Nuclear deal in tatters, Iran edges close to weapons capability

Nuclear deal in tatters, Iran edges close to weapons capability

The Washington Post reports:

For the past 15 years, the most important clues about Iran’s nuclear program have lain deep underground, in a factory built inside a mountain on the edge of Iran’s Great Salt Desert. The facility, known as Fordow, is the heavily protected inner sanctum of Iran’s nuclear complex and a frequent destination for international inspectors whose visits are meant to ensure against any secret effort by Iran to make nuclear bombs.

The inspectors’ latest trek, in February, yielded the usual matrices of readings and measurements, couched in the clinical language of a U.N. nuclear watchdog report. But within the document’s dry prose were indications of alarming change.

In factory chambers that had ceased making enriched uranium under a 2015 nuclear accord, the inspectors now witnessed frenzied activity: newly installed equipment, producing enriched uranium at ever-faster speeds, and an expansion underway that could soon double the plant’s output. More worryingly, Fordow was scaling up production of a more dangerous form of nuclear fuel — a kind of highly enriched uranium, just shy of weapons grade. Iranian officials in charge of the plant, meanwhile, had begun talking openly about achieving “deterrence,” suggesting that Tehran now had everything it needed to build a bomb if it chose.

Fordow’s transformation mirrors changes seen elsewhere in the country as Iran blows past the guardrails of the Iran nuclear accord. Six years after the Trump administration’s controversial decision to withdraw from the pact, the restraints have fallen away, one by one, leaving Iran closer to nuclear weapons capability than at any time in the country’s history, according to confidential inspection reports and interviews with officials and experts who closely monitor Iran’s progress.

While Iran says it has no plans to make nuclear weapons, it now has a supply of highly enriched uranium that could be converted to weapons-grade fuel for at least three bombs in a time frame ranging from a few days to a few weeks, current and former officials said. The making of a crude nuclear device could follow in as little as six months after a decision is made, while overcoming the challenges of building a nuclear warhead deliverable by a missile would take longer, perhaps two years or more, the officials said. [Continue reading…]

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