Iran 2-3 years from atom bomb — think tank

LONDON (Reuters) — Iran is at least two to three years away from being able to produce a nuclear weapon, a leading global think tank said on Wednesday.

But the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) said pressure on the United States to stop the programme, including possibly through military strikes, would increase this year as Tehran mastered the process of enriching uranium.

The IISS said Iran’s stockpile of 250 tonnes of uranium hexafluoride (UF6), the raw material for feeding into linked cascades of centrifuges, was enough to produce between 30 and 50 nuclear weapons when enriched.

“The main bottleneck to producing such weapons remains learning how to run UF6 through the cascades for extended periods. If Iran overcomes the technical hurdles, the possibility of military options to stop the programme will of course increase,” IISS Director General John Chipman said.

The United Nations Security Council imposed sanctions on Iran on December 23 and gave it 60 days to suspend uranium enrichment. Tehran denies pursuing the bomb and says it is developing nuclear energy only to generate electricity.

An Iranian parliamentarian said on Saturday that Iran had started installing 3,000 new atomic centrifuges at its Natanz uranium enrichment facility, although this was later denied by an Iranian nuclear official.

Chipman, presenting the IISS annual report, “The Military Balance”, said Iran was probably on track to meet its goal of producing 3,000 centrifuges by the end of March or soon after.

He said there would be no technical logic in installing them all until Tehran had succeeded in running two smaller experimental cascades of 164 centrifuges each, something it has yet to achieve on a continuous basis.

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