News Default How Close Is Iran to Having Nuclear Weapons? An Explainer
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How Close Is Iran to Having Nuclear Weapons?

As its 2015 nuclear deal with major powers has eroded over the years, Iran has expanded and accelerated its nuclear program, reducing the time it would need to build a nuclear bomb if it chose to, though it denies wanting to. A senior Iranian Revolutionary Guards commander recently hinted at a possible review of Iran's "nuclear doctrine" in response to Israeli threats. While the exact implications remain unclear, it's essential to understand where Iran stands in terms of its nuclear capabilities.

Collapse of the Deal and Breakout Time

The 2015 deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), imposed strict limits on Iran's nuclear activities in exchange for lifting international sanctions. Under the agreement, Iran significantly reduced its stock of enriched uranium, leaving only a small amount enriched to up to 3.67% purity—far from the roughly 90% purity required for weapons-grade material. The primary goal was to extend the time Iran would need to produce enough fissile material for a nuclear bomb to at least one year.

However, in 2018, then-President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the JCPOA, reimposing sanctions on Tehran. Subsequently, Iran began breaching the restrictions on its nuclear activities and eventually surpassed them. It now exceeds all key limitations set by the deal:

  • Enrichment Levels: Iran is currently enriching uranium to up to 60% purity, well beyond the JCPOA's limits.
  • Stockpile Size: Its enriched uranium stockpile, previously capped at 202.8 kg, now stands at 5.5 tonnes.
  • Breakout Time: Iran's "breakout time"—the time needed to produce enough weapons-grade uranium for a nuclear bomb—is close to zero, likely a matter of weeks or days.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) can no longer fully monitor Iran's production and inventory of centrifuges due to Iran's non-compliance with the deal. As a result, the situation remains highly concerning.

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