Iran announced it was building a second nuclear power plant -- and that therefore its uranium enrichment facility at Natanz was not only more necessary than ever but needed to be expanded.
Iran confirmed on Monday that it had received the first fuel shipment for its nuclear power plant at Bushehr, but also indicated for the first time that it was building a second nuclear power plant.
The revelation came in comments by Iran's Atomic Organization, Gholamreza Aghazadeh, made to state-run television and reported by the semi-official Fars news agency. He was dismissing speculation that the arrival of the fuel would allow Iran to halt its uranium enrichment program, in Natanz.
"We are building a 360-megawatt indigenous power plant in Darkhovein," he said, referring to a southern city north of Bushehr.
"The fuel for this plant needs to be produced by Natanz enrichment plant," he added, Fars said. ...
Aghazadeh said Monday that Iran needed to increase the centrifuges at the Natanz enrichment plant from 3,000 to 50,000, saying that with the current 3,000, it could only produce fuel for a 100-megawatt plant.
Plans to establish a second nuclear power plant effectively dash hopes that a Russian sale of fuel for Iran's first plan would remove any basis for continuing on its uranium enrichment program.
Earlier this year Russia delayed a fuel shipment expected in March, accusing Iran of tardiness in making its monthly payments of $25 million. However, Western officials said that Russia made the decision in part to help the West to pressure Iran into more openness on its nuclear program.
Last week, Sergei Shmatko, the director of Atomstroyexport, announced that Russia and Iran had ended their financial disputes over the project, though he failed to indicate a date for when the long-awaited opening would occur....
The White House had signaled on Monday that the arrival of the fuel could help convince Iran to curb its enrichment program. President George W. Bush that If Iran accepted the uranium for a civilian power plant, "there was no need for them to learn how to enrich," Reuters reported.
Now let's suppose -- hypothetically -- that Iran already has a workable nuclear weapons design or confidence it can produce was a design very quickly. Then the only thing which stands between the Ayatollahs and a sizeable nuclear arsenal is the availability of a large quantity of fissile material. That is what the Natanz centrifuges can produce.
Some observers suggested that the Natanz site appeared to be too large to the Iran's first enriched uranium facility, suggesting that Iran may already be operating a smaller pilot plant elsewhere. However, this assumed that the Iranian enrichment effort was indigenous, rather than a product of collaboration with Pakistan.
According to some estimates, the advanced centrifuge complex might house as many as 50,000 centrifuges, producing enough weapons-grade uranium for several dozen [over 20] weapons per year when completed at the end of the decade. Other estimates suggest the facility would house a total of 5,000 centrifuges when the initial stage of the project is completed in 2005. At that point, Iran will be capable of producing enough enriched uranium for several nuclear weapons each year.
A man who has been acquiring all the parts of an ammunition factory just might be suspected of fixing to own a gun. But you can rest easy because the latest National Intelligence Estimate believes the dangers are not as great as they might seem. Or are they?
In December 2007 the United States National Intelligence Estimate (that represents the consensus view of all 16 American spy agencies) judged with "high confidence” that Iran had halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003, with "moderate confidence" that the program remains frozen, and with "moderate-to-high confidence" that Iran is "keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons." The new estimate says that the enrichment program could still provide Iran with enough raw material to produce a nuclear weapon sometime by the middle of next decade but that intelligence agencies “do not know whether it currently intends to develop nuclear weapons” at some future date. Senator Harry Reid, the majority leader, said he hoped the administration would “appropriately adjust its rhetoric and policy”.
I argued in an article in Pajamas Media that our estimate of Iran's nuclear program had to be continuously revised as new information came to light; each new piece of data modifying our prior estimate of what the Iranians are up to. The announcement that is planning to build a second nuclear power plant and needs more uranium enrichment centrifuges at Natanz is one more piece in the puzzle. Now what does the picture tend to show? I know that for some the puzzle has already been solved: that the 2007 NIE has put to rest the question of Iran's intentions forever. I would raise an objection but I've forgotten that double jeopardy applies.