Iran's Nuclear Abilities Limited

By Kerr, Paul | Arms Control Today, September 2005 | Go to article overview

Iran's Nuclear Abilities Limited

Kerr, Paul, Arms Control Today

Tehran's Aug. 1 announcement of its decision to restart its uraniumconversion facility near Isfahan has raised concerns that Tehran intends to produce highly enriched uranium (HEU) for nuclear weapons. But three recent U.S. intelligence assessments suggest that Iran's limited technical capabilities mean that it would take Tehran between six and 10 years to be able to produce nuclear weapons even if it committed to that course and it were allowed to operate its nuclear facilities freely.

For example, in an Aug. 23 interview with Arms Control Today, a Department of State official confirmed that a new National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) predicts that Iran will not be able to acquire fissile material for a weapon before "early to mid-next decade." The NIE, which represents the consensus view of the intelligence community, was first reported Aug. 2 in The Washington Post. The official agreed that this figure was, in practical terms, the same as a February Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) estimate that "Tehran probably will have the ability to produce nuclear weapons early in the next decade," unless constrained by a nuclear nonproliferation agreement.

These estimates also jibed with an early 2004 intelligence briefing given to congressional staff members, which indicated that Iran would not be able to produce a nuclear weapon until after 2010 because Iran's program was beset by technical delays and shortfalls.

Intelligence officials caution, however, that there is a great deal of uncertainty in estimating how long it might take any particular country to acquire nuclear weapons.

Iran's Problems

Iran appears to face difficulties in operating both its uranium-conversion and centrifuge facilities. Uranium-conversion facilities convert lightly processed uranium ore into several compounds, including uranium hexafluoride. Gas centrifuges enrich uranium hexafluoride gas by spinning it at very high speeds. Low-enriched uranium is used to fuel power reactors; HEU can be used to make nuclear weapons. Iran currently has a pilot centrifuge facility and has said it plans to build a much larger commercial facility.

According to the State Department official, Iran had "major problems" with the conversion facility in 2004 when it produced uranium hexafluoride that was unsuitable for enrichment. Tehran also may be having trouble obtaining the proper materials to handle and properly store uranium hexafluoride and other uranium compounds, the official added.

The same State Department official said, however, that Iran may now have overcome at least some of its technical problems. Additionally, a Western diplomat told Arms Control Today Aug. 26 that the facility's problems could well be overcome in the short term, and pointing out that other countries may be willing to provide Iran with relevant assistance.

Iran also is having trouble with its pilot centrifuge facility, the State Department official said, because it is unable to keep the machines running for a sufficient length of time at the required speeds.

The U.S. Evidence

The same official described Washington's case for an ongoing Iranian nuclear weapons program as built on a "body of convincing but circumstantial evidence."

Bush administration officials argue that several factors support the U.S. case. These include Tehran's past efforts to conceal its nuclear activities, unresolved questions with regard to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) investigation of Iran's nuclear program, and Iran's large fossil fuel supplies, which render unnecessary its nuclear power program.

The State Department official also confirmed a July 27 Wall Street Journal article that reported that the United States has what it believes to be documentary evidence suggesting that Iran is attempting to develop a nuclear-weapon payload for its medium-range Shahab-3 ballistic missile. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Iran's Nuclear Abilities Limited


Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

    New feature

    It is estimated that 1 in 10 people have dyslexia, and in an effort to make Questia easier to use for those people, we have added a new choice of font to the Reader. That font is called OpenDyslexic, and has been designed to help with some of the symptoms of dyslexia. For more information on this font, please visit

    To use OpenDyslexic, choose it from the Typeface list in Font settings.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search


    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.