Iran could quickly recover from military strike on its key facilities
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In the unlikely event that all Iran's known nuclear facilities were destroyed in a military attack, it could re-establish a nuclear weapons programme:
- Using stored, fresh nuclear fuel to produce HEU in a small centrifuge facility to fabricate a nuclear weapon; or
- If either the Bushehr or Arak reactors were operational at the time of an attack, chemically removing plutonium from any irradiated reactor fuel elements that survive the strike and using it to fabricate a nuclear weapon (as detailed in Section One, a smaller quantity of plutonium compared to HEU is needed to construct a nuclear weapon).
This process could be hastened if:
- Iran has a stock of uranium hexafluoride concealed at a secret facility, it would then be possible to produce HEU in a relatively short time and resume its nuclear programme;
- Iran has secretly constructed a small primitive reactor, fuelled with natural uranium, to produce plutonium for nuclear weapons; or
- Iran purchased fissile material from the nuclear black market.
The US Congressional House Select Committee on Intelligence Policy admitted that the US intelligence agencies have inadequate intelligence on Iranian nuclear facilities; increasing the likelihood that, if Iran has constructed secret facilities, they will remain undiscovered, even after a military strike.
Even if Iran's nuclear facilities were severely damaged during an attack, it is possible that Iran could embark on a crash programme to make one nuclear weapon. In the aftermath of an attack, it is likely that popular support for an Iranian nuclear weapon capability would increase; bolstering the position of hardliners and strengthening arguments that Iran must possess a nuclear deterrent. Furthermore, Iran has threatened to withdraw from the NPT and, should it do so post-attack, would build a clandestine programme free of international inspection and control.