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Sean-Paul at the Agonist asks an interesting question – Iran Nuclear Program: If It Stopped In 2003 When Did It Start? And Where’s The Proof?

Well, now, the proof of the program is a bit of a problem, isn’t it, because the record seems to indicate that majority of intelligence about the military program comes from the MEK/PMOI, who lost a lot of their internal Iranian support by moving to Iraq and seemingly allying with Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq War. It is a bit of a stretch to assume that they had infiltrated a highly secure, tightly controlled operation like a nuclear weapons program after that war. The political side of the group, the PMOI, is amazingly similar to Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress which delivered such “sterling” intelligence about WMDs in Iraq. They might know something, but anything they give you would need to be independently verified.

The only thing the IAEA found that might be linked to a military program was trace amounts of highly enriched uranium on some the equipment, but that was used equipment bought from AQ Khan’s Nukes ‘R Us open market.  The equipment is part of the uranium enrichment program that the Iranians are building to produce their own fuel.

My question would be, where are the ex-Soviet engineers? If I was going to start up a nuke program in that part of the world, I would certainly have been hiring out-of-work nuclear engineers from the former Soviet Union.


1 Badtux { 12.13.07 at 10:45 am }

Well, Pakistan did just fine without the ex-Soviet engineers. And frankly, the old Soviet engineers are all under pretty heavy scrutiny to make sure they’re not doing nasty things. I think most of’em are on the CIA payroll at present. So if you’re doing a clandestine program, the *last* thing you want is one of those ex-Soviet engineers.

Let’s face it, the United States built an atomic bomb with 1940’s technology and far less knowledge than we have now. It simply doesn’t take a hyper-advanced technology to build an atomic bomb (North Korea, duh!). The only reason every nation on the planet doesn’t have the things is because most nations up to the 1940’s level of technology to do it find it better to go along with the United States. For example, South Korea could have an atomic bomb within two years of starting their bomb program — they already have the heavy water reactors (CANDU) and probably have enough uranium on hand to swiftly irradiate a few bombs’ worth of plutonium in the things. But South Korea finds it more expedient to rely on the U.S. nuclear shield rather than undertake that politically risky endeavor.

In short, the solution to nuclear proliferation, considering that you can build a bomb with 1940’s technology, is political, not military. Folks who don’t think they need a bomb, don’t build one, because while it’s not brain surgery to build the things it is expensive and then you have to secure the things and there’s the political fallout and so forth. See: South Africa, which had the bomb, then destroyed it because in the post-apartheid era there was no need. But of course political action would make too much sense, so we gotta threaten Iran with military action, which of course would make them start a nuclear weapons program if they didn’t already have one. Well, if they had no other way to retaliate if the U.S. attacked them, that is. But given that we’ve handily stuck 150,000 targets right next door to them, why would they need nukes?

2 Bryan { 12.13.07 at 11:52 am }

I know how to build a nuke, as does just about anyone who took a high school physics class in the last 40 years. The hard part is making a small enough weapon to get somewhere and have it detonate at an appropriate time. Three guys with buckets in a nuclear fuel plant in Japan accidentally built a nuke pouring fuel from one container to another. Fortunately for the surrounding area, it was a very small reaction.

The Soviets would help with the form factor and the sizing issues, even more than the Pakistanis.

Diplomacy was always the answer, but the Hedgemony keep threatening people which guarantees an arms race. Russia and China have both started the process of modernizing, which they had not bothered with for a very long time. Both of their militaries were on track to rust in place before the Shrubbery started saber rattling, and now we have Bears flying long range patrols again.

I have a feeling that all Iran has ever done that would be considered military is the fuel cycle. Frankly, they could get a good weapon reprocessing fuel rods that they bought some where else, so the fuel cycle doesn’t indicate much.

