Until May 2019, most estimates had Iran at about 12 months away from having enough enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon.
How could it leap forward to have enough uranium to have a weapon in only two months?
Olli Heinonen, former deputy director-general for safeguards at the International Atomic Energy Agency, has told The Jerusalem Post that, “If the recent performance numbers, average enrichment levels, and current inventories quoted by [Iran Atomic Energy Organization Director Ali Akbar] Salehi hold, the breakout time by the end of January will be around two months.”
How does Heinonen make this calculation?
About 1,000 kilograms of low-enriched uranium is enough to be converted into 25 kg. of weaponized uranium, which is enough for a nuclear bomb.
As of an IAEA November 11 report looking backward, the Islamic Republic was still only at about 372 kg., but had already increased its output of enriched uranium by more than one-third.
By December 23, Heinonen estimated that Tehran had already accumulated hundreds more kilograms of enriched uranium.
Part of this assumption is based on the IAEA November report’s flagging that Iran had reinstalled a cascade of 164 IR-4 centrifuges and one of 164 IR-2m centrifuges.”
The IR-2m centrifuges are five times as efficient as the around 5,000 standard IR-1 centrifuges which have been the Islamic republic’s main platform for enriching uranium.
So even before the Islamic Republic’s announcement on Sunday that it was abandoning any limits on uranium enrichment, the breakout time could have been down to as low as six months (though some would say it was still closer to 10 months.)
In and of itself, that announcement, without any follow through, is more symbolic than anything else.