According to a Stratfor.com’s assessment of the recent IAEA report, Iran has significantly higher amounts of low enriched uranium, yet a slow down of progress at a processing plant and a dome built at the Arak heavy water facility in order to prevent satellite photos from being taken. Also, only 136 new centrifuges have been built to augment Iran’s existing 3600 centrifuge cascades.
I will do my best to decrypt this information. I am certain I will make many errors. Anyone wishing to correct any factual errors would be most appreciated should they choose to do so in the comments section below this article.
To make a bomb by enriching U238 into U235 you need to have approximately 93%+ pure U235. To make fuel for a reactor you need 5% or less. Low enriched presumably means way more than enough for a reactor but perhaps not quite enriched enough to make nuclear weapons.
Iran appears to have a two fold plan for the manufacture of nuclear weapons simultaneously. One, is the refinement of U238 into U235 by means of high speed centrifuges to isolate the U235 from the host ore, U238. The refined product post centrifuge is easily made into materials that will detonate a nuclear explosion of the kind we are so familiar with. I wish to be clear on this as there are many terms often used which are confused for each other and which are themselves confusing. U235 with little technology can be fashioned into a nuclear bomb of a Hiroshima or larger size weapon fairly easily. The difficulty comes from obtaining the material to detonate, the U235. Iran is reported to have as stated above, 3600 + 136 arrays presumably working 24/7 to obtain the necessary materials for a bomb. It is through the use of these centrifuges designed and sold by Pakistani nuclear technician A. Q. Khan that this material, U235 is produced. Please watch this documentary for a good in depth analysis on Khan and his centrifuges and how they are used to make nuclear weapons.
I have no idea how many bombs of what size can be produced per unit time using this method but the IAEA some years ago stated they believed that Iran had enough refined U235 to make 10 bombs and that was years ago.
The second method is reprocessing Uranium after it has been through a nuclear reactor for another isotope, ‘plutonium’. If you have the right kind of reactor and reprocessing plant weapons grade plutonium is relatively easy to get but making the bomb is quite difficult. Instead of needing 2 polished hemispheres of U235 which are forced to slam together with a common explosive like Semtex, a commercial plastic explosive, plutonium needs to be made into a complex array of parts of a sphere with very precisely machined explosives all around in complex geometries. In the US, these are sculpted by experts using remote control robots carefully crafted at distances away of miles and monitored on screens. In essence, a U235 bomb is easy to make but the materials are hard to get. A plutonium bomb is hard to make but the materials are easy to get. Both kinds of bombs are still massive public works projects of course. The US project for the first atomic weapons may have been the largest public works project ever done including the pyramids up to that point.
Many speculate that Iran is playing at developing nuclear weapons as a bargaining chip to gain access and authority in Iraq. North Korea seems to have done the same except they did indeed develop nukes and have been instrumental in assisting Iran and it’s partial proxy Syria in developing the technology to build weapons of the plutonium variety as we see from this recent report on the isotopes found at the Syrian facility bombed over a year ago by Israel.
So lets examine what is known about Iran and nuclear weapons.
Iran seems to be doing everything possible to manufacture them and makes frequent albeit veiled references to their intended use on Israel and the USA.
The UN based IAEA has made statements saying that Iran likely has the materials to make several nuclear weapons. The UN itself, seems to be a pawn in many ways of the OIC so one may choose to accept that the UN would understate the development program to facilitate Iran’s program or one may not. Even if you do not the IAEA seems to indicate that development is advanced.
Several reports show that Syria was indeed using North Korean technology to develop nuclear weapons of the plutonium variety from the CIA to Israeli intel, including today’s reports on various specific isotopes that where found at the site the Israeli’s bombed a little over a year ago.
The USA is so keen on placing anti ballistic missile sites in the Caucasus and central Europe against Iranian missiles they are prepared to have serious conflicts with Russia on the matter. Ultimately Russia may choose to join the project as both parties seem to feel the Iranian threat is real. Russia actually has more to worry about from Iran than the US does in some ways which may explain why Russia delayed building a reactor for Iran for over 12 years past its promised operational date. However, more and more evidence is appearing that Iran intends to use its nukes to create an EMP effect, which would have more devestating consequences to the US and the west than a direct strike on a city.
Here is a link to an excellent Stratfor analysis about the Iranians nuclear weapons program. There is tons of really solid information here. However I suspect that the Iranians have and are capable, of moving a lot faster than they predicted. This article was written before the recent tests of 2 stage solid fuel rocket tests which would indicate an ability to launch a nuclear weapon in position for an EMP. It is well worth reading anyway. Most of that they say does apply and stratfor gets more right than wrong. But I wonder if they would revise this now. Iran seems qutie advanced on the programs and the US and Russia clearly take it very seriously.
Lastly, I would suggest to anyone interested in this subject to sit back and watch this most excellent lecture on the manufacture of nuclear weapons and as en passant remarks, the speaker, a professor of nuclear physics at Cal Tech, explains much of the reasons for the Iraq invasion and the WMD issue there. Cal Tech is where nuclear weapons where invented. It really is a fantastic lecture.
I will be updating and editing this for some time for clarity as I think this is an important subject and one on which information is scarce, obtuse and usually incomprehensible. I very much would like to make this a sort of decoder ring for much popular press reporting on the issue. Most reporters of course have little understanding of the issues and so do not represent the information at all well. Please feel free to email me or add thoughts and corrections in the comments section to help clarify this.
Eeyore for Vlad