3 Badtux { 12.13.07 at 1:22 pm }

Nobody who wants to build more than one or two bombs does it via uranium processing, getting uranium enriched highly enough to make a reasonable-sized bomb just requires too much processing. They go the irradiation of U238 into Pu239 route and build a plutonium bomb. You want to see Iran’s weapons program, you go look at the heavy water “research” reactor they’re building with Pakistani help (see: Photos at Union of Concerned Scientists web site) which is being built right next door to a heavy water plant similarly built with Pakistani help. Hmm, wonder why the Shrubbery is always rattling on about the light water reactors the Iranians are building with Russian help and not the heavy water reactor they’re building with help from our “friends”? Gah. With friends like that, who needs enemies?

4 Badtux { 12.13.07 at 1:28 pm }

Oh, BTW, reprocessing fuel rods that have gone through the full cycle in a light water reactor doesn’t result in much, because if you continue to irradiate Pu-239 it then transmutes to other plutonium isotopes that interfere with nuclear reactions, which is why the rod then gets pulled out for reprocessing (duh!) because it’s got too much neutron sink elements in it. If you want to make bombs, you must “short-cycle” the rods — i.e., leave’em in long enough to get Pu-239, but not so long that you get too many neutron sink isotopes of plutonium in the thing. So all in all, light water reactors just aren’t particularly useful for making bombs. Everybody in the world serious about making bombs does it with heavy water reactors or by short-cycling graphite-moderated reactors (if they’re particularly poor and/or stupid and/or don’t care about the civilian casualties when the damned thing melts down).

5 Bryan { 12.13.07 at 3:22 pm }

The real “trick” with nukes is keeping everyone alive until it’s built. The really difficult part is handling the materials in a safe manner and producing the proper shapes.

The heavy water reactors are obviously more “military-friendly” than the light water reactors, but Iranians have the money to buy the plutonium cores they would need directly from the Pakistanis, or North Koreans. If we keep screwing around, the North Koreans will be in a disparate enough situation to cut a deal, and G-d only knows what the Pakistanis will do.

Frankly, if they keep pushing, Khamenei’s fatwa is only barrier to a Iranian nuke. If someone starts talking about tactical nukes in a mosque, we are truly in deep yogurt.

I’m wondering about the possibility of the Chinese offering Iran nuclear cover. That would be a nasty surprise for the Busheviks. People are getting pissed off, major league, and this is not going end well. Another 13 months of this crap and things could go very wrong very quickly. The Hedgemony doesn’t know or care how other people will react to their tactics.

6 Badtux { 12.13.07 at 3:52 pm }

I’m not sure China really has the number of nukes to give Iran nuclear cover. Best estimates I’ve seen is that they have maybe a few dozen nuclear-tipped ICBM’s total. Militarily, China is still at least a decade away from having a military capable of doing any kind of power projection, their military is still almost totally based upon defending the homeland against an invasion by the Russians or Americans or India. From a military point of view, I don’t believe there’s much China can do if the U.S. decides to nuke Iran. From a *financial* point of view, on the other hand, it’d be a friggin’ disaster. The first thing the Chinese would do would be to dump their half TRILLION dollars of dollar reserves onto the open market and thereby make the dollar worth about as much as the paper or coin of which it’s comprised. And of course they wouldn’t be buying t-bills anymore so the U.S. Treasury would slide to a halt and nobody would get paid (including military contractors, gulp!) unless the Federal Reserve started printing dollars to buy t-bills, which would further render the dollar pretty much worthless. And of course, exports to the U.S. would slam to a halt, thereby emptying the shelves of Wal-mart within two weeks.

But the question at the moment is whether the Chinese need us more than we need them. We’re playing a game of chicken here and I’m not sure the neo-cons are smart enough to win it.

7 Bryan { 12.13.07 at 4:30 pm }

The last trustworthy estimate on China’s true intercontinental nuclear power was two dozen missiles. Who knows what they may decide to add as part of their modernization of the PLA, but they have always been “homebodies”. Their support would be more symbolic than anything else, but they have been ratcheting things up lately.

You’re right that they can wipe us out financially, if they choose to do it. We may well get wiped by a shift to petro-Euros from petro-Dollars before they even get into the game. The neonitwits are writing checks we can’t cover. Their “alligator mouths” don’t seem to understand that their “canary butts” will get stomped if they keep it up.