Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Bomb Watch (Iran Edition)

Iran's nutjob-in-chief, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has again boasted that his country has 3,000 uranium enrichment centrifuges in operation. The Iranian leader made the claim today, in a speech in the northeastern city of Birjand.

To its credit, AFP notes that this is not the first time that Ahmadinejad has claimed that Iran has 3,000 operational centrifuges, which can be used to produce nuclear fuel, or (in a highly enriched form) the fissile core for an atomic bomb. Ahmadinejad made a similar statement in early September, bragging that his country had reached the 3,000 threshold, and was adding new centrifuges "every week."

More disturbingly, the Iranian president's appear to have some basis in fact. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) confirmed in August that Tehran had 1968 operational centrifuges, and another 656 were under construction or being tested. Assuming that the second batch of centrifuges are now fully functional (and more have been added), it's quite possible that Iran has 3,000 operational centrifuges.

Of course, the real issue is the purity of the enriched uranium now being produced in Iran. Typical early centrifuge operations can yield fuel-grade uranium (with a purity of 10% of less), but that's a long way from the 90-percent "purity" required for weapons-grade uranium.

The 3,000 centrifuge benchmark is considered important because that's the number that can produce enough highly-enriched uranium for a bomb in one year--assuming that required purity levels are reached and sustained.

Ahmadinejad's claim may be exaggerated, but it comes only days after Israeli intelligence released its latest assessment of Iran's nuclear threat. According to the Israelis, Iran could have its first nuclear weapon by 2009, but that is clearly a "best case" scenario. Most estimates envision Iran attaining a nuclear capability after 2010.

Assuming of course, that they haven't acquired key components--or a finished weapon--from their friends in Pyongyang. We know that nuclear "material" from North Korea was shipped to Syria and destroyed in that recent Israeli airstrike. It's worth remembering that there have been plenty of shipments between North Korea and Iran in recent years, too.


loki said...

There is a new book out claiming the 1998 nuclear test in Pakistan was actually for the North Koreans. I find it hard to believe that Iran doesn't already have some sort of a nuclear device. I believe it is probably in the range of 1 to 5-kt, possibly 10-kt. We know that the North Koreans have shipped them the Sodium hexafluoride. The Iranians want a larger device similar to the W85/W88.

The question is, what is price for doing nothing in the next 18 months?

Augurwell said...

6th 11/07

" Q General, a follow-up on what you said about recent shipments of lethal aid from Iran into Afghanistan. Is that in addition to what had already been previously reported? Are these more recent shipments than we'd heard about within the past couple of months, I guess?
GEN. HAM: I would say those are the ones I'm talking about, the explosively formed penetrator materials, others that you've heard about that have clearly originated in Iran that have been found in Afghanistan.

Those are quite troubling. "

davod said...

Why do they even need to build the centrifuges? Didn't the Russians ofer to provide fule for the reactor?

davod said...


The IAEA is very good at telling us what is happening after it is to late to do anything.

Spook86 said...

Loki--I've heard that claim as well, but it's never been fully substantiated, to my knowledge. However, there are extensive, documented ties between NK and Pakistan in missile and nuclear research, so it wouldn't be out of the question for Islamabad to "test" a weapon for NK.

On the other hand, it seems a bit odd that the 1998 test was generally considered a success, while NK's "domestic" nuclear test last year was a big fizzle. Nuclear technology is far from perfect, but if the 98 blast was a NK device, it would have provided a successful platform for an even bigger bang the next time around.

Conversely, the '98 test may have been a demo for the NKs, using designs and technology they acquired from Pakistan in building their own. If that was the case, then last year's test might have been an attempted replication of the l998, with miserable results.

From what I remember, the '98 nuclear tests by Indian and Pakistan were in the range you describe, 5-10KT, with the Indian devices toward the higher end of that scale, and the Pakistani bombs toward the lower end. By comparison, last year's NK test didn't even measure 1KT, due to reported technical problems, possibly flaws in the trigger or the nuclear core.

Spook86 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Johnathan said...

I am curious if you happen to remember a little blurb in the int'l news a while back about a UFO crash in Iran? I automatically thought it was some sort of missile test. When I went back searching about it, I had found that the area of the sighting was some mountain where they have a "secret base" of sorts. Further on someone did a soil test and found something related to nuclear tests. I regret not bookmarking any of it but maybe you know? If you do please post.

"Eyewitnesses told the Fars News Agency (FNA) that a radiant UFO had crashed in the Barez Mounts of Kerman on Wednesday morning"

Frank said...

1. I don't think they can make one capable of being delivered to a target outside their borders. Maybe one that can be detonated under lab testing conditions.

2. If they make one, Israel will be the least of his worries because of the internal factions fighting to control it.

3. I heard their leader smells like cat pee and their intelligence personnel may read this comment because of the article's subject matter. I hope so.