We cannot be certain, but there are a number of indications that Iran has begun to produce 90% U-235 from its stockpile of 20% U-235.
1. The Iranian regime knows that Israel is ready and willing to use military force. They know that the time they have left to complete a nuclear weapon is limited. If they were not under this implied deadline, they might opt to spend another year purifying more 20% uranium, before moving to 90% uranium production. But Israel is likely to act within a few months, and so they know that their project must be completed before then.
The U.S. is pressing for increased sanctions instead of military action. This approach is partly due to the approaching Presidential election. A military conflict with Iran would cause oil and gasoline prices to skyrocket, and harm the economy. Any worsening of the economy harms the chances for a sitting President to be re-elected. But after November, the U.S. is more likely to favor military force.
So Iran cannot wait until 2013 before completing nuclear bombs. Given that they know this deadline, they would have to switch to 90% uranium production sooner, rather than later.
2. Iran has already produced a substantial amount of 20% uranium.
“The International Institute of Strategic Studies estimates that Iran now has a stockpile of some 110 kilograms of 20% U-235, and says that ‘Iran’s decision to build a relatively small enrichment facility without informing the IAEA suggested that Fordow was intended to be used to quickly and securely make highly enriched uranium for nuclear weapons.’ The Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington says that ‘Iran could produce 20 kilograms of highly enriched uranium, enough for a weapon, in as little as 43 days.’ ” [CNN.com]
The 110+ kg of 20% uranium that Iran already possesses is enough to make about four nuclear bombs, once it is purified to the 90% level. [Amercian Spectator]
3. Iran has recently installed thousands of next generation centrifuges in its underground facility at Fordow, protected by hundreds of feet of solid rock. [National Post] Why would they place uranium gas centrifuges deep underground? To protect the facility from a military strike. Why would they need thousands of next gen centrifuges in that facility? In order to complete nuclear weapons before any attempted military strike.
The production of low enriched uranium can be justified by the claim that it is for nuclear power plants. And the production of 20% uranium can be justified by the claim that it is for medical use or research. But 90% uranium can only be used for nuclear weapons. There is no other explanation. And so the production of 90% uranium needs to be done in an underground facility, in case it is discovered and a military strike is ordered in response to the discovery.
4. It takes an estimated two to three months from the start of purifying 90% U-235 to the completion of a nuclear bomb [CNN.com]. If Iran began purifying to the 90% level in late February, after the installation of a total of 3000 centrifuges at Fordow, two to four nuclear bombs could be completed by the end of May in 2012. This is the shortest time-frame for the production of completed nukes by Iran. But given the very public discussions of military strikes on Iran by Israel, it is likely that Iran is pressing to complete these nuclear bombs as soon as possible.
5. The Fordow facility was built in secret, and only revealed to the world by Iran after it was discovered by intelligence services and would be made public in any case. It is therefore entirely possible that Iran has purified more than 110 kg of 20% uranium. IAEA inspectors do not have full and unrestricted access to Iran’s nuclear facilities [The Guardian]. Iran is certainly willing to lie and deceive in order to further its nuclear program. If Iran has more 20% uranium than we know, the regime would be more likely to move to purifying 90% uranium sooner.
6. It is dangerous and foolish to say that Iran has not decided to build nuclear bombs yet. See my previous post on this subject.
7. The current Iranian regime is motivated by radical Shia eschatology. See my post on this subject and my explanation as to why Iran will attack New York City, not Israel.
Iran is under pressure from the threat of a military strike by Israel, therefore, they would begin purifying 90% uranium as soon as possible. Iran would need two to three months from the start of purifying 90% uranium to make several nukes. They obtained sufficient 20% uranium and a sufficient number of next gen centrifuges by Feb. of 2012. It is therefore likely that Iran has already begun to produce 90% U-235 in secret at the Fordow underground facility. If they began in late Feb. or early March, they could complete several nuclear bombs by May or June of 2012.
I suggest that it is far too dangerous to very many innocent lives to wait any longer before attacking Iran. Sanctions have failed. It is a fact that Iran is very close to obtaining nuclear weapons. They need only a few more months, and then the world will suddenly become a much different place.