Iran One Step Closer to the Bomb

Friday, 19 Feb 2010 11:02 AM

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Thursday’s nuclear Iran report by the U.N.’s watchdog agency reveals an extraordinary shell game taking place in front of international weapons inspectors.

While Iran is focusing the world’s attention on its declared nuclear activities, where it is making a march toward weapons capability, it continues to pursue multiple clandestine programs that have intelligence analysts and the Israeli government worried that Iran will covertly cross the line between peaceful nuclear research and the bomb.

“Iran may have already crossed Israel’s red line,” Israeli minister of infrastructure, Uzi Landau, told Newsmax in a recent interview in Jerusalem. “The question is, What is America’s red line?”

The report from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) revealed that Iran has taken a dramatic step closer to nuclear weapons capability in its programs, while continuing to pursue enrichment and military research it refuses to discuss with the international arms inspectors.

The information the IAEA has gathered on these secret programs is “broadly consistent and credible in terms of the technical detail, the time frame in which the activities were conducted, and the people and organizations involved,” the agency’s new director general, Yukiya Amano, wrote in his first major report to the governing board.

“Altogether, this raises concerns about . . . undisclosed activities related to the development of a nuclear payload for a missile,” Amano stated.

The Iranians cut off all discussion of their alleged weapons-related research in August 2008. Those activities, according to the IAEA report, include:

  • Tests relating to the type of high-precision detonators needed to trigger a nuclear weapon
  • Studies on how to initiate the conventional high-explosive trigger during missile flight
  • Tests on warhead re-entry
  • Documents relating to secret sites for uranium conversion and uranium enrichment
  • Design and test data of a “spherical implosion system,” which analysts have positively identified as a nuclear weapons core. The report states that this system was “developed . . . possibly with the assistance of a foreign expert knowledgeable in explosives technology.”

As Newsmax reported last September, the father of Pakistan’s “Islamic Bomb,” A.Q. Khan, has now admitted publicly that he provided materials, technology, and design assistance to Iran to help them acquire a nuclear weapons capability, something the Pakistani government has systematically denied.

Thursday’s IAEA report also revealed that Iran has taken another step toward nuclear weapons capability in its declared program by enriching uranium to 19.8 percent, a feat it achieved without notifying the IAEA in time for them to inspect the procedure.

The report notes that Iran moved an unspecified quantity of low enriched uranium into an enrichment cascade on Feb. 9, and enriched it from 3.47 percent to 19.8 percent in just two days.

Since Iran began large-scale production of low enriched uranium at its Natanz plant in February 2007, it has produced enough fuel for a civilian nuclear power reactor. After learning about the enrichment experiment, IAEA inspectors demanded an immediate Physical Inventory Verification  inspection, and Iran complied.

But there is no way of verifying whether Iran enriched portions of its declared inventory, a smaller amount, or whether it used uranium from a secret clandestine facility.

Regardless of the amount actually enriched, nuclear experts agree that the most of the work actually comes at the beginning of the enrichment process, not at the end.

“To enrich to 3.5 percent requires about 70 percent of the work to weapons grade,” said Gary Milhollin, who heads the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control. “Enriching to 19.5 percent is about 90 percent” of the work needed to achieve weapons grade material.

That means that once Iran enriches its existing stockpile of low enriched uranium to 19.5 percent, it will be just a few spins of the centrifuge away from weapons-grade nuclear material, just using its declared stockpiles of low enriched uranium.

The IAEA report also disclosed that environmental samples taken at a previously secret enrichment plant near Qom had turned up “the presence of a small number of depleted uranium particles that were similar to particles found at Natanz,” the declared enrichment facility.

That could indicate that Iran has already engaged in clandestine enrichment at the Qom facility, now officially known as the Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant. Iran dismissed the IAEA test results, claiming that the depleted uranium particles were present on storage tanks transported to Fordow from Natanz.

Iran’s apparent intention to enrich its entire declared stockpile brings Iran one step closer to the bomb, said independent analyst David Albright, director of the Institute for Science and International Security, issuing this warning: “In a breakout scenario using low enriched uranium, Natanz could currently produce enough weapons-grade uranium for a weapon in six months or less.”

Albright expressed concern that Iran’s apparent enrichment plan is not consistent with its stated purpose of making fuel for a medical research reactor in Tehran, since that amount of fuel was “far in excess” of the reactor’s needs.

The IAEA report also revealed that Iran is building “a surprising number of lines for the production of natural, depleted, and enriched uranium metal,” Albright said. “These lines raise suspicions that Iran could use them to make metal components for weapons.”

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