Friday, September 25, 2009

Throw Those Nuclear Assumptions Out The Window

Iran has acknowledged that they've had a secret enrichment operation underway for some time in addition to the publicly known and acknowledged site at Natanz.
Two officials told the AP that Iran revealed the existence of the second plant in a letter sent Monday to International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei.

IAEA spokesman Marc Vidricaire confirmed receipt of the letter, saying the agency was informed "that a new pilot fuel enrichment plant is under construction." The letter said that the plant would not enrich uranium beyond the 5 percent level suitable for civilian energy production. That would be substantially below the threshold of 90 percent or more needed for a weapon.

Iran told the agency "that no nuclear material has been introduced into the facility," he said. "In response, the IAEA has requested Iran to provide specific information and access to the facility as soon as possible."

The officials said that Iran's letter contained no details about the location of the second facility, when — or if — it had started operations or the type and number of centrifuges it was running.

But one of the officials, who had access to a review of Western intelligence on the issue, said it was about 100 miles (160 kilometers) southwest of Tehran and was the site of 3,000 centrifuges that could be operational by next year.
Claims by Iran that they will only enrich uranium to a level of 5% ring hollow because all it takes is time and energy to increase the purity of the uranium 235 to weapons grade levels.

Why exactly were the Iranians keeping their second enrichment facility secret if their intention was only to keep it for civilian purposes. It makes no sense; then again, little of what the Iranians do makes sense from a Western perspective.

Iran, had they announced the second set of centrifuges and opened them up to inspectors could have gotten itself out from under a cloud of suspicion, but their very secrecy increases the likelihood that they're engaging in efforts to build nuclear weapons in conjunction with the acquisition of missile technologies from North Korea.

Moreover, the additional centrifuges and enrichment equipment means that the Iranians can speed up the process by which they enrich the uranium, throwing all the assumptions about when Iran can have weapons grade uranium in sufficient quantities for weapons out the window. It also means that Iran can process larger amounts of uranium simultaneously; it is their intention to build a complete infrastructure for uranium processing that is outside of international observation and control. Given the regime's proclivities to call for genocide and the fulfillment of ideological obligations, this is a very dangerous development.

It shouldn't surprise anyone that the facility that the Iranians revealed was outside the city of Qom, which is considered holy to Shi'ites. It's the spiritual center of Shi'ism and home to many of the leading religious authorities. It is all too likely that the Iranians built the facilities in close proximity to Qom so that they'd protect them from possible airstrikes by the Israelis or US or anyone else, so that they'd use the population of Qom as human shields (and religious shields to justify further jihad).

Moreover, this is just the tip of the iceberg as Iran is suspected of having still more undeclared nuclear sites, including those working on producing the nuclear triggers needed to detonate the weapons.

There is a question though on how the report concludes that 3,000 centrifuges is too small to be for civilian purposes and that it is for a weapons program. It takes far more effort to produce a nuclear weapon in terms of enrichment than to produce uranium for a civilian nuclear reactor. The problem isn't the size, but the scope and the diffuse nature of the Iranian nuclear program.

The Iranians have purposefully spread out their enrichment activities all over the country to prevent a single set of airstrikes from taking out their capabilities. They've buried the nuclear sites underground to minimize the chances that airstrikes can take them out.

They're in the process of building a full-blown nuclear enrichment infrastructure, and one that is designed with survivability and capacity to produce weapons-grade uranium.

Now, there are some who might view this as an opening - the Iranians softening their stance somewhat by giving the West a glimpse into their nuclear infrastructure, but I think it would be misguided. I see this as a boast of what the Iranians are capable of doing, and are continuing to do. It's a fake-out, getting everyone to focus on the newly admitted facility near Qom while other facilities continue their work without delay. It may also be seen as a way to delay any further UN action because it provides Iran's allies the opportunity to push for more negotiations, which gives Iran the time it needs to continue enriching uranium.

No comments: