Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Iran's Nuclear Program

Iran is proclaiming significant gains in its nuclear program.  They claim to have successfully tested advanced centrifuges for enriching uranium and are less than a month away from starting the country’s first commercial nuclear reactor.  The combined development of nuclear bomb making capability with the development of the Middle East's first commercial nuclear power plant has some countries concerned.  Put Israel at the top of that list.

The linkage does not help the commercial nuclear industry.  Nuclear weapons discussion is to the nuclear industry what saying 'bomb' in a security line is to the airline industry.  So Iran linking its nuclear weapons program to their commercial nuclear power plant is anathema to global expansion of the commercial nuclear industry.

Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant
Yet Iran notes the hypocrisy of the West in providing nuclear technology assistance to India, which is not a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).  Although Israel has nuclear weapons, they are not a signatory to the NPT either and they are not planning to build commercial nuclear power plants.  Iran is a signatory to the NPT.  Iran wonders why the West approves of India and Israel having nuclear weapons, but opposes Iran having nuclear weapons.  It might have something to do with Iranian leadership calling for the destruction of Israel.

Regardless of world opinion, Iran is preparing to speed up its production of enriched uranium. The apparent progress has prompted some experts to redraw their forecasts for how quickly the country could build an atomic arsenal if it chose to do so.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has declared that, "Not only should we be able to use all our capacities and potentials in nuclear technology, we should also export nuclear know-how.” That would be a clear violation of the NPT in regards to nuclear weapons.  Such statements might also explain why the West opposes Iran's commercial nuclear power plant program, even as Iran is a signatory to the NPT.

Iran quietly notified U.N. inspectors in January that it was moving forward with plans to phase in hundreds of  sophisticated centrifuges — models dubbed IR-2M and IR-4 — at its main enrichment plant in the city of Natanz.

Fereydoun Abbasi, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, has announced that Iran’s first commercial nuclear reactor, at Bushehr, will begin operating as soon as May 5 after technicians overcome problems with the reactor’s fuel. He disclosed the start of a new production line for uranium oxide, the material from which nuclear fuel rods are made.

Natanz has more than 8,000 centrifuges to enrich uranium, ostensibly for nuclear reactor fuel. But those machines have been notoriously unreliable and prone to attack. In late 2009 and early 2010, a computer worm known as Stuxnet penetrated the computer system at Natanz. Although the cyber attack appears to have damaged as many as 1,000 machines, Iran has moved quickly to replace broken equipment and has continued to process uranium at a steady pace.

Iran, which began enriching uranium on an industrial scale in 2007, is now thought to possess enough low-enriched fuel to make at least two bombs if the material were processed further. The country has consistently maintained that it does not intend to make nuclear weapons. (Wash Post, 4/11/2011)

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