Wednesday, February 25, 2009

More nuclear distortions...

I don't think there's a topic in the entire world of news that's more riddled with distortions, misapprehensions, highly contentious interpretations, hidden and not-so-hidden agendas, titillation even and plain old propaganda, as the 'nuclear Iran issue'. This time, Israel's leading daily Ha'aretz is at it in their article titled: "Israel calls Iran nuclear plant test 'bad news' for whole world".

Iran has started tests on its Russian-built Bushehr nuclear power plant as part of preparations for its launch, an official said on Wednesday.

Israel responded to the news with concern, calling the test "bad news" for the whole world.

A purely civilian test that doesn't even actually involve any actual nuclear materials (see below) cannot be seen as 'bad news for the whole world'. Iran, whether we like it or not, has the right to develop civilian nuclear technology. Its Bushehr project has been delayed for years (often due to banal disputes with the Russian contractors) but cannot be expected to stand idle forever.

"Iranians are showing again that they are making progress in their nuclear race," Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said. "This should be understood as very bad news for the whole of the international community."

Palmor called for immediate and very determined steps in order to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power.

The West, which suspects Tehran of seeking to produce its own nuclear bomb, has been critical of Russia's involvement in building Bushehr in southwestern Iran. Russia says it is purely civilian and cannot be used for any weapons program.

The Bushehr tests don't constitute progress in "their nuclear race": non-live testing of a light water civilian reactor is a normal phase in bringing a civilian facility up to the point of first actual operation.

Civilian reactors of the Bushehr-type (PWR or Pressurised Water Reactors) are in use for the civilian production of electricity all over the world. The nuclear fuel used is lowly enriched uranium (about 5 % of U 235) and cannot be used in any way, shape or form for nuclear weapons (the enrichment process however, can in principle be used to produce Highly Enriched Uranium [HEU - at least 90 % U 235], but that's an enormous step).

Civilian nuclear reactors do also produce plutonium (the second option for producing Hiroshima/Nagasaki-style A-bombs) as a largely nuisance by-product but the resulting plutonium, often and somewhat confusingly referred to as 'reactor-grade plutonium' (R-Pu) is not suitable for bomb-making due to the presence of higher plutonium isotopes like Pu 240 and Pu 241. Strictly speaking R-Pu could be weaponised but British tests showed R-Pu to have a much higher critical mass (making it harder to make a missile-deliverable weapon) than weapons-grade plutonium (which is almost exclusively Pu 239) and that R-Pu has a tendency to prematurely detonate, paradoxically resulting in a fizzle or a very low yield explosion.

Weapons-grade plutonium (almost 100 % Pu 239) cannot be made by refining R-Pu with any known process and can only be successfully produced in a reactor of the type Syria is highly suspected of having tried to build, Windscale or Hanford type graphite reactors, or quite exceptionally in heavy water facilities like Israel's Dimona reactor.

All in all, considering the difficulty in producing HEU (U 235 > 90 %), if Iran really was really hell bent on building nuclear bombs it rather begs the question why it didn't go for the graphite-moderated gas-cooled Magnox-type plutonium breeder reactor, specifically designed to produce weapons-grade plutonium. Such facilities are fairly small, relatively easy to build and operate, require no uranium enrichment whatsoever and should be quite easy to conceal in a vast country like Iran.

The Iranian official, Mohsen Shirazi, said the visiting head of Russia's state nuclear company, Sergei Kiriyenko, and his Iranian counterpart Gholamreza Aghazadeh were at the plant to inspect work that included injecting "virtual" fuel into rods.

"This process started 10 days ago. Lead is used instead of nuclear fuel," Shirazi told reporters at the site.

So no nuclear activity whatsoever (lead is not a fissionable material). Loading fuel rods with lead blanks is no more than a completely radiation-free form of dress rehearsal. A necessary step in clearing the reactor for a later 'live' phase but not related to any weapons program whatsoever. Any information that will be gleaned from this exercise does not contribute in any way, shape or form to knowledge that would be of use to a potential bomb builder.

Asked about Wednesday's tests, Kiriyenko said: "This is virtual fuel injection to test how the reactor works."

His comments were translated by Iranian state television.

He did not give details. Iranian media on Sunday said Wednesday's event would include testing of all of Bushehr's activities with special computer software.

Rosatom spokesman Sergei Novikov, however, said earlier this week that no major milestone in the reparations for Bushehr's start-up is expected during Kiriyenko's visit.

Novikov said that Rosatom expects it to be a just a working visit and that as before, the reactor's physical start-up is expected by the end of the year.

"It is a regular meeting on the site, with Russians and the Iranian organizations which are working on the project," Novikov said of Wednesday's event.

Shirazi said that if the tests were successful fuel rods with enriched uranium would be used instead of lead, the official IRNA news agency reported.

Enriched uranium can be used as fuel for power plants and also provide material for bombs if refined much further.

Only if Iran masters uranium enrichment to well beyond the point of producing some tons of lowly enriched uranium (5 % U 235) and becomes capable of pushing the enrichment reliably past HEU (U 235 > 90%), a rather huge step.

Russia started deliveries of nuclear fuel for the plant in late 2007, a step both Washington and Moscow said removed any need for Iran to have its own uranium enrichment program.

Moscow says Iran will return all spent fuel rods to Russia.

The latter should be seen as the ultimate safeguard because it means that Iran cannot even access the reactor-grade plutonium by-product contained in spent fuel rods.

As so much regarding Iran's nuclear issue, this is by and large another non-story, designed solely to strike fear into nuclear laymen... And Palmor is just another lying Zionist.


At 2:30 AM, Blogger Nevin said...

What I do not understand is, why do some countries have nuclear power and some are not "allowed to"?

Not that I am for nuclear weapons... I think all countries including US, UK and Israel should disarm and get rid off all their nuclear weapons capacity... But I know, it's impossible...

Iran will eventually become a nuclear power... but not just yet... I am worried for the safety of the world... I do not care who has it. I just do not feel safe with so much dangerous weaponry around...

At 3:04 PM, Blogger Gert said...


"What I do not understand is, why do some countries have nuclear power and some are not "allowed to"?"

What's there to understand or not understand? This is purely and only about power. The "White Hat states" (the West) claims to have proven its 'good intentions' and are therefore allowed to have nuclear weapons. The "Black hat states", like Iran, have proved their 'bad intentions' and are therefore not allowed to have nuclear weapons.

But in reality this is a shell game and its name is Hegemony. Once Iran gains nuclear weapons its power in the region will increase greatly and Israel's own nuclear deterrent will lose much potency.

Personally I'm not keen on Iran getting the Bomb but I believe it's almost inevitable that they will get it. However, contrary to what most sources claim, I do not believe they are in a fantastically great hurry to get there: the risks they've been taking so far are very calculated and small. They're not about to rock the boat.


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