The Iran Deal's Fatal Flaw - Alan J. Kuperman
- President Obama's main pitch for the pending nuclear deal with Iran is that it would extend the "breakout time" necessary for Iran to produce enough enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon. He also claimed the pending deal would shrink Iran's nuclear program, so that if Iran later "decided to break the deal, kick out all the inspectors, break the seals and go for a bomb, we'd have over a year to respond."
- Unfortunately, that claim is false, as can be demonstrated with basic science and math. By my calculations, Iran's actual breakout time under the deal would be approximately three months - not over a year. Thus, the deal would be unlikely to improve the world's ability to react to a sudden effort by Iran to build a bomb.
- In the event of an overt attempt by Iran to build a bomb, Mr. Obama's argument assumes that Iran would employ only the 5,060 centrifuges that the deal would allow for uranium enrichment, not the roughly 14,000 additional centrifuges that Iran would be permitted to keep. Such an assumption is laughable. Once these additional centrifuges are connected, Iran's enrichment capacity could exceed three times what Mr. Obama assumes.
- The deal would appear to permit Iran to keep large amounts of enriched uranium in solid form (as opposed to gas), which could be reconverted to gas within weeks, thus providing a substantial head-start to producing weapons-grade uranium.
- Mr. Obama's argument assumes that Iran would require 59 pounds of weapons-grade uranium to make an atomic bomb. In reality, nuclear weapons can be made from much smaller amounts of uranium. A 1995 study by the Natural Resources Defense Council concluded that a nuclear weapon could produce an explosion with a force approaching that of the Hiroshima bomb using just 29 pounds of weapons-grade uranium.
- Based on such realistic assumptions, Iran's breakout time under the pending deal actually would be around three months, while its current breakout time is a little under two months.
- Showering Iran with rewards for making illusory concessions poses grave risks. Worst of all, lifting sanctions would facilitate a huge expansion of Iran's nuclear program. Nothing in the pending deal is worth such risks.
The writer is an associate professor and coordinator of the Nuclear Proliferation Prevention Project at the University of Texas at Austin.