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Right after I graduated, I interned with the Arms Control Association. It was terrific.

– George Stephanopolous
Host of ABC's This Week
January 1, 2005
Nuclear Nonproliferation

The Impact: Iran Breaches Nuclear Deal

This blog post originally appeared on the U.S. Institute of Peace's " The Iran Primer ," July 8, 2019. Since July 1, Iran has engaged in two breaches of the 2015 nuclear deal. On July 1, it increased its stockpile of low-enriched uranium above the 300-kilogram limit. On July 8, it increased enrichment from the limit of 3.67 percent to 4.5 percent. Iran had previously complied with the agreement, even after President Trump abandoned it in May 2018. What do Iran’s decisions mean for the future of the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) ? Iran’s decision to breach the 300-kilogram limit...

Assessing Progress on Nuclear Nonproliferation and Disarmament: 2016-2019 Report Card

This report is the fourth in a series that assesses the extent to which 11 key states are fulfilling, promoting, or undermining 10 standards identified as critical elements of the nonproliferation and disarmament regime during the period between 2016 and June 2019.

Collectively, states fared worse on the majority of criteria when compared with the prior edition, which covered the 2013–2016 period.

Download this report.

With Further Nuclear Moves, Iran Seeks to Leverage Promised Sanctions Relief | P4+1 and Iran Nuclear Deal Alert, July 9, 2019

With Further Nuclear Moves, Iran Seeks to Leverage Promised Sanctions Relief Iran announced July 8 that it has started enriching uranium at levels in excess of the limit of 3.67 percent uranium-235 set by the 2015 nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The move is the second troubling retaliatory measure in two weeks by Iran to walk back its compliance with the JCPOA. Last week, Iran exceeded the 300-kilogram limit of its stockpile of low enriched uranium set by the JCPOA. Iran’s moves to curtail compliance with the JCPOA have long been expected. Iranian...

Nuclear Weapons: Who Has What at a Glance

July 2019

Contact: Kelsey Davenport, Director for Nonproliferation Policy, (202) 463-8270 x102; Kingston Reif, Director for Disarmament and Threat Reduction Policy, (202) 463-8270 x104

Updated: July 2019

At the dawn of the nuclear age, the United States hoped to maintain a monopoly on its new weapon, but the secrets and the technology for making nuclear weapons soon spread. The United States conducted its first nuclear test explosion in July 1945 and dropped two atomic bombs on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945. Just four years later, the Soviet Union conducted its first nuclear test explosion. The United Kingdom (1952), France (1960), and China (1964) followed. Seeking to prevent the nuclear weapon ranks from expanding further, the United States and other like-minded states negotiated the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1968 and the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) in 1996.

India, Israel, and Pakistan never signed the NPT and possess nuclear arsenals. Iraq initiated a secret nuclear program under Saddam Hussein before the 1991 Persian Gulf War. North Korea announced its withdrawal from the NPT in January 2003 and has tested nuclear devices since that time. Iran and Libya have pursued secret nuclear activities in violation of the treaty’s terms, and Syria is suspected of having done the same. Still, nuclear nonproliferation successes outnumber failures and dire forecasts decades ago that the world would be home to dozens of states armed with nuclear weapons have not come to pass.

At the time the NPT was concluded, the nuclear stockpiles of both the United States and the Soviet Union/Russia numbered in the tens of thousands. Beginning in the 1970s, U.S. and Soviet/Russian leaders negotiated a series of bilateral arms control agreements and initiatives that limited, and later helped to reduce, the size of their nuclear arsenals. Today, the United States and Russia each deploy roughly 1,400 strategic warheads on several hundred bombers and missiles, and are modernizing their nuclear delivery systems.

China, India, and Pakistan are all pursuing new ballistic missile, cruise missile, and sea-based nuclear delivery systems. In addition, Pakistan has lowered the threshold for nuclear weapons use by developing tactical nuclear weapons capabilities to counter perceived Indian conventional military threats. North Korea continues its nuclear pursuits in violation of its earlier denuclearization pledges.

Nuclear-Weapon States:

The nuclear-weapon states (NWS) are the five states—China, France, Russia, United Kingdom, and the United States—officially recognized as possessing nuclear weapons by the NPT. The treaty legitimizes these states’ nuclear arsenals, but establishes they are not supposed to build and maintain such weapons in perpetuity. In 2000, the NWS committed themselves to an “unequivocal undertaking…to accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals.” Because of the secretive nature with which most governments treat information about their nuclear arsenals, most of the figures below are best estimates of each nuclear-weapon state’s nuclear holdings, including both strategic warheads and lower-yield devices referred to as tactical weapons.

China

  • About 290 total warheads. 

France

  • About 300 total warheads. 

