Monday, November 19, 2007

Evidence That Iran Is Seeking A Nuclear Arsenal

There are many people apparently willing to take Iran at its word that its nuclear program is peaceful and solely aimed at producing civilian nuclear power. Such people cite to a supposed lack of direct evidence indicating that Iran is seeking a nuclear arsenal. Many of these people seemingly would accept nothing less than Iranian President Ahmedinejad marching through Tehran with an ICBM as proof otherwise.

Whether the world should simply acquiesce in Iran's nuclear program, irrespective of its goals, is a separate issue. For the reasons I set forth in a separate post, I believe that would be suicidal. But as to the issue of whether Iran is seeking a nuclear arsenal, there is a wealth of both direct and circumstantial evidence in the public record that strongly supports such a reasonable belief:

1. Iran is mining yellowcake uranium and processing it as nuclear fuel, nominally for use in a nuclear reactor. Reactors can be either light water or heavy water. Light water reactors are safer and produce less waste, but such reactors are far less efficient than heavy water reactors at producing weapons grade fissile material. Most power reactors worldwide, and all in the United States are cooled by ordinary “light” water. Heavy water reactors are the type generally relied upon for creating weapons grade plutonium. Iran has built a facility to make heavy water, even though the sole power plant currently claimed and known to be under construction in Iran is a light water reactor.

2. Iran is now executing “industrial grade production” of nuclear fuel by bringing on-line 3,000 gas centrifuges. It has plans to bring that number up to 8,000 gas centrifuges. It takes 3,000 centrifuges working for one year to produce sufficient fissile material for one nuclear bomb.

3. Iran has no use for the “industrial scale” production of nuclear fuel it is doing today other than for creating a nuclear arsenal. Iranian nuclear facilities produce precisely 0 watts of electricity. Nuclear fuel has a life of three to four years. Within that time, Iran will have one nuclear power plant capable of generating electricity. That is the light water plant being built by Russia. And Russia is required by the contract with Iran to provide the nuclear fuel for that plant during its first ten years of operation. Again, it must be emphasized that there is no other nuclear reactor currently claimed or otherwise known to be under construction in Iran at present time.

4. Iran asserts that it's working only with the P1, an older centrifuge that it admitted buying in 1987 from an international black-market network headed by A.Q. Khan, the father of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal. But IAEA inspectors determined that Iran failed to reveal that it had obtained blueprints for the P2, a centrifuge twice as efficient as the P1, from the Khan network in 1995. Iranian officials say they did nothing with the blueprints until 2002, when they were given to a private firm that produced and tested seven modified P2 parts, then abandoned the effort. IAEA inspectors, however, discovered that Iran sought to buy thousands of specialized magnets for P2s from European suppliers, and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said last year that research on the centrifuges continued. The IAEA has been stymied in trying to discover the project's scope, fueling suspicions that the Iranian military may be secretly running a P2 development program parallel to the civilian-run P1 program at Natanz.

5. The CIA turned over to the IAEA thousands of pages of computer simulations and documents from a defector's laptop that indicated that Iranian experts studied mounting a nuclear warhead on a ballistic missile. The laptop also contained drawings and notes on sophisticated detonators and conventional high explosives arrayed in a ring — the shape used to trigger nuclear weapons — and implicated a firm linked to Iran's military in uranium-enrichment studies. The documents included drawings of a 1,200-foot-deep underground shaft apparently designed to confine a nuclear test explosion. Iran denounced the materials as "politically motivated and baseless," but promised to cooperate with an IAEA investigation into so-called Project 111 once other questions are settled. U.S., French, German and British intelligence officials think the materials are genuine.

6. Iran itself, apparently by mistake, gave to the IAEA a document supplied by the Khan network on casting and milling uranium metal into hemispheres. Uranium hemispheres have no application in power plants, but form the explosive cores of nuclear weapons. Iran denied asking for the document or doing anything with it. It barred the IAEA from making copies but agreed to have it placed under seal. IAEA investigators have been interviewing Khan network members to verify Iran's version of how it got the document. They also have been looking into whether Iran received a Chinese warhead design from the Khan network. Libya, which bought the same materials Iran did, had the design.

7. Iran has failed since 2003 to satisfy IAEA inquiries about experiments it conducted from 1989 to 1993 that produced Polonium-210. Polonium-210 is a highly radioactive substance that has limited civilian applications but is used in warheads to initiate the fission chain reaction that results in a nuclear blast.

8. Many U.S. and European officials dispute Iran's claim that it needs to enrich uranium for nuclear power plants. They point out that the only Iranian nuclear power plant under construction is the one reference above being built by Russia, which has an agreement to supply it with low-enriched uranium fuel for 10 years. Moreover, they contend that Iran doesn't have enough uranium to provide fuel for the lifetimes of the seven to 10 civilian reactors it says it needs to meet the demands of its growing population. It would be far cheaper for Iran to expand domestic consumption of natural gas, of which it has the world's second-largest reserves, and oil, of which it has the world's third-largest reserves, according to a study by the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

9. If Iran is not developing a nuclear weapon, they have nothing to hide. There is no reason whatsoever to keep the IAEA from inspecting and documenting its nuclear development. Yet, as the IAEA Report just released indicates, Iran is in fact decreasing its cooperation with the IAEA. “Iran has continued to shield many aspects of its nuclear program. Iran’s ‘cooperation has been reactive rather than proactive,’ the report said, adding that because of restrictions Iran has placed on inspectors the agency’s understanding of the full scope of Iran’s nuclear program is ‘diminishing.’”

No comments: