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More Iran Agitprop — Why Now?
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More Iran Agitprop

Joby Warrick and Glenn Kessler have written an article for the Washington Post that I want to like, Rhetoric vs. reality: Iran faces nuclear setbacks. Even the headline is good, which is rare, and it contains two informative paragraphs:

Beneath this rhetoric, U.N. reports over the last year have shown a drop in production at Iran’s main uranium enrichment plant, near the city of Natanz. Now a new assessment, based on three years of internal data from U.N. nuclear inspections, suggests that Iran’s mechanical woes are deeper than previously known. At least through the end of 2009, the Natanz plant appears to have performed so poorly that sabotage cannot be ruled out as an explanation, according to a draft study by David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS). A copy of the report was provided to The Washington Post.

A separate, forthcoming analysis by the Federation of American Scientists also describes Iran’s flagging performance and suggests that continued failures may increase Iran’s appetite for a deal with the West. Ivan Oelrich, vice president of the federation’s Strategic Security Program, said Iranian leaders appear to have raced into large-scale uranium production for political reasons.

But the they feel the need to write about the opposition to these views by quoting “some officials” and “a former U.S. official”, who think this is a ruse by the Iranians. If these guys had any real evidence, why are they hiding behind anonymity. These are the same class of “experts” who were certain Saddam had WMDs.

The Iranians are using 50-year-old technology that most people have given up on because it is a PITA to operate efficiently. The high-speed centrifuges breakdown regularly and and require a lot of maintenance. Because of the radiation hazard they aren’t easy to maintain or repair, and the parts require a great deal of precision to make.


1 hipparchia { 02.11.10 at 9:39 pm }

my favorite one so far [and i only skimmed the article, so i could be misremembering] was the one about iran is endangering cancer patients because they’re using all their nuclear technology to make weapons, instead of using it to make medical isotopes. that’s really reaching.
.-= last blog ..Oh, look! Blogger loves me after all! =-.

2 Bryan { 02.11.10 at 9:48 pm }

The reason they want to upgrade to 20% concentrations is specifically to supply their isotope reactor. By the time the enriched fuel from Argentina arrives, Iran has lost half of the useful life of some the isotopes they want to use for medicine.

3 Badtux { 02.12.10 at 1:11 am }

My bet on who might be sabotaging their centrifuges: The Russians. Russia wants to sell nuclear fuel to its reactor customers, and the Russians aren’t beyond playing those sorts of games. As for the CIA, after 8 years of the Hedgemony I wouldn’t trust the CIA to sabotage my kid’s baseball game successfully, they’d probably end up getting beaten to a pulp by baseball-bat-armed youngsters.

My understanding is that Iran’s native uranium has some rather interesting contaminants that make it hard to centrifuge, and that might have something to do with it too. In any event, Iran doesn’t have enough centrifuges to enrich uranium far enough to make a bomb in any reasonable amount of time, it’d take them literally years to make enough for one bomb with what they’ve got going right now. North Korea perhaps could hide something like that for years — North Korea is basically a hermit kingdom, nobody gets in, nobody gets out (well, some people manage to get out, but not many). But Iran is a fairly open nation with a huge amount of cross-border trade and few population controls within its borders (i.e., once you’re in Iran you can pretty much move around freely, there aren’t checkpoints all over the place that will let you by only if you have a proper permit allowing you to do so), the notion that Iran could keep a huge complex secret for years doesn’t pass the laugh and giggle test.

4 Bryan { 02.12.10 at 4:17 pm }

And they also have to supply the fuel for that research reactor, or people will notice the interruption, so they can’t just work on refining for a “secret” program.

I don’t doubt that the unrest over the non-election will also have an impact, as people is sensitive positions will be increasingly investigated for having “wrong views” of the government.

The Russians certainly have the access and skills required to screw things up, and there is a definite financial interest in processing the fuel, as well as a political interest in maintaining control over energy in as wide an area as possible.

Iran has a good industrial base, but it isn’t anywhere good enough to make any massive leaps in technology. They have started with a 50-year-old design and have to figure out the refinements on their own. This is going to be a long process with some, perhaps even great, progress occasionally, but it will still take time if they really want to make a weapon. The key for the West is not to do anything that will make them want a weapon. Constant threats are not helpful.