Russia

  • March 2019 New START declaration: 1,461 strategic warheads deployed on 524 intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarine-launched ballistic missiles, and strategic bombers.
  • The Federation of American Scientists (FAS) estimates approximately 4,490 stockpiled warheads and 2,000 retired warheads for a total of roughly 6,490 warheads, as of early 2019. 

United Kingdom

  • About 120 strategic warheads, of which no more than 40 are deployed at sea on a nuclear ballistic missile submarine at any given time. The United Kingdom possesses a total of four ballistic missile submarines.
  • Total stockpile is estimated up to 200 warheads.

United States:

  • March 2019 New START declaration: 1,365 strategic nuclear warheads deployed on 656 intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarine-launched ballistic missiles, and strategic bombers.
  • FAS estimates approximately 3,800 stockpiled warheads and 2,385 retired warheads for a total of 6,185 warheads as of early 2019.

Non-NPT Nuclear Weapons Possessors:

  • India, Israel, and Pakistan never joined the NPT and are known to possess nuclear weapons.
  • India first tested a nuclear explosive device in 1974. That test spurred Pakistan to ramp up work on its secret nuclear weapons program.
  • India and Pakistan both publicly demonstrated their nuclear weapon capabilities with a round of tit-for-tat nuclear tests in May 1998.
  • Israel has not publicly conducted a nuclear test, does not admit or deny having nuclear weapons, and states that it will not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons in the Middle East. Nevertheless, Israel is universally believed to possess nuclear arms, although it is unclear exactly how many.

The following arsenal estimates are based on the amount of fissile material—highly enriched uranium and plutonium—that each of the states is estimated to have produced. Fissile material is the key element for making nuclear weapons. India and Israel are believed to use plutonium in their weapons, while Pakistan is thought to use highly enriched uranium.

IndiaBetween 130-140 nuclear warheads.
IsraelAn estimated 80-90 nuclear warheads, with fissile material for up to 200.
PakistanBetween 150-160 nuclear warheads.


States of Immediate Proliferation Concern:

Prior to the implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, Iran pursued a uranium-enrichment program and other projects that provided it with the capability to produce bomb-grade fissile material and develop nuclear weapons, if it chose to do so. Iran’s uranium enrichment program continues, but it is restricted and monitored by the nuclear deal. North Korea announced its withdrawal from the NPT in 2003 and tested nuclear devices and nuclear-capable ballistic missiles. Uncertainty persists about how many nuclear devices North Korea has assembled. In 2007, Israel bombed a site in Syria that was widely assessed to be a nuclear reactor being constructed with North Korea's assistance. Syria has refused to cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency's attempts to investigate.

Iran:

  • No known weapons or sufficient fissile material stockpiles to build weapons.
  • The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the institution charged with verifying that states are not illicitly building nuclear weapons, concluded in 2003 that Iran had undertaken covert nuclear activities to establish the capacity to indigenously produce fissile material.
  • July 2015: Iran and six world powers negotiated a long-term agreement to verify and significantly reduce Iran's capacity to produce material for nuclear weapons.
  • As part of this agreement, the IAEA and Iran concluded an investigation into Iran’s past nuclear weapons-related activities. The agency concluded that Iran had an organized program to pursue nuclear weapons prior to 2003. Some of these activities continued through 2009, but there were no indications of weaponization activities taking place after that date.

North Korea:

  • Estimated as of June 2019 to have approximately 20-30 warheads and the fissile material for 30-60 nuclear weapons.
  • While there is a high degree of uncertainty surrounding North Korea's fissile material stockpile and production, particularly on the uranium enrichment side, North Korea is estimated to have 20-40 kilograms of plutonium and 250-500 kilograms of highly enriched uranium. The estimated annual production of fissile material is enough for 6-7 weapons.
  • North Korea operates its 5-megawatt heavy-water graphite-moderated reactor used to extract plutonium in the past for nuclear warheads on an intermittent basis since August 2013. There has also been intermittent activity at North Korea's reprocessing facility since 2016, indicating that Pyongyang has likely separated plutonium from the reactor's spent fuel. 
  • North Korea unveiled a centrifuge facility in 2010. It is likely that Pyongyang is using the facility to produce highly-enriched uranium for weapons. U.S. intelligence suggests that there are several additional centrifuge facilities in North Korea. 
  • By 2020, experts estimate that North Korea could have anywhere between 20-100 nuclear warheads based on the rate of its stockpile growth and technological improvements. 

Syria:

  • September 2007: Israel conducted an airstrike on what U.S. officials alleged was the construction site of a nuclear research reactor similar to North Korea’s Yongbyon reactor.
  • The extent of Syrian-North Korean nuclear cooperation is unclear, but is believed to have begun in 1997.
  • Investigations into U.S. claims uncovered traces of undeclared man-made uranium particles at both the site of the destroyed facility and Syria’s declared research reactor.
  • Syria has not adequately cooperated with the IAEA to clarify the nature of the destroyed facility and procurement efforts that could be related to a nuclear program.


