Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Iranian Nuclear Program

Gordon Prather sheds some light on what has, and has not, transpired in the Iranian Nuclear program. In particular, he describes Iran's duties under the NPT and whether their actions did or did not violate those duties.

[A] couple of years ago, the Iranians allowed inspectors for the International Atomic Energy Agency to take a few swipes off some gas centrifuges they were assembling.

Under their existing safeguards agreement, the Iranians had not been obliged to inform the IAEA about anything they planned to do, were doing, or had done that did not involve the impending chemical or physical transformation of "source or special nuclear materials."

In particular, until the Iranians signed an additional protocol to their existing safeguards agreement and immediately began to adhere to it, they had been under no obligation whatsoever to inform the IAEA that they had imported or were constructing thousands of gas centrifuges, or that they had under construction a uranium enrichment pilot plant and a partially underground industrial-scale bunker capable of housing tens of thousands of gas centrifuges.

So those screaming about violations of the NPT are trying to create a problem where none exists. We have seen that before.

Prather goes on give us details about uranium enrichment that may prove useful in desecting future claims by the usual crowd.

But it turned out that one of the swipes showed traces of 36 percent HEU (highly enriched uranium). That is, there were traces of uranium on the Iranian equipment whose U-235 isotopic concentration had been enriched more than two orders of magnitude.

Now by that time, the neo-crazy media sycophants had managed to get even honest journalists to report that any uranium enrichment capability was bad because even uranium enriched just enough to make reactor fuel could easily and undetectably be further enriched to make nuclear-weapons fuel.

That's not true, of course. Enriching uranium on an industrial scale is no slam-dunk exercise.

Most commercial nuclear power plants – like the one the Russians have almost finished constructing at Bushehr – are fueled with low-enriched uranium (LEU), whose U-235 isotopic concentration is 3 to 5 percent.

Uranium whose U-235 isotopic concentration is greater than 20 percent is classified as highly enriched uranium.

In order to be classified as "weapons grade," the U-235 isotopic concentration has to be 90 percent or more.

So how did neo-crazy media sycophants universally report traces of 36 percent HEU being found on centrifuge parts the Iranians claimed to have imported? That the Iranians had been caught secretly making weapons-grade uranium.

They continued making that claim even after the IAEA concluded about a year ago that the Iranians were probably telling the truth. That the Iranians had not yet begun producing – in any quantity – even 3 percent LEU, much less 36 percent HEU. [Which is still not even close to weapons grade] That the 36 percent HEU probably was a contaminant, already present on the used parts they had purchased from a third party.

The Pakistanis finally admitted that they had been the original producers of the equipment the Iranians had bought, and although not a signatory to the Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons, the Pakistanis voluntarily provided the IAEA samples of the 36 percent HEU they had produced with that equipment.

Why would anyone produce 36 percent HEU?

Well, there are more than 130 operating research reactors in more than 40 countries around the world that use HEU fuel. Some use weapons-grade HEU. Several – including one in Bulgaria – use 36 percent HEU.

Of course, this also brings up the question why are we focusing on Iran when North Korea is much further along in developing nuclear weapons and much closer in proximity to the US, but that is another (important) discussion.

There is more here.


Anonymous daveg said...

While dry, this post is pretty important. We are going to get lots of smoke and mirrors from the neocons on Iran and we need to have at least some background information to understand what is BS and what is not.

9/01/2005 07:50:00 AM  

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