Thursday, December 24, 2009

Matt 24 Watch, 95: Another shoe seemingly drops on the Iran nuclear bomb programme

In recent days, this blog drew attention to the Guardian article on IAEA interest in Iranian nuclear programme documents that discussed the testing of a two-point detonation, linear implosion mini-nuke trigger.

In even more recent days, Iranian authorities have defiantly declared intent to create a network of ten Uranium enrichment plants, claiming they need fifteen nuclear power stations (never mind Iran's oil and gas-rich land).

This, in a context where a previously secret enrichment site was recently discovered at Qom.

Now -- mixing metaphors -- another shoe has dropped with a December 14, 2009 London Times article.

For, it seems that in 2007 (four years after it reportedly stopped weapons related developments) Iran has embarked on a four-year programme to develop Uraniun Deuteride neutron initiators. UD3 initiators are specifically military (as opposed to dual) use, and this is the material used in the Pakistani weapons programme, from which Iran is credibly reported to have nuclear bomb blueprints. [This is unsurprising, as Mr Khan ran a black market nuclear bomb supermarket.] Reportedly, Iran is planning to use Titanium Deuteride in tests, as this will prove the concept without releasing Uranium into the atmosphere; which would be easily detected by monitoring stations.

The Times has made a cross-checked translation available. Excerpting:
Outlook for special neutron-related activities over the next 4 years . . . .

The general document that refers to the special duties of the neutron group mentions four main topics that cover special neutron-related activities, namely:

1. Calculation and simulation

2. Production of source materials

3. Source assembly

4. Design and performance of experiments to test the source

The fourth item is dependent upon the ease of finding methods for detecting pulsed neutrons obtained from hot and cold sources at various stages. In this introduction we will describe below the programme for special neutron-related activities. We have also endeavoured to prioritise each subject in the light of the current political climate and our existing capabilities . . . .

The studies already performed, on which a report will be issued in the very near future, indicate that there should be no adverse or destructive consequences in using the existing NGs [i.e. Neutron Generators]. As a result, provided that the necessary security and protective measures are adopted, we should be able to use the existing NGs to conduct the pulsed-neutron detection experiments and to complete some of the previous experiments. Performing these experiments would enable our personnel to gain more knowledge of the subject. In spite of this and considering the country’s present situation and considering the Centre's policy is to develop co-operation with research and univsersity centres in order to carry out the projects outside of the Centre and play a steering and leading role of the projects, it is better to carry out the work PF and NG systems at other research centres . . . .

Continuing the work of replacement materials such as TiD2 in order to avoid U contamination in the production of UD3 . . . .

While of course Iran has blandly declared the document a CIA forgery, it is known that such declarations are untrustworthy. As Reuters reports:

Intelligence suggests Iran worked on testing a key atomic bomb component as recently as 2007, diplomats have said, a finding which if proven would clash with Iran's assertion its nuclear work is for civilian use.

The diplomats commented on a "Times" of London report about what it called a confidential Iranian technical document describing a four-year plan to test a neutron initiator, the part of a nuclear warhead that sets off an explosion.

"The Times," diplomats, and analysts reached by Reuters said such a device had no conventional military or civilian use.

In Tehran, Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast told the semiofficial Fars news agency the report was "baseless... Such statements are not worthy of attention. These reports...are intended to put political and psychological pressure on Iran."

Iran, the world's No. 5 crude-oil exporter, says its uranium enrichment program is aimed at generating electricity so that it can export more gas and oil. The West believes Iran wants bombs from enrichment because of its record of nuclear secrecy.

A senior diplomat familiar with the gist of the "Times" report said the document, obtained by intelligence services, had been passed on to the UN nuclear watchdog, which has been probing intelligence allegations of Iranian attempts to "weaponize" enrichment for five years.

A senior International Atomic Energy Agency official declined comment "at this stage."

But the information would fall into the category of what senior IAEA officials have told Reuters are regular intelligence updates on Iran they receive from certain member states, mainly the United States, Britain, France, Germany, and Israel.

The intelligence has not been authenticated but the IAEA has judged it consistent and compelling. Iran has dismissed the material as fabrications but the IAEA says Tehran must provide evidence to back up its position. Iran has ignored the appeals.

The IAEA maintains a running internal analysis of the intelligence, which indicates Iran has coordinated efforts to process uranium, test explosives at high altitude and revamp a ballistic missile cone in a way suitable for a nuclear warhead.

Neutron initiator development has been part of such activity, according to some of the intelligence leaked earlier to news media, but covering a previous period up to 2003.

"This latest document [about neutron initiators] is in the Farsi language and appears to have been written in 2007," the senior diplomat said. "It is in IAEA hands for further study."

So, on balance, we should take seriously the statements that the work in question is already reasonably advanced, and that the responsible centre is looking for skilled physicists to carry it forward in the Institute of Physics and in the Universities.

At this point, given the knee-jerk anti-western response of many educated people in our region (largely due to our own painful colonial experience) we may hear the sort of ill-informed moral equivalency thinking that led a Mr Hendricks to remark as follows at one of the Times article pages:

" . . . Iran's having nuclear capability will introduce mutual assured destruction into an area which for too long has been dominated by Israeli nuclear blackmail."

Of course, Israeli "nuclear blackmail" has kept the peace in the region, so that instead of attempts to destroy Israel and massacre its citizens through large scale invasions, as we saw openly declared in 1948 and 1967 [and which was probably implicit in 1973, had Israel lost], we instead have had a backing away from such openly declared intent of genocide.

And of course we could compare the situation to the French and British "blackmail" through the Versailles treaty whereby Germany was given a sharply restricted self-defence army and navy and was forbidden to develop or deploy submarines, tanks and military aircraft. (Of course, the French, British, Belgians etc faced no such restrictions.)

How unfair!

NOT . . .

For, had the Versailles limits been respected by German governments, starting from the 1920's -- the problem most emphatically did not start with Hitler -- there would have been no second world war, with ~ 40 millions dead in the European theatres. And, had the French and British had the gumption to stand up to Hitler in the early stages, by 1934 - 37, war would have been on a much lower scale, and Hitler would have certainly lost. (Indeed, on testimony of surviving generals, there was a good change the army would have overthrown him. )

But, that was not to be.

In our day, Iran has had a thirty year record of sponsoring terrorism and exporting radical Islamist revolution, effectively converting Syria, Lebanon and Sudan into client states and/or colonies, with a dangerous influence in the Gaza which Israel so unwisely abandoned in 2005. It is credibly developing mini-nukes suitable for suicide "suitcase" nuclear bomb attacks. It is credibly developing more conventional sized nuclear bombs. Just last week, it launched a fast Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile.

All, in open defiance of an international community and treaty obligations going all the way back to the UN charter.

All, met by hesitancy, second guessing and delay.

If this continues, the outcome, sadly, will be all too predictable; and probably devastating.

For, nukes are credibly in play this time around.

Sorry to have a bit of a Christmas spoiler, but we need to face the truth about our times and trends, even at Christmas time. END

No comments: