Iran has passed the “point of no return” in its nuclear weapons program and could soon have the ability to enrich enough missile-grade uranium to build a bomb in just two weeks, the former deputy director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency told reporters on Monday.
Olli Heinonen, who served at the IAEA for 27 years until 2010, said the advanced centrifuges that Iran recently began installing in its enrichment facilities will “radically reduce the so-called breakout time” for the regime to quickly produce enough weapons-grade uranium to build a nuclear weapon.
Iran announced in January it would install 3,000 IR-2 centrifuges in its Natanz facility. These produce a four to five times greater output than the older model, according to the Institute for Science and International Security.
A recent ISIS report estimated Iran could achieve breakout in one month, based on its current capabilities. This highlights the advancements Iran has made in its program since last year, when ISIS estimated it could produce the necessary amount of weapons-grade uranium in two to four months.
Heinonen said this window could shrink further.
“I believe that if certain arrangements are done, [the breakout time] can even go down to two weeks,” said Heinonen.
If Iran continues to install new centrifuges at its current rate, Heinonen said the time estimates would be shortened significantly by next summer.
“Iran is producing all the time additional centrifuges, and is installing them,” said Heinonen. “The last few months, the rate has been about 600 new centrifuges per month, which means that if it continues like this by next summer all these time [estimates] I mentioned will get cut by one-third.”
“We are going in the wrong direction and there is now certain capability,” he added. “But tomorrow it will be very different.”
Heinonen said “in certain ways” Iran has passed the “point of no return” in its nuclear program. But he estimated that Iran would need around one year to complete the weapons component and delivery system to actually launch an attack.
A senior Iranian negotiator met with the head of the IAEA in Vienna on Monday, ahead of scheduled talks between Iran and the nuclear watchdog next week.