The Implications of Iran’s Second Enrichment Plant

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    INSS Insight By Asculai Ephraim

    Iran’s main enrichment plant, located at Natanz, can accommodate some 54,000 gas centrifuge machines. At the present rate of operation at Natanz, these can produce low-enriched uranium for barely one refueling per annum of the Bushehr nuclear power plant. The 3,000 machines at the new Qom plant would produce some 5 percent of the annually needed amount. In fact, this whole mountainside installation could have been accommodated in a corner of one of the existing huge enrichment halls at Natanz. These proportions make the Iranian president’s argument that the new plant was to be the backup in case the Natanz plant was harmed a lame argument.

    What then is the purpose behind the new site?

    Optional Operational Path for the
    Iranian Uranium Enrichment Plant in Qom
    Development Path Clandestine production Breakout Scenario
    Source of Uranium Esfahan, Uranium Conversion Facility (UCF) Natanz: 5% enriched Low Enriched Uranium (LEU)
    Acquisition method Clandestine production Seizing Stockpiled LEU
    Annual Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU) Capacity at the 3000 centrifuge processing plant 1000 kg / year 4000 kg

    Two answers come to mind: that the plant was intended to enrich natural uranium outside the inspectors’ purview to whatever levels Iran decided on, probably producing bomb-capable high enriched uranium (HEU); or, that this was the place where uranium would be enriched from the 5 percent low enriched uranium (LEU) produced at Natanz to HEU levels.

    Whether the goal of driving Iran to suspend its uranium enrichment activity is achieved, such a demand should be accompanied by additional measures such as: Preventing Iran’s access to processed and raw uranium, including the raw “yellow cake”; shutting down of all centrifuges and elimination of installation of new ones, applying tighter control by IAEA by employing the ‘Additional Protocol’, gaining more access rights. Furthermore, Iran should also suspend the construction of the IR-40 natural-uranium heavy water reactor at Arak. To continue its claimed civilian resraech and operations, Iran will be permitted to purchase all the radioisotopes it needs from other countries.

    Should Iran accept the suspension of its weapons’ related activities, including the acceptance of all the above conditions, it would still be quite difficult to persuade anyone that Iran has really abandoned its nuclear weapons development program. Who would be able to state with any certainty that Iran had not constructed a third, concealed, uranium enrichment plant?