Brutal: Nuclear Expert Demolishes Obama's Central Argument for Iran Deal

Guy Benson
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Posted: Jun 23, 2015 2:15 PM
Brutal: Nuclear Expert Demolishes Obama's Central Argument for Iran Deal

A devastating piece in the New York Times, penned by the head of the Nuclear Proliferation Prevention Project at the University of Texas. We've written at great length about the many reasons to reject the Obama administration's expected deal with the Iranian regime.  One expert termed the West's likely inability to re-impose sanctions on Iran if and when they (continue to) cheat the would-be accord's "fatal flaw."  Today, Prof. Alan Kuperman offers another entry in that category, scrutinizing an element of the deal that many have simply taken for granted.  President Obama, while essentially conceding that Iran will become a threshold nuclear state under the terms of the deal (a jarring paradigm shift from his previously-stated stance), assures us that at least the agreement would expand the regime's so-called nuclear "breakout" time horizon from a few months to a full year.  Kuperman applies his expertise, runs the numbers, and calls even this wafer-thin presidential justification into serious question:

[Obama says] 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. Breakout time is determined by three primary factors: the number and type of centrifuges; the enrichment of the starting material; and the amount of enriched uranium required for a nuclear weapon. Mr. Obama seems to make rosy assumptions about all three.

The president says a lot of things.  For instance, he told the nation during his 2015 State of the Union Address that thanks to his interim agreement with Iran, "we’ve halted the progress of its nuclear program and reduced its stockpile of nuclear material."  Just a few weeks ago, we discovered that Iran's nuclear stockpile has increased by 20 percent during the course of the ongoing talks.  Iran's nuclear program was "frozen" and shrinking, until it wasn't.  The State Department pronounced itself "perplexed" when people raised concerns over this consequential disconnect.  Obama shifted from emphatically asserting that a nuclearized Iran is "unacceptable," to admitting that under the terms of the deal he's aggressively pursuing, "a more relevant fear would be that in Year 13, 14, 15, they have advanced centrifuges that enrich uranium fairly rapidly, and at that point, the breakout times would have shrunk almost down to zero."  Speaking of breakout times, let's return to the Times op/ed:

Most important, 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 mainly for spare parts. Such an assumption is laughable. In a real-world breakout, Iran would race, not crawl, to the bomb. These additional centrifuges would need to be connected, brought up to speed and equilibrated with the already operating ones. But at that point, Iran’s enrichment capacity could exceed three times what Mr. Obama assumes. This flaw could be addressed by amending the deal to require Iran to destroy or export the additional centrifuges, but Iran refuses. Second, since the deal would permit Iran to keep only a small amount of enriched uranium in the gaseous form used in centrifuges, Mr. Obama assumes that a dash for the bomb would start mainly from unenriched uranium, thereby lengthening the breakout time. But the deal would appear to also 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.

Third, 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 (as experts assume North Korea does in its rudimentary arsenal). A 1995 study by the Natural Resources Defense Council concluded that even a “low technical capability” 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. Thus, the deal would increase the breakout time by just over a month, too little to matter. Mr. Obama’s main argument for the agreement — extending Iran’s breakout time — turns out to be effectively worthless.

The more we learn about the terms and reported concessions of this accord, the more Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's stark admonition appears to be vindicated: "This is a bad deal. It's a very bad deal:"


That assessment came when the biggest concessions appeared to be (a) allowing Iran to maintain a vast nuclear infrastructure, and (b) agreeing that Western-imposed restrictions on the program would begin to automatically sunset after a decade. Since then, the US has given ground or hinted at future concessions on the sanctions relief timetable, on unfettered inspections at military sites, on requiring the removal of excess nuclear material from the country, and on forcing Iran to fully account for its nuclear program's previous military dimensions. In other words, the outlines of this agreement have gotten far worse since Netanyahu's prescient speech -- which, you'll recall, enraged the White House. Out of curiosity, does Hillary Clinton support this deal? Will anybody ask her -- and if so, will she actually answer the question?