Indeed, it’s indisputable that Iran already has sufficient infrastructure in place to make HEU. Iran would not even need to expand the centrifuge enrichment facilities it has used to make low and medium enriched uranium. It could simply continue the process and produce HEU using its existing centrifuges by a method known as “batch recycling”.
Given Iran’s current enrichment capacity and its current stockpile of low and medium enriched uranium—information acquired through inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)—I estimate that Iran can produce enough HEU for a nuclear weapon in about eight weeks from the time it decided to do so. That timeframe will shrink to only about four weeks by the end of next year, as Iran’s enriched uranium stockpiles and enrichment capacity continue to increase.
And there are plenty of indications that Iran has a desire to produce a complete nuclear weapon. As the IAEA has already explained, Iran has the basic information to produce such a weapon and last Friday said that it was “increasingly concerned” about Iran’s efforts to develop nuclear weapons…
That’s not to say that I expect Iran to divert nuclear material from IAEA safeguards anytime soon. After all, why should it? It can continue to move ever closer to the HEU required for a nuclear weapon with the blessing of the IAEA. Iran would only need to divert nuclear material from safeguards when it would want to test or use a nuclear weapon. Recall that the U.S. was unable to certify that Pakistan did not have nuclear weapons in 1990, but it was only in 1998 that it actually tested a bomb. Similarly, though it could be many years before Iran becomes an overt nuclear power, it needs to be treated as a de facto nuclear power simply by virtue of being so close to having a weapon.