by Robert Kelley (source: LobeLog)
Natanz Uranium Enrichment Facility in central Iran
A recent piece in The New York Times purports to explain why Iran has not been clear about its nuclear bomb aspirations. The article tries to link this alleged silence to the successful agreements in the P5+1 negotiations that have begun again in Switzerland. However, the article is based on misconceptions, innuendo, and technical ignorance.
The first jolt comes in the second paragraph at the mention of curtailing Iran’s plutonium complex. There is no plutonium complex in Iran. Indeed, there is very little discussion of plutonium at all in the negotiations. The US State Department no less observed in July 2014 that Iran has not constructed a facility capable of reprocessing spent fuel from a nuclear reactor and therefore cannot separate plutonium for a bomb. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) agrees.
This huge mistake in the second paragraph is only the first of many. Further on, there are errors in most of the so-called questions detailed in the annotation of the bomb drawing, labeled a “typical implosion fission bomb.” If this bomb were truly typical, which it isn’t, it would have been typical in 1945 not in the 21st century.
Iran was clearly considering many nuclear options, particularly in the 1980s and 1990s when Saddam Hussein in neighboring Iraq was pursuing nuclear arms aggressively. Iran had to have been aware of this. Procurement information obtained by the Washington group ISIS is a nearly exact match to Saddam’s efforts. The clandestine construction of both a huge enrichment plant at Natanz, sized for weapons but too small for a power industry, and a heavy water reactor at Arak indicate nuclear ambitions in those years. But the United States believes the weapons program stopped in 2003. If Iran could just admit to what they have done and when and why they stopped it would clear the air.
The Times claims that the IAEA has 12 sharp questions of which only one has been answered. Yet theTimes has ignored that Iran has answered questions about weapons such as its work with polonium, its procurement of computer codes, uranium metallurgy, contamination in a university lab, and a number of other topics. The IAEA published a number of statements about its satisfaction with answers provided by Iran. And it has also expressed frustration with lack of progress in other areas. These IAEA statements can be seen in places like the Arms Control Association. But the Times is very selective in what it reports.
Does it matter? Yes. Julian Pecquet writing in Al Monitor has already repeated the exact same claim regarding the “eleven unanswered questions” without proof. Sloppy research leads to repetition and soon becomes “fact.”
Iran has consistently responded that it cannot answer many questions because they are based on untrue information. Do we have to assume Iran is automatically lying when it says it is falsely accused? There are a number of well-documented cases of forged documents given to the IAEA to implicate Iraq in undisclosed activities. After US revelations of the deliberate forgery of nuclear weapon device plans, given clandestinely to Iran to impede its alleged program, isn’t it just possible that one or more of the allegations against Iran were fabricated as well?
In any case, the depth of thinking behind the Times article is summed up near its conclusion:
Iran already knows how to make a rudimentary bomb. So do terrorists and college students. The real question is whether Iran can miniaturize a weapon to fit atop a missile...
The threat posed by Iran to the West is equal to the threat posed by college students? Both know how to make a rudimentary bomb. That is the position of the Times. For some days now, American audiences have been treated to a television ad showing a white panel truck carrying an Iranian nuclear bomb blowing up in a parking garage in downtown New York City. This bomb didn’t need to be miniaturized to fit on a missile. And, as the Times tells us, college students can do it too.
The Times article purports to be a summary of weaponization issues, but it appears more likely that political biases trumped technical accuracy.
Bob Kelley is a professional nuclear engineer licensed in California. He spent the early years of his career in the nuclear weapons program of the US on topics such as plutonium metallurgy, vulnerability of nuclear warheads and warhead engineering. He has worked on a number of isotope separation schemes for the actinides including uranium separation by gas centrifuge and plutonium laser isotope separation. In mid-career he switched to analysis of foreign nuclear weapons programs. This included the use of satellite imagery and other kinds of intelligence information. This led to becoming Director of the Remote Sensing Laboratory in Las Vegas, the premier nuclear emergency response and aerial measurements laboratory for image and radiation sensing in the USDOE. He later applied this knowledge for the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna as a Director for challenging nuclear inspections in Iraq and many other countries.
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