice last week from Iran’s nuclear agency of plans to install high-technology enriching centrifuges at its main enriching site at Natanz, in central Iran. The machines are estimated to be able to enrich up to five times faster than the present equipment.

What does this mean for the standoff over Iran’s nuclear program?  One expert interviewed by the Associated Press called it a “game changer”:

Nonproliferation expert Mark Fitzpatrick described the planned upgrade as a potential “game-changer.”

“If thousands of the more efficient machines are introduced, the timeline for being able to produce a weapons worth of fissile material will significantly shorten,” said Fitzpatrick, of the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

“This won’t change the several months it would take to make actual weapons out of the fissile material or the two years or more that it would take to be able to mount a nuclear warhead on a missile, so there is no need to start beating the war drums,” he said. “But it will certainly escalate concerns”.

This puts pressure on the Obama administration to take some kind of action to force Tehran to bargain for an end to the program, or suffer the consequences.  The selection of Iran-skeptic Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense hardly lends weight to a threat from the US, which as I’ve written in the past, is the real problem with Hagel’s nomination.  It’s pretty clear now that Obama won’t do anything significant to challenge the mullahs in Tehran, and that his national-security team will reorient itself away from leadership on the Iranian standoff.

On the other hand, there could be an opportunity in the modernization.  The West has penetrated Iran’s nuclear program through its technology before by cyberwarfare.  It’s unlikely that Iran can produce all of the systems for modernization on its own; in fact, as the AP notes at the end of the article, it’s their home-grown systems that need replacing because of the failure rate they produce. Perhaps this will give the West another opportunity to introduce more malware to crash the systems before they can produce weapons-grade fissile material.  That’s a mighty slim hope for the avoidance of a nuclear war in the Middle East, but with the current administration at the White House, it’s all we have.


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Second look at the self-illuminating parking lot in place of Tehran?

Archivarix on January 31, 2013 at 9:06 AM

Guessing General Mattis’s uncomfortable questions had some merit behind them huh?

MarshFox on January 31, 2013 at 9:06 AM

And if they already know how to put a nuke on a warhead?

OldEnglish on January 31, 2013 at 9:07 AM

“Iran is awesome!!”
/Obama & Hagel

Bitter Clinger on January 31, 2013 at 9:10 AM

Anyone seriously expect Obama to do anything except ask the UN to write a stern letter and then kick this can down the road?

petefrt on January 31, 2013 at 9:15 AM

WTH. If they are not building the stuff themselves, where are they getting it from ?
This ain’t off the shelf tubing.

Jabberwock on January 31, 2013 at 9:15 AM

It’s likely they aren’t installing new centrifuges — they are installing laser enrichment equipment — which draws less power and work faster. The Stuxnet approach will be much much harder in that environment. In addition, the high tension power lines going to the enrichment facilities — which, in essence, give them away, would disappear with a laser facility.

http://www.cfr.org/world/laser-enrichment-separation-anxiety/p7876

http://www.gatestoneinstitute.org/3085/silex-iran-laser-uranium-enrichment

http://www.isisnucleariran.org/sites/detail/lashkar-abad-laser-enrichment/

“Eliminating power lines”:

http://content.usatoday.com/communities/ondeadline/post/2012/08/un-says-iran-has-doubled-centrifuges-to-enrich-uranium/1#.UQp9OmfMK00

unclesmrgol on January 31, 2013 at 9:20 AM

This puts pressure on the Obama administration to take some kind of action to force Tehran to bargain for an end to the program, or suffer the consequences.

Ed Morrisey

.
Obama should contact Netanyahu (yeah, I know), and tell him “Okay, you have a green light”.

Problem solved.

listens2glenn on January 31, 2013 at 9:20 AM

More monkey business ?

Lucano on January 31, 2013 at 9:26 AM

This puts pressure on the Obama administration to take some kind of action to force Tehran to bargain for an end to the program, or suffer the consequences. The selection of Iran-skeptic Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense hardly lends weight to a threat from the US

…of course not!…that’s why JudEars wants Hagel…

KOOLAID2 on January 31, 2013 at 9:27 AM

What difference does it make? Don’t they know that shotguns are more accurate and better for self defense?

LoganSix on January 31, 2013 at 9:29 AM

No what they will do is execute a plan without considering 2nd and 3rd order effects and a lot of kids will lose their lives, that’s what is going to happen!

MarshFox on January 31, 2013 at 9:30 AM

http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/2983186/posts

The thread above at post # 24 references the Larry Kudlow show a few days ago where radio talk show host John Batchellor, appearing as a Kudlow guest, documented an explosion at an Iranian nuke plant that has had very little press so far.

rodguy911 on January 31, 2013 at 9:40 AM

What difference does it make? Don’t they know that shotguns are more accurate and better for self defense?

LoganSix on January 31, 2013 at 9:29 AM

Or scissors .

Lucano on January 31, 2013 at 9:44 AM

And if they already know how to put a nuke on a warhead?

OldEnglish on January 31, 2013 at 9:07 AM

Or, if they don’t intend to use a missile for delivery?

YiZhangZhe on January 31, 2013 at 3:19 PM