Iran is developing an underground uranium-enrichment site, integral to the construction of a nuclear missile, so deep that it could evade the United States purpose-built “bunker buster” bomb, according to satellite pictures. The Natanz enrichment site is 80-100 metres deep, according to analysis by the James Martin Centre for Non-proliferation Studies, and has four entrances dug into the mountainside, each six metres wide by eight metres high.
Experts exclusively told Express.co.uk that as Iran’s relationship with Russia continues to be “cemented” by a hatred of the West and an alliance over the war in Ukraine, the theocratic regime could prepare to build an arsenal of nuclear weapons.
The Institute for Science and International Security (isis), a think-tank in Washington founded by David Albright, a former weapons inspector, maintains that the bunker could be used to make Iran capable of an unstoppable nuclear breakout.
He suggested the deepest part of the chamber, located in the Zagros mountain range, roughly 175 miles south of the capital of Tehran, could be used to house a small number of advanced centrifuges, which are cylindrical machines that spin uranium gas at high speeds to produce fuel for nuclear reactors or weapons.
The Iranian regime has been bringing new, faster centrifuges online in recent years that analysts fear could hugely expand its enrichment capacity.
And based on the latest quarterly inspection in February from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN’s nuclear watchdog, estimates suggest Iran could now produce enough weapons-grade uranium (WGU) to construct a nuclear weapon in just 12 days.
During his tenure, former US President Barack Obama brokered a nuclear agreement, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), with the four other permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, to significantly reduce Iran’s ability to produce nuclear weapons.
In exchange, the pariah state would be given some relief from stringent economic sanctions.
But after Donald Trump withdrew from the “worst deal ever”, Iran has reacquired their ability to produce enough fissile material for a nuclear device. Under the JCPOA, it would have taken a year.
Mr Alrbight suggested Iran would need to use only three advanced-centrifuge cascades and half of its current stock of 60 per cent-enriched uranium to build the missile.
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And if Iran used all its stock of highly enriched uranium, it could produce WGU for four more nuclear weapons in a month.
Using its stock of low-enriched uranium, it could also produce enough material for up to two more weapons.
General Mark Milley, Chair of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, testifying to Congress in March, suggested it would then take about six months to test and deploy a bomb for a crude delivery system, such as a plane or a ship. A missile-delivered warhead might be feasible in a year or two.
While it does not mean that this possibility is inevitable, it does mean that Iran can produce nuclear weapons pretty much “on demand” in the post-JCPOA environment.
Experts suggested that, despite intensive indirect talks between America and Iran, chaired by the European Union’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, to fashion a new JCPOA-style agreement, Iran is more interested in doubling-down on its relationship with Russia to circumvent Western sanctions. Vladimir Putin, unlike the US, would also pay no mind to Iran’s nuclear programme.
Ali Ansari, the director of the Institute of Iranian Studies at St Andrews University in Scotland, told Express.co.uk that this “alliance of convenience” between Iran and Russia is now being “cemented by a mutual ideological conviction of the perfidious nature of the West”.
Though Russia appears to be losing the conflict in Ukraine, expending huge military and economic stockpiles in continuing its “special military operation”, seemingly indifferent to its inevitably-Pyrrhic conclusion, Iran still believes it can strengthen its own hand by maintaining that relationship.
While the world is concentrating on eastern Europe, the proliferation of Iran’s nuclear arsenal could get underway reasonably unchallenged, just as the regime’s brutal crackdown on its population, which began last September with the state murder of a 21-year-old woman for failing to adhere to their strict Islamic dress code, has failed to attract major Western attention.