Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Officials: Iran does not have key nuclear material

Officials: Iran does not have key nuclear material by AP

Actually, the headline undersells this a bit. By saying 'key nuclear material', they act like they are just missing one of several materials. But the 'key nuclear material' that they are missing is the essential stuff that goes BOOM to make a nuclear bomb.

Kinda like calling flour a 'key material' for a cake. Or maybe calling 'eggs' a 'key material for 'scrambled eggs'.

This is the most important thing to watch in the discussions about Iran and nuclear weapons. Do they have the highly enriched uranium that they need for a bomb? Don't let the corporate media confuse you on this. There are two dramatically different levels of enrichment for a nuclear power plant and a nuclear weapon. A nuclear power plant require enrichment to around 3% U-235. A nuclear weapon requires enrichment to somewhere around 95% U-235. The two aren't even close. Doing one doesn't mean that they've done the other. Doing the 3% enrichment (referred to as 'low-level' in this AP piece) doesn't even mean that they are capable of doing 95% enrichment.

Inspectors should be able to tell if a facility has been used to enrich beyond 3%. As just one example, they could test trace residues left on equipment or in pipes and see if there is more U-235 than they would expect from low-level enrichment. I won't say that's completely certain, but it seems like a massive amount of work would need to be done to scrub an industrial facility to hide that sort of high-level enrichment.

The key point is that at no time has the IAEA ever said that they've found more than 3% enrichment in Iran. And here you have the leaders of US intelligence saying they have no evidence that Iran has gone beyond 3% enrichment.

This is the key fact to watch. Ignore a lot of the other BS that the killers throw around to justify another war. If you don't ever see PROOF, rock-solid proof, that Iran has gone to bomb-grade, 95% or so enrichment, then you should assume that its just the lying killers who used phony fears of a non-existent nuclear weapon to start that war trying to do it again.

U.S. National Intelligence Director Dennis Blair and Defense Intelligence Agency Director Lt. Gen. Michael Maples said Tuesday that Iran has only low-enriched uranium — which would need to be refined into highly enriched uranium before it can fuel a warhead. Neither officials said there were indications that refining has occurred.

See Also: Muslim Weapons of Mass Destruction by Eric Margolis

UN inspectors report Iran has produced 1,010 kg of 2–3% enriched uranium (LEU). Iran insists it is for energy generation. Theoretically that is enough for one atomic bomb.

But to make a nuclear weapon, U-235 must be enriched to over 90% in an elaborate, costly process. Iran is not doing so, say UN inspectors, though they have raised certain technical questions about Iran’s nuclear process. Some believe Iran may go up to "breakout position," that is, having the components to assemble a weapon on fairly short notice.

Mr. Margolis is mostly very accurate in this piece. But I strongly disagree when he says 1000 kg of 2.5% enriched Uranium is 'theoretically enough for one atomic bomb.' You can have all the 2.5% enriched uranium you want and it will NEVER be enough for a bomb. Because to have a bomb you need it enriched to somewhere in the 90% range. Since he goes on to say something similar in the next sentence, I'm hoping maybe bad editing got to Mr. Margolis on that sentence.

1 comment:

Samson said...

Let me try to explain further. When Uranium comes out of the ground, its about 0.7% U-235 and 99.3% U-238. U-235 is what you need for both nuclear power and nuclear bombs. It spontaneously fissions all by itself. So its the stuff that when you put enough of it close together you get a chain reaction.

U-238 is toxic and radioactive. But it doesn't spontaneously fission.

When Uranium comes out of the ground, its not naturally suitable for either nuclear power or nuclear bombs. They have to 'enrich' the Uranium. They do this by trying to keep the U-235 and get rid of some of the U-238, thus raising the percentage of U-235 in the metal to a high enough percentage for the desired task.

This isn't easy to do. U-235 is just like U-238 chemically. So you can't mix in another chemical to separate the two. Or you can't for instance boil one of them off leaving the other behind. The only difference is that tiny difference in atomic weight. Atoms of U-235 have an atomic weight of 235, while U-238 has three additional neutrons.

That's the difference. The weight of three neutrons. They attempt to separate U-235 and U-238 by spinning them in a centrifuge. But the difference in weight is so tiny, this is a long, laborious process. That's why you need such huge facilities with thousands of centrifuges. First, you are dealing with UF6 gas, so when you convert this back to metal you get tiny amounts from those volumes of gas. And second, its not like separating red blood from white blood in a centrifuge. The U-235 doesn't magically all go to one end. Instead, spinning this gas around yields just a slight increase in concentration. They do this over and over again to get up to 3%.

And that's why having the tech to get to 3% doesn't mean you can do the 95% bomb-grade uranium. A process that's inefficient might just work to get to 3%. But those inefficiencies might put some cap well short of bomb-grade enrichment on the process until they are overcome.

And I still find it hard to believe that inspectors wouldn't be able to tell that a facility has been used to go beyond 3%. And up till now, the IAEA has been quite clear that they've never seen any evidence of that.