States That Had Nuclear Weapons or Nuclear Weapons Programs at One Time:

  • Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine inherited nuclear weapons following the Soviet Union’s 1991 collapse, but returned them to Russia and joined the NPT as non-nuclear-weapon states.
  • South Africa secretly developed but subsequently dismantled its small number of nuclear warheads and also joined the NPT in 1991.
  • Iraq had an active nuclear weapons program prior to the 1991 Persian Gulf War, but was forced to verifiably dismantle it under the supervision of UN inspectors. The U.S.-led March 2003 invasion of Iraq and subsequent capture of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein definitively ended his regime’s pursuit of nuclear weapons.
  • Libya voluntarily renounced its secret nuclear weapons efforts in December 2003.
  • Argentina, Brazil, South Korea, and Taiwan also shelved nuclear weapons programs.
     

Sources: Arms Control Association, Federation of American Scientists, International Panel on Fissile Materials, U.S. Department of Defense, U.S. Department of State and Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

Strategic Arms Control and Policy

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U.S. and Iranian Actions Put Nuclear Deal in Jeopardy

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Statement by Kelsey Davenport, director for nonproliferation policy
and Daryl G. Kimball, executive director

For Immediate Release: June 27, 2019

Media Contacts: Kelsey Davenport, director for nonproliferation policy, (202) 463-8270 ext. 102 (print/radio only); Daryl G. Kimball, executive director, (202) 463-8270 ext. 107

(Washington, DC)—Iran’s announcement that it may soon breach the 300-kilogram limit on low-enriched uranium set by the 2015 nuclear deal is an expected but troubling response to the Trump administration’s reckless and ill-conceived pressure campaign to kill the 2015 nuclear agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

It is critical that President Donald Trump does not overreact to this breach and further escalate tensions.

Any violation of the deal is a serious concern but, in and of itself, an increase in Iran’s low-enriched uranium stockpile above the 300-kilogram limit of 3.67 percent enriched uranium does not pose a near-term proliferation risk.

Iran would need to produce roughly 1,050 kilograms of uranium enriched at that level, further enrich it to weapons grade (greater than 90 percent uranium-235), and then weaponize it. Intrusive International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspections would provide early warning of any further moves by Iran to violate the deal.

Tehran is not racing toward the bomb but rather, Iran’s leaders are seeking leverage to counter the U.S. pressure campaign, which has systematically denied Iran any benefits of complying with the deal. Despite Iran’s understandable frustration with the U.S. reimposition of sanctions, it remains in Tehran’s interest to fully comply with the agreement’s limits and refrain from further actions that violate the accord.

If Iran follows through on its threat to resume higher levels of enrichment July 7, that would pose a more serious proliferation risk. Stockpiling uranium enriched to a higher level would shorten the time it would take Iran to produce enough nuclear material for a bomb–a timeline that currently stands at 12 months as a result of the nuclear deal’s restrictions.

The Trump administration’s failed Iran policy is on the brink of manufacturing a new nuclear crisis, but there is still a window to salvage the deal and deescalate tensions.

The Joint Commission, which is comprised of the parties to the deal (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, the European Union, and Iran) and oversees implementation of JCPOA, will meet June 28. The meeting is a critical opportunity for the state parties to press Iran to fully comply with the nuclear deal and commit to redouble efforts to deliver on sanctions-relief obligations.

For its part, the White House needs to avoid steps that further escalate tensions with Iran. Trump must cease making vague military threats and refrain from taking actions such as revoking waivers for key nuclear cooperation projects that actually benefit U.S. nonproliferation priorities.

If Trump does not change course, he risks collapsing the nuclear deal and igniting a conflict in the region.

Description: 

An increase in Iran’s low-enriched uranium stockpile above the JCPOA-mandated limits does not in itself pose a near-term proliferation risk, and it is critical that the Trump administration does not overreact to this breach and further escalate tensions.

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The Trump Administration’s Failing Iran Policy Is Spurring Troubling Retaliatory Actions by Iran

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Statement by Kelsey Davenport, director for nonproliferation policy 
and Daryl G. Kimball, executive director

For Immediate Release: June 17, 2019

Media Contacts: Kelsey Davenport, director for nonproliferation policy, (202) 463-8270 ext. 102; Daryl G. Kimball, executive director, (202) 463-8270 ext. 107

(Washington, DC)—Iran announced Monday that in 10 days it will exceed a limit on enriched uranium set by the 2015 multilateral nuclear agreement, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Iran’s decision to breach caps imposed by the accord is a troubling but predictable response to the Trump administration’s systematic campaign to deny Iran any benefit from the nuclear deal over the past year.

