Iran’s short breakout time under JCPOA 2.0


Staff member
Iran’s short breakout time under JCPOA 2.0
The Biden administration should urgently, and finally, accept that its oft-repeated concern—that Iran’s nuclear advances threaten to make the JCPOA obsolete—is already a reality. Opinion.
Blaise Misztal & Jonathan Ruhe

(JINSA) With the United States and Iran closing in on a return to the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear agreement, the revived deal will likely fail to restore what its Obama-era predecessors claimed was the original deal’s primary benefit. Namely, putting Iran at least a year away from being able to enrich a bomb’s worth of fissile material.

President Obama touted the JCPOA as “purchasing for 13, 14, 15 years assurances that the breakout is at least a year…. And we have those assurances for at least well over a decade.” But a return to the JCPOA’s original terms now would not achieve the same effect. If the Biden administration reenters the JCPOA, Iran’s breakout time could be between 6.5 and 4.8 months—but only for four years, after which this timeframe would steadily shrink further, to an estimated three months or less when the deal expires in 2030.

Rather than putting Iran’s nuclear program “in a box,” as the administration keeps repeating as its goal, a new deal will be twice as bad as the original JCPOA, delaying Iran’s nuclear program by only half as much, and for only half as long. The dangers of an Iranian dash to a bomb grow as breakout time—the time needed to produce at least 20 kilograms of 90 percent enriched uranium, the minimum needed for a nuclear weapon—shrinks.

Breakout time depends on four factors: 1) enriched uranium stockpile, 2) enrichment level of that stockpile, the 3) quantity and 4) efficiency of available centrifuges.