Monday, December 17, 2007

Double Jeopardy

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.


Blogger Whiskey said...

Global nuclear war between the US and Iran is now inevitable.

The NIE will prevent the President and anyone else from doing anything to stop the Iranians from producing a uranium bomb. Already last Sunday Wolf Blitzer was contradicting Dem Senators skeptical of Iran's intentions with the NIE.

Iran has used truck bombs to good effect, it is inevitable that absent a threat that they will believe, they will use the uranium bombs as "nuclear truck bombs" against the US.

Israel is a target that is hard to hit in significant ways with nuclear truck bombs. Europe is a tempting target but offers only the ability to support Independent Islamic Republics inside Europe, and first their American protector must be peeled away.

More pressing is the Iranian desire to kick the US Navy out of the Gulf and Med. Turning both into Iranian Lakes.

The only way to do that for the Iranians is to nuclear-truck-bomb their way to that path. If destroying the US Embassy and Marine Barracks made Reagan, the "hardest" US President run away as fast as he could in abject surrender, how quickly would Bush or Clinton or Obama surreder, if DC and NYC were nuked. Or perhaps a weak and decapitated US?

Uranium bombs cannot be fitted on missiles. They can't really be used against Gulf or other ME enemies (not enough trade volume to hide them). Iran's regional enemies have a powerful US protector at hand in the presence of the US Navy which is the only force Iran really fears and has been defeated by.

It's worth noting that only South Africa among Israel, India, Pakistan, and North Korea pursued Uranium bombs because they were the quickest and could be delivered with local air superiority. Something Iran does not have.

12/17/2007 04:23:00 PM  
Blogger Zenster 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.

Does anyone else find it curious that Iran—teetering as it is on the verge of economic collapse—is nonetheless willing to spend somewhere between $50 Million and $500 Million dollars (assuming $1K - $10K per centrifuge) on expanding their enrichment facilities when increased gasoline production could save their country from ruin?

Iran also could install a turnkey natural gas driven turbine electrical power generation system for a fraction of these costs.

As always, nothing Iran says or does reconciles with the facts on the ground. Iran's landscape—both geographical and political—needs some major alteration. Nothing good can come from allowing Iran a free hand in anything they are trying to do. Much like Pakistan, Iran has little to no redeeming features with respect to the global community.

12/17/2007 04:29:00 PM  
Blogger desert rat said...

The Iranians needed nuclear power in 1976, before their oil production had peaked. Six to eight reactors and a full fuel cycle were going to be needed, by Iran.

Perhaps the $6.4 billion USD that would have flowed to GE loomed large in the decision making, then.
Perhaps not, but in any case it's ...

Interesting revisionism.

Past Arguments Don't Square With Current Iran Policy

By Dafna Linzer
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 27, 2005; Page A15

Lacking direct evidence, Bush administration officials argue that Iran's nuclear program must be a cover for bomb-making. Vice President Cheney recently said, "They're already sitting on an awful lot of oil and gas. Nobody can figure why they need nuclear as well to generate energy."

Yet Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and outgoing Deputy Secretary Paul Wolfowitz held key national security posts when the Ford administration made the opposite argument 30 years ago.

Ford's team endorsed Iranian plans to build a massive nuclear energy industry, but also worked hard to complete a multibillion-dollar deal that would have given Tehran control of large quantities of plutonium and enriched uranium -- the two pathways to a nuclear bomb. Either can be shaped into the core of a nuclear warhead, and obtaining one or the other is generally considered the most significant obstacle to would-be weapons builders.

Iran, a U.S. ally then, had deep pockets and close ties to Washington. U.S. companies, including Westinghouse and General Electric, scrambled to do business there.

"I don't think the issue of proliferation came up," Henry A. Kissinger, who was Ford's secretary of state, said in an interview for this article.

After balking initially, President Gerald R. Ford signed a directive in 1976 offering Tehran the chance to buy and operate a U.S.-built reprocessing facility for extracting plutonium from nuclear reactor fuel. The deal was for a complete "nuclear fuel cycle" -- reactors powered by and regenerating fissile materials on a self-sustaining basis.

That is precisely the ability the current administration is trying to prevent Iran from acquiring today.

There is only difference, and it's not economic or on the energy demand side of the equation

"The shah made a big convincing case that Iran was going to run out of gas and oil and they had a growing population and a rapidly increasing demand for energy," Sick said. "The mullahs make the same argument today, but we don't trust them."

12/17/2007 04:51:00 PM  
Blogger wretchardthecat said...

Back in 1972 the US was willing to sell F-14s, which were hot new aircraft then, to Iran. At that time Iran was a US ally. Iran was the bulwark against the Soviet union; Britain sold them first line Chieftain tanks.

Come to that Russia was France's most important ally in 1914. By 1918 things were different. By 1946 the US Army was spending most of its efforts defending France and Western Europe thier former ally Russia. Once upon a time China was America's major ally in the East and Japan it's greatest foe. Things change.

And with it, I suppose, do American perceptions about what those countries ought or ought not possess in relation to American national interest. I don't expect many policy makers worry much about a Japanese nuclear weapons capability today. To point out this is a complete reversal from the policy of 1944 may be true but it may also be beside the point.

12/17/2007 05:05:00 PM  
Blogger desert rat said...

The concerns and interests of the US can change, and should.

But to deny the past and the realities acknowledged then, the predictions of energy production and consumption needs that were accurate and have come to pass, do not make for credible arguements, now.

Especially when the same folk are on both sides of the debate, seperated only by time.

12/17/2007 05:10:00 PM  
Blogger Brian H said...

You underestimate the decrepitude into which the Mullahs have allowed their oil infrastructure, amongst others, to fall. It may well now actually be cheaper to put in nuke electric generating capacity than tackle the entire pumping, piping and refining shortfall.

It's still shortsighted, of course, but has the advantage of dealing the A-Bomb card. Which makes it irresistable.

12/17/2007 05:49:00 PM  
Blogger Whiskey said...

Yes but look at HOW they are spending the money.

Far too much for Uranium bombs. Instead of the plutonium route.

That suggests:

1. Speed is essential, over money and capability to put nukes on missiles.

2. The US is the preferred target.

12/17/2007 06:24:00 PM  
Blogger Zenster said...

brianfh: You underestimate the decrepitude into which the Mullahs have allowed their oil infrastructure, amongst others, to fall. It may well now actually be cheaper to put in nuke electric generating capacity than tackle the entire pumping, piping and refining shortfall.

Not at all. Some select small-scale strikes against Iran's few remaining gasoline refining facilities could bring their whole house of cards crashing down. Your scenario would only hold if Iran did not so desperately depend upon petroleum exports as the mainstay of its wealth.

That only increases the likelyhood of w_199's scenario. Iran is hell bent on acquiring nuclear weapons and America is its primary target. All the hand-waving and posturing coming out of Tehran is for public consumption only. It is the PR side of Iran attempting to shift away from Saudi Arabia the perceived center of gravity regarding protectorship of this world's Muslim population.

Increased nuclear weapons throughput enables that goal path more than any other single feature and therefore must be assumed. The simplest explanation usually being the most likely, and all that ...

12/17/2007 07:24:00 PM  
Blogger davod said...

"may well now actually be cheaper to put in nuke electric generating capacity than tackle the entire pumping, piping and refining shortfall."

Cheaper, but is it logical, what is the unemployment rate? Just maybe rebuilding the old energy structure would take far more people.

12/18/2007 05:12:00 AM  
Blogger davod said...

And our spooks did not know anything about this?

The counter intelligence people need to look at the three amigos and their analysts.

12/18/2007 05:15:00 AM  

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