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Stop Typecasting Iran as a Threat

Posted by Jill Marie Parillo on June 27, 2008

Rhetoric and threat propaganda on Iran need to stop if we are to make peace with the nation. There is absolutely nothing new to Iran's nuclear achievements which would demonstrate that the Iranians have enriched low grade fuel closer to bomb grade levels. The international community cannot stop Iran from having a nuclear energy capability. However, it can drive Iran to becoming a nuclear weapon state by continually typecasting the nation as a threat and increasing the nations insecurity.

Iran has about 3,000 centrifuges spinning in 18 cascades. The cascades are not connected, which would enrich the uranium hexafluoride to higher grades. Additionally, the 3,000 are enriching at suboptimal levels (possibly on purpose, but maybe because it's a hard technology to master). To enrich uranium, first the uranium from the ground is turned into UF6, a gas which is .7% U235 (the isotope fissionable by bombarding it with neutrons) and 99.3% U238. The gas is then taken from this conversion facility to an enrichment facility where centrifuges enrich it to higher levels of U235.

Iran took UF6 and spun it through 3,000 centrifuges to enrich it to 4% U235 (Iran claims 4.8%, the IAEA tested it at 3.7%), producing low enriched uranium (LEU). Most nations use 3-5% enriched uranium for power production. Iran has not taken its stocks of 4% enriched uranium and fed them back through its centrifuges to enrich it to bomb grade (~90% U235, or called highly enriched uranium-HEU). There is no sign of this. That is not to say that Iran does not have a secret enrichment plant, no one knows for sure. New is that Iran is developing another large set of centrifuges, it is starting to install centrifuges for another set of 3,000 and it is developing advanced centrifuges which will be stronger and faster than the current set of 3,000.

If Iran keeps at its current suboptimal pace of producing LEU, it will produce approximately 15 kilograms of LEU a month. Optimally, 3,000 centrifuges could produce 210 kilograms of LEU a month. Iran produced a total of 70 kilograms of LEU between February and August 2007 (~12 kilograms/month), but Iran should now be at a slightly higher rate of production, all according to former weapon inspector Dr. David Albright and expert Jackie Shire at the Institute for Science and International Security. Iran's centrifuges are not working at full capacity, either for technical reasons or by choice. Even at this suboptimal capacity, if desired, Iran could produce 25 kilograms of LEU per month, which would give Iran enough LEU to have a "break out capability" in two years. A break out capability is the ability to kick the inspectors out and feed the LEU back through the centrifuge cascades to produce enough HEU to make a bomb in approximately 3 months time. Iran could someday finish development of its newly improved centrifuges and run at a capacity of 200 kilograms a month. Iran only needs 700-800 kilograms to have a break out capability.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is still treating discovered documents as a matter of high concern. These documents supposedly came from a German spy who acquired them from an Iranian scientist and gave them to US intelligence. The documents were then given to the IAEA and the IAEA showed them to Iran and asked for answers. The documents outline work on high explosives, only used around a nuclear implosion devise, and missile re-entry vehicles (for nuclear warheads on a Shahab missile-Iran's ballistic missiles). However, as Dr. Albright has also pointed out, there are things missing if these documents are to amount to a clandestine weapons program, like work on uranium metallurgy and development of neutron initiators.

We need to admit that Iran will have a nuclear enrichment capability and possibly a bomb someday. The first part we cannot prevent, the second, we can only prevent if we build trust and make a grand bargain. US members of Congress and both presidential hopefuls are still type casting Iran as a threat, which won't win us any points with the Iranians. We need points to gain Iran's trust and therefore bring us closer to negotiations. Negotiations are necessary to make a bargain that will keep Iran from becoming a nuclear weapon state, rather than just the inevitable, a nation with a nuclear enrichment capacity. Furthermore, it is a war on Iran, not the nation itself, which threatens US lives and security.

If US policy continues to make Iran feel more threatened, Iran may choose to develop a nuclear weapon as a security assurance. We need to engage Iran, so they do not feel isolated and threatened enough to build a bomb. Decreasing financial restrictions, adopting a posture of non-provocative defense in Iran's region (no offense just defense) and ending the threat propaganda on Iran, while also engaging the nation, will help move us towards a new policy which will decrease tension and give Iran a sense of security in its hostile region.

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