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Expert: World Shouldn’t Panic about Iran Nuclear Weapons

Though the international community, led by Israel, is creating panic around the globe about Iran’s campaign to build a nuclear weapon, Iran is still far from being able to make a bomb—and the steps it would need to do so would easily be detected and terminated by the United States, argues Shashank Joshi of Harvard in a piece in the UK Telegraph.

Joshi writes that a new report from the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency produced the expected hand-wringing from the international community about how imminent is the Iran nuclear threat. But Joshi says the panic is not justified.

While Joshi says the U.N report makes it clear that Iran is enriching more uranium—it is nine-tenths of the way to weapons-grade—and it has doubled the number of underground centrifuges since May, the thing that should relax the rest of the world is the fact that Iran can’t take any steps toward nuclear weapons without everybody knowing about it the second it begins.

“The concern, then, is this: Iran could ‘break out’ by taking the uranium it has enriched so far, feeding it into this considerably expanded set of centrifuges, and produce weapons-grade uranium suitable for a bomb,” writes Joshi, a doctoral student at Harvard and research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute. “And it could do so at an ever-quickening pace. But could it do all this before it was detected and bombed? Almost certainly not.”

“Iran is still using extremely old centrifuge designs, and—something that was missed in most reporting—has taken steps that actually put it further away from a bomb,” Joshi continues. “Iran set aside over half of its stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium for conversion to fuel plates used in its medical research reactor. In that form, the stuff is much harder to use for weapons purposes (and impossible to use quickly). Iran is left without enough for even one bomb. Yes, it will eventually make up this lost amount through more production—but that takes time, and its willingness to eat into this stockpile, a bargaining chip for Iran, is a positive step.”

Joshi says it would take Iran months to produce weapons-grade uranium for a single bomb and that it would surely be detected if it tried to do so. And if it somehow managed to get the uranium together, it would take at least another year to actually make a nuclear device—and then longer to get the device onto a missile.

“If it were to try any of this, it would almost certainly face a serious military campaign led by the United States, which could do far more damage than Israel,” he writes.

“It is crucial that the IAEA’s findings be interpreted soberly and carefully,” Joshi concludes, “rather than with the continual undertone of panic that Israel has sought to instill over the summer.”

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