Specifically, Behrouz Kamalvandi, spokesman for the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, announced June 17 that Iran has quadrupled its production of 3.67 percent enriched uranium and will cross the limit of 300 kilograms of uranium gas enriched to that level set by the nuclear deal in 10 days. Iran first threatened to breach this cap May 8, one year after U.S. President Donald Trump violated the JCPOA by reimposing sanctions and withdrawing from the agreement.

While any violation of the deal is concerning, breaching the limit on low-enriched uranium does not pose a near-term proliferation risk.

Currently, as a result of restrictions put in place by the deal, it would take Iran about 12 months to produce enough fissile material for one nuclear weapon. That timeline will decrease if Iran produces enriched uranium in excess of 300 kilograms, but it takes roughly 1,050 kilograms of uranium enriched to 3.67 percent in gas form to produce enough weapons-grade uranium (over 90 percent enriched uranium-235) for one bomb.

However, Kamalvandi also reiterated that if the Europeans, Russia, and China do not take additional steps to secure sanctions relief envisioned by the deal by July 7, Iran will take actions that pose a more significant and immediate proliferation risk.

Kamalvandi noted that Iran is considering two scenarios for increasing the level of uranium enrichment beyond the 3.67 percent cap set by the deal. He said Iran may pursue five percent enrichment for its operating nuclear power reactor at Bushehr or 20 percent enrichment to fuel the Tehran Research Reactor. These steps would shorten the time it takes Iran to produce enough material for a nuclear weapon.

While Iran’s frustration with Trump's reckless and irresponsible pressure campaign is understandable, we strongly urge Iran to remain in compliance with the nuclear deal. It remains in Iran’s interests to abide by the limits of the agreement and to fully cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency’s more intrusive monitoring and verification.

We also urge the Trump administration to rethink its failing Iran’s policy, which has put an effective nonproliferation agreement in jeopardy, increasing the risk of a new nuclear crisis and the threat of conflict in the region.

It may still be possible to save the nuclear deal, which has successfully blocked Iran’s pathways to nuclear weapons. Doing so will require Tehran’s continued compliance with the accord and for the remaining parties to the agreement to ratchet up efforts to facilitate legitimate trade with Iran and to pressure the United States to return to compliance with its commitments. Such developments could serve as a foundation for the United States and Iran to engage in negotiations that address other areas of tension in the region.

Description: 

Iran’s decision to breach caps imposed by the accord is a troubling but predictable response to the Trump administration’s systematic campaign to deny Iran any benefit from the nuclear deal over the past year.

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U.S. Accuses Iran Prematurely of Violating Nuclear Deal | P4+1 and Iran Nuclear Deal Alert, June 14, 2019

U.S. Accuses Iran Prematurely of Violating Nuclear Deal Tensions over the 2015 multilateral nuclear deal with Iran continue to rise after the Trump administration accused Tehran of violating one of its commitments under the agreement, but Iran’s decision to install additional advanced centrifuges appears to fall into a gray area not covered by the accord, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Despite the lack of clarity, the United States urged Iran to return to compliance even though U.S. President Donald Trump violated the deal by reimposing sanctions in May 2018 and...

Despite Threat to Breach Limits, Iran Remains Below the Nuclear Deal’s Caps

The International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) most recent report on Iran’s implementation of the 2015 multilateral nuclear deal indicates that Tehran continues to adhere to the accord’s limits—a positive development after President Hassan Rouhani announced that Iran would reduce compliance with the agreement. Specifically, the Supreme National Security Council stated May 8 that Iran would no longer be bound by the stockpile limits on heavy water and low-enriched uranium (LEU) put in place by the nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) . According to the May 31...

Door to Diplomacy Remains Open Despite Missile Tests | North Korea Denuclearization Digest, May 2019

Door to Diplomacy Remains Open Despite Missile Tests The next steps for U.S. diplomacy with North Korea remain unclear after Pyongyang tested several short-range ballistic missiles in early May. Despite the missile tests, South Korea and the United States urged a resumption of dialogue. North Korea, however, has said little about returning to talks since Chairman Kim Jong Un declared in April that he would give the Trump administration until the end of the year to change its approach to negotiations or face a "bleak and very dangerous" situation. North Korea tested a salvo of rockets May 4 (...

Iran Announces Countermoves on Nuclear Deal | P4+1 and Iran Nuclear Deal Alert, May 10, 2019

Iran Announces Countermoves on Nuclear Deal Tehran announced it will no longer be bound by certain limits set by the 2015 multilateral nuclear deal. Iran’s leaders also threatened to restart other nuclear activities restricted by the agreement in the future if the Europeans, China, and Russia do not deliver on sanctions relief (see below for details). The announcement was a delayed if not predictable response to the Trump administration’s systematic attempt over the past year to deny Iran any benefits under the nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Iran’s...

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