Iranian enrichment is worrying, but weapons-grade uranium doesn’t a bomb make

Amassing high-grade fissile material is only the first step toward an atomic weapon, and Tehran’s latest violation of the JCPOA does not substantially change the timeline

19 April 2021

Iran’s enrichment of uranium to 60 percent represents not only the latest in a series of escalating violations of the 2015 nuclear accord, but the closest the Islamic Republic has ever come to producing weapons-grade fissile material.

For countries that oppose a nuclear Iran, it is a worrying development, bringing Tehran one step closer to a bomb. But it is also just one step, and not the final one, toward that goal.

In February, the Israel Defense Forces estimated that it would take Iran roughly two years to produce a nuclear bomb once it decided to do so. Most of that time would be needed not to produce the 90 percent enriched uranium needed for a weapon, but the other components of such a device, notably the detonator, which the Israeli military believes would take some 21 months to design and construct.

Though Iran has made some inroads on that front, beginning research in clear violation of the 2015 nuclear deal earlier this year into manufacturing uranium metal — a process of taking highly enriched uranium, in gas form, and turning it into solid metal, which is necessary to produce the core of a nuclear bomb — the IDF’s general timeframe has not changed significantly.

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