Posts Tagged ‘Enriched uranium’
By: Meir Javedanfar
On the occasion of Iran’s celebration of Nuclear Day on April 9, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Gholamreza Aghazadeh, the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, had big news for the people of Iran; they announced major breakthroughs for Iran’s nuclear program. The Nuclear Day declaration was accompanied by much pomp and ceremony.
The first piece of news involved the production of nuclear fuel. The Iranian president stated: “Iran’s nuclear authorities have announced that the various cycles of nuclear fuel management are in our grasp in a comprehensive and domestically produced way.” The central point of his declaration was an assertion regarding Iran’s capability to produce uranium pellets. Once the low-enriched uranium is taken out of the centrifuges, they are placed into these pellets, which are then placed in bundles. They are then placed inside a heavily insulated pressurized chamber in the reactor, as part of the process to create heat to turn the turbines in order to produce energy.
According to Aghazadeh, “Seven thousand centrifuges had been installed in an underground nuclear facility in Natanz.” Ahmadinejad declared that Iran had tested two new types of centrifuges with “a capacity a few times higher than the existing centrifuges” currently in use.
The international community, especially Israel and France, were openly concerned by Ahmadinejad’s statement, which they interpreted as a sign of defiance. The most interesting reaction came from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who said, “We don’t know what to believe about the Iranian program.” Clinton’s statement was a diplomatic way of saying, “We don’t believe the bombastic nuclear claims made by the Iranian president.” She would be absolutely right. The statements made in such a grandiose manner by Ahmadinejad and Aghazadeh may have been new to the people of Iran. But to the outside world, they were old recycled news. The goal was to slap some cosmetic sheen on President Ahmadinejad’s election campaign.
Iran’s capability to produce uranium pellets is nothing new to the international community, which was made aware of this development back in February by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The Iranian press, probably on the orders of the president and the supreme leader, did not print it at the time, so that it could be used to boost Ahmadinejad’s stature on Nuclear Day.
Furthermore, Ahmadinejad’s claim that Iran had tested two types of new centrifuges was a fact declared by the IAEA as long ago as September 2008; there was certainly nothing new about this announcement.
Meanwhile, in a desperate bid to strengthen Iran’s position before negotiations with the U.S. and to make Ahmadinejad look good, other Iranian lawmakers decided to jump on the bandwagon by making even more bombastic Nuclear Day statements.
A notable example was a declaration made by Alaeddin Borujerdi, the head of Iran’s parliamentary commission of national security and foreign policy, who stated that “the nuclear fuel cycle has been practically completed.”
To the Iranian public and to the international community, it may sound like Iran now has the capability to start running nuclear power stations. However, what Bourojerdi does not purposely mention is that while Iran may have the knowledge, it by no means has the capacity to do so. In order to make nuclear fuel for a power station, 30,000 to 40,000 centrifuges are needed to work in cascades in order to make sufficient low-enriched uranium. According to its own estimates, Iran only has 7000 centrifuges installed. This is by no means sufficient.
What Iran’s leaders also don’t say is how many of these are spinning and enriching uranium.
The IAEA does. According to its September 2008 report, Iran had 6,000 centrifuges, but “only 3,964 centrifuges were actively enriching uranium.” The rest were either empty or undergoing vacuum or dry run tests. So not only is the number of centrifuges disputable, so is Iran’s ability to make the required low-enriched uranium to power up nuclear stations.
This doesn’t mean that there is no grounds for worry. What should concern the international community is that although the current number of centrifuges are not sufficient to produce fuel for power stations, they are sufficient to enable Iran to make a bomb.
This will not be easy. The centrifuges in Natanz are under the supervision of the IAEA and under the 24-hour surveillance of its cameras. Nevertheless, the knowledge Iran has acquired in the enrichment of uranium can be used in secret facilities.
The nuclear program is the main leverage Tehran has in negotiations with the U.S. It is extremely unlikely that Iran will turn the clock back on its nuclear program. Although issues such as Iranian influence in Lebanon, Afghanistan, and Gaza may be up for grabs, nukes are not expected to be part of any compromises offered by Tehran.
President Ahmadinejad has essentially ruined the Iranian economy, a fact which has greatly damaged his popularity. He continues to try to use the nuclear program as a tool to improve his position. The statements about Iran’s nuclear achievements increase proportionally with allegations of corruption and mismanagement against him. Ahmadinejad literally has nothing else positive to show about his four year term as president.
President Obama should use these statements, and any intransigence shown by Tehran in negotiations, as justification to impose tougher sanctions. For real results, sanctions will focus on the wealth of Iran’s leadership. By naming and shaming companies owned by Iran’s leadership and Revolutionary Guards in places such as Dubai, he would strike hard at the supreme leader and his cronies who make millions from illicit deals. Although they don’t care about the suffering of the people of Iran, Iranian politicians do care about their own pocketbooks. These businesses and their profits are important to them, and they are far more likely to compromise over the nuclear program in a shorter space of time.
Striking at corrupt politicians in Iran and their business interests abroad would put America firmly on the side of the Iranian people. There is nothing that disgusts them more than government corruption, against which they are defenseless. Punishing their crooked politicians would mean much more to the hearts and minds of the people of Iran than any new year’s message.
This article originally appeared in PJM Media.
By: Meir Javedanfar
According to an article published today in The New York Times,
“Iran has now produced roughly enough nuclear material to make, with added purification, a single atom bomb, according to nuclear experts”
And where do the experts get their information from?
“The figures detailing Iran’s progress were contained in a routine update on Wednesday from the International Atomic Energy Agency, which has been conducting inspections of the country’s main nuclear plant at Natanz. The report concluded that as of early this month, Iran had made 630 kilograms, or about 1,390 pounds, of low-enriched uranium”.
However, all hope is not lost.
First and foremost, Iran would have to further purify the fuel and turn it into a warhead design. The NYT report says that this is a
“a technical advance that Western experts are unsure Iran has yet achieved”
One must not forget that the enriched uranium is low grade. For now, it can be used for nuclear power plants. However, it can be further refined into higher grade uranium. To do that, enrichment facilities at Natanz would have to go through major visible reconfigurations. For example, all the piping infrastructure will have to be redone. This would make it very difficult for Iran to hide from the IAEA inspectors.
Unless there are secret facilities where the low enriched uranium is purified, away from the eyes and knowledge of the IAEA. And this is very possible.
So where do we go from here?
With Russia and China refusing to back further sanctions, all that remains diplomatically is for Obama to try and use direct negotiations. Unless there is a miracle and the Russians and Chinese join in, there is little else that can be done diplomatically. This is why its so important that the talks between the two sides succeed, for Israel’s sake too. A negotiated settlement would be the best solution for Jerusalem. Not only because Israel has concerns about Iran’s nuclear program. Also, because a US rapprochement with Iran in such a scenario, and the confidence building could help find a solution over disputes in Lebanon and Gaza.
If talks fail, the US could also take unilateral sanctions. The most powerful of which could be sanctions against the Iranian Central Bank (Bank Markazi). With oil prices falling, and reports that Iran will face a $60 billion budget deficit next year, this may force Ayatollah Khamenei to take negotiations seriously.
One can not also help but notice that such reports help those who want a military solution. This may not be around the corner, however, it is there. Even when Obama enters office. Many have accused the Democrats of being too timid and too compromising. Thats not true. The difference with them is that they are likely to give negotiations a serious chance, before reaching out for their guns. And if they do, they won’t do it alone. As shown in the 1999 war against Slobodan Milosevic’s Yugoslavia.