Friday, May 12, 2006

A Disturbing Find

The AP is reporting that inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) recently found traces of "highly enriched" (read: weapons grade) uranium at a site linked to Iran's defense establishment.

Speaking on conditions of anonymity, source at the agency indicated that the finding is preliminary, and more tests are needed to confirm that the uranium is highly enriched. But the report is disturbing, and suggests that Iran may be much further along in its nuclear enrichment efforts than previous thought. Sources told the AP that the traces discovered in Iran "approach" the density of enrichment required for nuclear warheads--90% or higher. Tehran has claimed that it is enriching uranium for nuclear power reactors, which only require a 3-5% density of enrichment.

More troubling, the IAEA sources suggest that the highly enriched sample may have come from equipment removed from Iran's Lavizan-Shian Research Center. Tehran leveled that complex in late 2004, apparently to hide nuclear weapons research that was reportedly taking place there. To cover its tracks from the IAEA (and western intelligence agencies), Iranian crews tore down several buildings at Lavizan and even removed topsoil from the site.

In fairness, there may be other explanations for the highly enriched traces of uranium found recently in Iran. During a previous episode, inspectors discovered that the weapons-grade traces were left on equipment purchased from Pakistan, through the A.Q. Kahn proliferation network. Tehran may make similar claims this time around.

Lavizan-Shian has been previously described as a "repository" of nuclear-related equipment. But the massive "deconstruction" job at that site in 2004 suggests that other activity may have been occurring as well. The facility was reportedly affiliated with an Iranian university that has long been active in Tehran's nuclear program.

A worst-case scenario (based on the IAEA discovery) would suggest that Iran's nuclear enrichment efforts were well advanced in 2004, and that Iran has shifted its enrichment work to other sites. U.S. and Israeli intelligence officials have long suspected that Iran has covert nuclear facilities; the existence of such sites would have allowed Iran to raze Lavizan, while continuing to enrich weapons-grade uranium at secret complexes. A recent Israeli assessment--delivered by the Mossad chief in Washington two weeks ago--reiterates that claim. A more advanced enrichment program, producing uranium of weapons-grade quality, would allow Iran to field nuclear weapons sooner than expected.

Despite this disturbing report, the U.S. remains committed to the diplomatic track. President Bush said recently that we are in the "early stages" of diplomacy. That statement would be ironic, especially if we learn that Iran is already in the latter stages of uranium enrichment, in its rush to build a nuclear weapon.


Rick Moran said...

Want to be disturbed further?

The fact that they found the residue on a military site give the lie to their boast that their program is for civilian use only.

John (Useful Fools) said...

The behavior of Iran recently has been very interesting, and here are some varying possible explanations:

1 - The Iranians want us to attack them, because this will unify their country and aid greatly in suppressing their unhappy young populace.

2 - The Iranians want a war because their president is an apocalyptic. This presumes that he has far more power than previous presidents, whose strings were pulled by the Ayatollah (for that matter, the previous one, Rafsanjani *is* an Ayatolla). One should also remember that Rafsanjani also stated several years ago that bombing Israel would be worth the catastrophic retaliation, because only a small percentage of Muslims would die, while most of the Jews would (he apparently is unschooled in nuclear weapons effects to believe that a single nuke would kill that many Israelis).

3 - The Iranians are making noise to drive up the cost of oil.

All of these are consistent with the idea that Iran has alternate sources of fissile material, leaving the known enrichment facilities as merely bait.

What we don't know (okay, maybe some of the spooks here do) is whether we/Israel know where the hidden facilities are. For that matter, the whole thing may be a sham - Iran may be sitting on a dozen Russian nuclear warheads it bought at a garage sale.

Mrs. Davis said...

Or it could be another delusional fruitcake like Saddam.

Wickedpinto said...

"smoking gun" "mushroom cloud"

The idiocy of the smoking gun strategy of foreign policy is built on "post mortem" in the nuclear age.