Nearly all of Iran's advanced nuke centrifuges failing, top expert reveals

David Albright is as concerned as ever about Tehran plotting to obtain a nuclear bomb and emphasizes the need for Israel and the West to stand watch.

AN IRANIAN ballistic missile on display in Tehran.  (photo credit: REUTERS)
AN IRANIAN ballistic missile on display in Tehran.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Nearly all of Iran’s advanced centrifuges used for enriching uranium potentially towards a nuclear bomb are failing, one of the world’s leading nuclear weapons experts revealed to The Jerusalem Post this week.
Many have been worried that if Iran succeeds in developing advanced centrifuges, the machines which spin rapidly to enrich uranium, it could “sneak out” a nuclear weapon in a matter of weeks without being detected.
The expert, David Albright, is a former International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Action-Team inspector, head of the Institute for Science and International Security think tank on nuclear weapons and is close to CIA, Mossad and IAEA officials.
David Albright
David Albright
His update on the issue closes off one of the many concerns about the nuclear deal – which is ironic since he is generally viewed as a hawk on Iran.
But it is significant, Albright explained to the Post, in order to invest resources in tracking the other very real threats to watch out for regarding Iranian centrifuges and Tehran’s potential for developing nuclear weapons.
There have been a range of debates about Iran’s nuclear program and the loopholes in the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action – known as the Iran nuclear deal, which the US withdrew from last May – which could allow the Islamic republic to continue advancing towards a bomb without violating the agreement.
One of the hottest issues has been that the deal allows Iran to continue experiments on advanced centrifuges.
In a nutshell, advanced centrifuges like the IR-8 are potentially 16 times more powerful to enrich uranium compared to the simple IR-1 centrifuges that Tehran possessed prior to the 2015 deal.
“The IR-8 has been a failure,” Albright said. “The centrifuge uses carbon fiber bellows, which involve carbon fiber tubes connected by a movable part, the bellows. They go into the shape of a banana when they hit a certain speed. You need to make them bendable. The bellow must be flexible, but they are made of carbon fiber so there are lots of problems with them cracking,” he said.
If the IR-8s worked properly, they could spin at a much faster rate and enrich uranium more rapidly.
Even with Iran’s less advanced IR-1s, inspectors have found that 20%-30% of them regularly fail. This may be why it took so long for Tehran to get suspicious about its centrifuges failing upon being infected with the Stuxnet computer virus in 2009-2010.
Despite this failure, Albright said that Iran works hard to make a public showing that it is succeeding.
In September, Iranian nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi made waves worldwide, when he announced that a new facility to produce advanced centrifuges at the Natanz nuclear plant had been completed.
To the untrained eye, the centrifuges in the background of a photo of Salehi seemed to bolster the seriousness of his claims. But to the trained eye, Albright said that the show was totally superficial, and if anything, exposed Iranian failures.
He said that the centrifuges were easily identifiable as IR-6’s – due to their single rotor tube and the absence of a bellow – all of which have failed to date.
Yet, after describing all of these failures, Albright is as concerned as ever about Tehran plotting to obtain a nuclear bomb and emphasizes the need for Israel and the West to stand watch.
He said that Iran has had success with the IR-2m centrifuge, which is three to four times more powerful than the IR-1 model, and that the Islamic republic regularly discusses its future aspirations to build tens of thousands of centrifuges.
Since Iran “can never do that at a cheaper price than what they can buy” from Russia for civilian nuclear uses, its desire for a larger volume of centrifuges “makes no sense at all” for anything other than a nuclear weapons program.
Albright noted that inspectors found slots for 3,000 IR-2m centrifuges in one of Iran’s facilities. However, he warned that the inspectors never clarified whether Tehran had built and concealed such a large quantity of higher-quality centrifuges, or whether its scientists only got to the point of making the slots, but not producing the machines themselves.
All of these pieces of evidence form “a strong argument against [the truth of] Iran saying it has a civilian nuclear program,” he added.
The nuclear weapons expert said that these pieces of evidence led the US, France, England and Germany to agree in early 2018 that if “Iran scaled up its enrichment program, that would be viewed as a military program,” and a way to say that Iran had violated the agreement – and sanctions, therefore, needed to be re-imposed.
Albright said that Tehran’s behavior surrounding advanced centrifuges, even with their failures, has left even the Europeans “feeling that they want to make nuclear weapons.” He hopes that this will eventually lead the EU to take a tougher stance on Iran.