While Iran is producing low enriched uranium (LEU) at the 3.5% and 20% levels, it is not producing high enriched uranium (HEU) and is not enriching to weapons grade, widely considered to be 90%.

On March 12, 2013 Senator Chuck Schumer, in a letter to his constituents, sought to defend his decision to support S.RES 65 and in doing so made a number of non-factual claims about Iran’s nuclear program.

The third paragraph of his letter is as follows:

“In the past decade, Iran has developed nuclear technologies which U.S. and other nations’ intelligence agencies believe are intended to produce nuclear weapons.  In November of 2007, the Administration released a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) giving evidence that Iran had operated a clandestine nuclear-weapons program until 2003.  The nation continues to enrich uranium into weapons-grade nuclear materials in violation of United Nations resolutions, and in November of 2009 disclosed that it has a partially constructed enrichment facility near Qom.  Although President Ahmadinejad maintains that these facilities are designed to generate civilian nuclear energy, experts say that the type of fuel that they produce is sufficient to arm a nuclear warhead.  With such fuel, experts argue, Iran could quickly re-instate its nuclear program and thus continues to pose a significant proliferation risk. There should be no lingering doubt that Iran represents an immediate threat to our global security. With Iran still in hot pursuit of nuclear weapons, we must do everything we can to bring their ambitions to a halt.”

The foremost error here is the assertion that Iran “continues to enrich uranium to weapons grade nuclear materials” and that “experts say that the type of fuel that they produce is sufficient to arm a nuclear warhead.” These statements are completely false according to quarterly reporting by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the international organization that reports to the UN and Security Council and  inspects Iranian nuclear enrichment facilities roughly once per week and operates cameras at Iran’s nuclear sites.

The IAEA continues to report that Iran is not enriching uranium to weapons grade.

  • Iran, under IAEA supervision, has enriched uranium to 5% and 20%, levels necessary to operate civilian nuclear power plants and a medical research reactor but not sufficient for nuclear weapons. Uranium enriched at 5% and 20% levels is also known as low enriched uranium. It is not possible to develop a nuclear weapon with these levels of enriched uranium. (“Uranium and Dirty Bombs”, Federation of American Scientists)
  • According to the IAEA, Iran has not produced any weapons grade uranium. Iran has not produced any 90% enriched uranium, or highly enriched uranium, which is considered “weapons-grade” and is necessary to build a bomb.

U.S. Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper reiterated in his debriefing of the 2013 Worldwide Assessment of the US Intelligence Community before Congress that Iran is not producing weapons grade uranium:

  • Clapper said that if Iran were to enrich to weapons grade, it would be detected.  Clapper said “Iran has made progress last year that better positions it to produce weapons-grade uranium (WGU), using its declared facilities and uranium stockpiles, should it choose to do so.” (Statement for the Record Worldwide Threat Assessment of the US Intelligence Community, Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, James R. Clapper. March 12, 2013)
  • Clapper’s testimony directly contradicts the assertion that Iran is “in hot pursuit” of nuclear weapons. Clapper states that “Iran could not divert safeguarded material and produce a weapon-worth of WGU before this activity is discovered.” Essentially he is saying that Iran could not start producing weapons grade uranium to build a bomb without it becoming immediately apparent to the inspectors and the intelligence community.

According to the U.S. intelligence community, Iran has a nuclear program and is seeking nuclear latency, but does not currently have a nuclear weapons program and has not made a decision to actually build a nuclear weapon.

  • The 2007 National Intelligence Estimate stated, “We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program.” (2007 National Intelligence Estimate Iran: Nuclear Intentions and Capabilities; November 2007)
  • Further in this regard, former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has said, “Are they [Iran] trying to develop a nuclear weapon? No. But we know that they’re trying to develop a nuclear capability.” (Face the Nation; January 8, 2012)
  • Clapper’s testimony also stressed Iran’s nuclear capability, saying that while Iran has nuclear capability, the main issue is the “political will” in Tehran whether to build the bomb. And to reiterate, it is far and wide agreed that the political will there is against this decision for now.