Iran has enough weapons-grade uranium to produce its first nuclear weapon within a week and a total of six bombs within a month, a scenario that is increasingly likely to unfold as conflict in the Middle East reaches critical levels, according to a report from a watchdog group.
"The volatile situation in the region is providing Iran with a unique opportunity and increased internal justification for building nuclear weapons while the United States and Israel’s resources to detect and deter Iran from succeeding are stretched thin," the Institute for Science and International Security, a watchdog group that monitors Tehran’s atomic program, warned in a report published Monday. "Iran's nuclear weapons capabilities are more dangerous than they have ever been, while its relations with the West are at a low point."
The findings signal "extreme danger" for the international community and marks the "first time" the institute has issued such a determination since it began reporting on the Iranian nuclear program’s threat level in October 2022. In May 2023, when the last report was published, Iran’s total threat score was calculated at 140 out of 180. This year the score reached 151.
Hamas’s war against Israel, which is being supported by Iran, has significantly increased the likelihood that Tehran races to build a functional nuclear weapon, according to the report. The United States is now in its third day of airstrikes against Iranian targets across the Middle East, threatening to ignite a broader conflict with Iran that could consume the region and increase Tehran’s rush to become a nuclear-armed power.
The Islamic Republic continues to make "progress on developing sensitive nuclear capabilities, ... increasing its nuclear weaponization efforts beyond breakout."
Iran has the ability to "break out and produce enough weapon-grade enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon in a week, using only a fraction of its 60 percent enriched uranium," according to the report. "This breakout could be difficult for inspectors to detect promptly, if Iran took steps to delay inspectors’ access."
Using its stock of 60 percent enriched uranium, which has grown under the Biden administration, and a remaining allotment of around 20 percent enriched uranium, Iran "could have in total enough weapon-grade uranium for six weapons in one month, and after five months of producing weapon-grade uranium, it could have enough for twelve."
The problem is compounded by Iran’s refusal to give international nuclear inspectors full access to its contested enrichment sites. The level of obfuscation has increased during the past year.
Rafael Grossi, the International Atomic Energy Agency’s director general, warned in January that Tehran is refusing oversight in an "unprecedented way."
"It's a very frustrating situation. We continue our activities there, but at a minimum," Grossi said during the World Economic Forum in Davos. "They are restricting cooperation in a very unprecedented way."
This "lack of transparency" led the institute to increase the threat level regarding Iran’s program by two points compared with May 2023.
Tehran has also greatly increased its ability to enrich uranium from very low levels to those needed as fuel for a nuclear bomb, according to the report.
"Iran has a capability to produce large amounts of enriched uranium and achieve enrichment levels up to 90 percent, or weapon-grade uranium," the institute concluded, noting that "Iran has ambitious goals to increase its enrichment program, aiming for tens of thousands of advanced centrifuges, producing a range of enrichment levels, and tens of thousands of kilograms of enriched uranium."
With this increasingly large stockpile, "Iran could rapidly produce enough weapon-grade uranium for a small nuclear arsenal," the report concluded. "In addition, Iran has multiple ways to deliver nuclear weapons, including on ballistic missiles."
Meanwhile, Iran announced on Monday that it is beginning construction on a fourth home-built nuclear reactor, signaling the regime’s desire to continue building out its atomic infrastructure.