Iran’s Nuclear Warhead Is Nearly Perfected

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Author Edwin Black predicts that Iran is close to perfecting nuclear warheads as the deadline approaches for an international agreement over the country's weapons program.

Nov. 24, 2014 is fast approaching as the deadline for Iran, the United States and the world to reach an agreement over Iran’s nuclear weapons program. Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman, leading the negotiations, has described them as “a forest of distrust.” At the same time, she declares, “Our bottom line is unambiguous … Iran will not, shall not obtain a nuclear weapon.”
 
As the world ponders Iran’s dash to enrich more kilograms of uranium, the underlying concern to Israel and the rest of the world is not so much about the enrichment process itself, but the end product: a nuclear warhead. Iran has been developing its warhead for some 16 years. That design is nearly perfected.
 
Compare the process to gunpowder. To use gunpowder, you need to assemble it into a cartridge, load the cartridge and a bullet into a rifle, and then find a marksman. Iran has nearly mastered all those steps — but in nuclear terms. 
 
Four technological achievements are key to completing Tehran’s nuclear weapon: 
 
1. Acquiring enough nuclear materials, highly enriched to weapons-grade level: Experts estimate that a single bomb would require approximately 25 kg of Highly Enriched Uranium, or HEU, with a U-235 concentration of at least 90 percent. Much of Iran’s nuclear enrichment remains at 3.5 and 20 percent levels. But the numbers are deceiving. Enriching to 3.5 percent is 75 percent of the task of reaching weapons-grade. Once Iran has reached 20 percent, it has gone 90 percent of the distance. Today, Iran possesses enough nuclear material for a fast “break-out” that would finish the job, creating enough for five or 10 bombs, in about six weeks.
 
2. Turning the HEU material into metal for a spheroid warhead to fit into a missile nose cone. Iran has mastered the metallurgical techniques using other high-density metals, such as tungsten, test-detonating it in a special chamber to measure their explosive character. 
 
3. Developing a trigger mechanism to detonate the atomic explosion: Iran’s warhead design employs a R265 shock generator hemisphere drilled with 5 mm boreholes that are filled with PETN — pentaerythritol tetranitrate, an organic explosive favored by terrorists. When triggered with precision, the PETN array can cause a massive synchronized implosion. That will fire an internal exploding bridgewire that will, in turn, actuate an embedded neutron initiator to detonate the atomic reaction. This sequence of devices has been assembled and tested. Iran has some 500 exploding bridgewires.
 
4. Perfecting a reliable delivery system: The Shabab-3 missile nose cone is large enough to accommodate the warhead. The outer radius of the R265 shock generator-encased warhead is 550 mm, less than the estimated payload chamber diameter of about 600 mm. The Iranian military has selected the Shabab-3 not only because it possesses a range of 1,200 km, but because it can be detonated in an airburst some 600 meters off the ground — the same distance used on Nagasaki. Such a wea­pon cannot be crashed into the ground. It must be detonated while still airborne. Iran has a small fleet of Shahab-3 missiles.
 
Hence, Iran’s nuclear material is not just an ambiguous physics undertaking that should worry the West. It is part and parcel of a nuclear attack plan that the international community is determined to address.
 
Edwin Black is the award-winning author of several books, including Financing the Flames. As the Kristallnacht scholar-in-residence Nov. 7-9, at Tifereth Israel in Bensalem, he will speak about Iran, the New Israel Fund and IBM’s involvement in the Holocaust. To find info, see: tiferethisraelpa.org or call 215 752-3468.
 

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