May 17, 2021
A book scheduled for publication next week revealed that Iranian nuclear scientists “could produce a bomb quickly” if they acquire the necessary fissile material and an order from the country’s leaders to do so.
Newly examined technical documents stolen from inside Iran in 2018 show that the country’s top-secret weapons program was preparing for a “cold test” of key components for a nuclear bomb by late 2003, and could have quickly progressed to true nuclear detonations, a Washington Post report said.
Work on a nuclear weapon was halted in 2003, the report noted, but by then, Iran’s scientists had mastered nearly all the technical challenges of bombmaking and needed only a reliable source of fissile fuel — either enriched uranium or plutonium — authors David Albright and Sarah Burkhard wrote.
The release of the book comes amid intense diplomatic maneuvering in Vienna, as US and Iranian officials negotiate reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.
Supporters of the agreement say the rekindled accord would put the brakes on Iran’s production of enriched uranium, which soared after former President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from the pact in 2018.
Critics, however, note that Iran could quickly amass a bomb’s worth of fissile material after the deal’s key restrictions start to expire, beginning as early as 2025.
The book’s revelations are based on an analysis of a massive trove of nuclear documents smuggled out of a Tehran warehouse by Israeli operatives in 2018.
Albright, founder of the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security, was given access to hundreds of documents and photos, many of which are reproduced in the book.
Previous disclosures from the same cache of stolen documents have portrayed Iran as having been on the cusp of nuclear weapons capabilities by 2003, when Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei abruptly suspended the program.
But the new book sheds light on the remarkable progress achieved by Iran’s “Amad Plan,” the secret effort to engineer and construct the country’s first nuclear weapon.
While US intelligence agencies have long known that Iran received nuclear-related equipment and designs from Pakistani scientists in the 1980s and 1990s, Iran’s bomb design appears to be entirely indigenous, the authors said.
The Iranian documents portray a competent team of physicists and engineers nimbly making “refinements to the design, including additional miniaturization” of a warhead, they wrote.
The book credits a single scientist as being the Iranian nuclear maestro who ensured discipline and kept the project running: Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, a physicist and brigadier general, was the “undisputed leader” of Iran’s nuclear weapons program.
Fakhrizadeh was gunned down in Tehran last year as part of an assassination plot that Iranian officials have attributed to Israel’s Mossad spy agency.
The book describes his killing as a “major blow,” while noting that the weapons-making expertise acquired under Fakhrizadeh still resides within Iran’s cadre of nuclear scientists and technicians.
“In the short to medium term, his loss may be felt the most during any nuclear breakout to build or test nuclear weapons,” Albright and Burkhard wrote.