In Case of Emergency Break Glass (Updated)

Europeans are becoming concerned with the possibility that Iran may actually have the materials to produce a nuclear weapon by year’s end:

Could Iran be building an atomic bomb? When the US released a new National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) late last year, it seemed as though the danger of a mullah-bomb had passed. The report claimed to have information indicating that Tehran mothballed its nuclear weapons program as early as autumn 2003. The paper also said that it was “very unlikely” that Iran would have enough highly enriched uranium — the primary ingredient in atomic bombs — by 2009 to produce such a weapon. Rather, the NIE indicated “Iran probably would be technically capable of producing enough (highly enriched uranium) for a weapon sometime during the 2010-2015 timeframe.”

It didn’t take long for experts to question the report’s conclusion that Tehran was no longer interested in building the bomb. And now, a new computer simulation undertaken by European Union experts indicates that the NIE’s time estimates might be dangerously inaccurate as well — and that Iran might have enough fuel for a bomb much earlier than was previously thought.

As part of a project to improve control of nuclear materials, the European Commission Joint Research Centre (JRC) in Ispra, Italy set up a detailed simulation of the centrifuges currently used by Iran in the Natanz nuclear facility to enrich uranium. The results look nothing like those reached by the US intelligence community.

The United States has been doing what it can to mobilize the world community against Iranian nuclear weapons development. Sometimes the Europeans have sided with us, sometimes against us in the discussion. Meanwhile French, German, and Russian companies have been helping Iran build its fortifications and aiding in its nuclear development program.

Iran is a miniscule flyspeck. The UK, France, and Germany can be and should be fully capable of dealing with any threat posed to them by Iran themselves.

Even armed with nuclear weapons Iran doesn’t pose a threat to us. If they were to use their nuclear weapons against us Iranian civilization would die overnight. If they’re not deterred, the next guys will be.

Perhaps it’s time for the Europeans to start thinking about life without the American aegis. We’ll still be here if a real threat emerges.


I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that the International Atomic Energy Agency has produced its most recent status report on Iran’s nuclear development program:

VIENNA (AFP) — The UN atomic watchdog said Friday it had made “quite good progress” in its long-running investigation into Iran’s disputed nuclear drive, but was still not in a position to offer a verdict on Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.

In a confidential new report, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) complained that Iran was continuing to defy UN demands to halt uranium enrichment.

Furthermore, it had started developing faster and more efficient centrifuges to produce enriched uranium, which can be used to make the fissile material for a bomb.

The IAEA has “recently received from Iran additional information,” said the report, which will be put to its board of governors next month.

“As a result, the agency’s knowledge about Iran’s current declared nuclear programme has become clearer.”

However, the information “has been provided on an ad hoc basis and not in a consistent and complete manner,” the UN watchdog complained.

That meant that the agency “is not yet in a position to determine the full nature of Iran’s nuclear programme.”

Tehran insists its nuclear drive is purely peaceful, while the United States and other Western powers accuse it of covertly seeking to develop a nuclear bomb.

Or, in other words, Iran continues its brinksmanship act for reasons that, if its nuclear development program is completely peaceful, are hard to fathom. At least for me.

I think I’ve been very clear in my position on Iran over time. I believe that Iran has a nuclear weapons development program or, at the very least, they want people to believe that they have a nuclear weapons development program. While I don’t believe that Iran’s having or using nuclear weapons would be a good thing, I don’t believe that we should resort to violent means i.e. bombing or invasion to stop them. This position is characterized by some as “hawkish”.

15 comments… add one
  • Funny thing, the JRC is based in Brussels, not Italy. Nor can I find this report on their website, despite their commitment to making all of their reports open to public and media scrutiny.

    And Dave, you’re being economical with the truth. This study, which must surely exist somewhere, sidesteps entirely the IAEA surveillance and seal on Iran’s centrifuges and LEU product. The IAEA guarantees those cannot be redirected to HEU production without its knowledge. The study also produces a worst case estimate based on 100% efficient centrifuges when we know from IAEA reports that Iran has never managed better than 20% efficiency. You cannot get there (enough HEU for a bomb in the timeline the study suggests) from here.

    Amazing how there’s been a rash of scary Iran nuke stories with no real basis this week, and the next IAEA report is due out Monday. Add this report to the MeK’s one about a super-secret lab for bomb production in Tehran’s suburbs – one that’s different from all the other labs they said were there but weren’t. Add it to new stories about the old-news laptop some guy from the MeK gave the US. Such a coincidence. The IAEA report is expected to say that Iran is co-operating and that there’s still no smoking gun or even damp squib. But now those who would rather bomb will point to this and those other stories and say “ah, but it doesn’t address these new allegations”.

    Regards, C

  • Meanwhile French, German, and Russian companies have been helping Iran build its fortifications and aiding in its nuclear development program.

    Well, West German firms were helping the Shah build the reactor, but after the Islamic revolution that help came to an end.

  • I’ve emailled JRC/IPSA asking if they can identify the study and provide a copy. I’ll let you know if i hear anything, Dave.

    Regards, C

  • Ralf, German companies continued to have extensive trade with Iran through as late as the third quarter of last year. That’s easy to document. Neither you, I, nor, I suspect either the U. S. or German governments really know how much of that trade supported Iran’s military efforts and nuclear development program.

    That’s the problem with dealing with Iran. You never know when what you’ve sold them will be used against you. Or us.

  • Cernig, as you know I favor dealing with whatever threat Iran poses completely through nonviolent means or, at the very most, short of bombing or invasion. I don’t know how much weight to afford the study quoted by Der Spiegel nor do I much care.

    For me the only question is how much weight do the Europeans give it?

    I also think it’s very late in the day for them to be expressing concern.

  • If that’s hawkish, my opinion would drive him into apoplectic fits.

  • I thought of writing that, Jeff, but I didn’t want to take your name in vain. 😉

  • Ah Dave, I can’t seem to stop offending you. I’m sorry. I once mistakenly described you as a rightwinger and you corrected me that you were better described as a hawkish Dem. Now I’m wrong for calling you hawkish too. I really didn’t mean to offend – mayhap theres a better word to describe it.

    I also linked Michael van der Galien as one of those “hawkish” types – even though he has a problem with invasion/bombing too. It’s more about an attitude than a policy solution. You write: “Iran continues its brinksmanship act for reasons that, if its nuclear development program is completely peaceful, are hard to fathom. At least for me.” Why is it hard to fathom that hardliners will be recalcitrant just because they’re hardliners who think in hardline and hardball terms?

    The Bush administration often indulges itself in hardline rhetoric, but you and Michael can more easily fathom that it’s just because they have a hardline mindset rather than a premeditated nefarious purpose. The disconnect there is what I’m describing as “hawkish” because I’m unsure what else to call that implicit bias. What should I call it?

    You might be interested in the update to my post you linked. I’ve a link to the IAEA pdf report and a personal theory on how one squares the hardline pronouncements of both Iran and the more militant wing of the White house.

    I’m going to suggest something a bit off the wall here – the infamous smoking laptop contains details of Iran’s old weapons program, the one the NIE said had been shut down in 2003. It’s been doctored by those who “donated” it to US intelligence to make it appear more contemporary and relevant. The pre-2003 program never got further than the beginnings of on-paper studies (for instance, the re-entry vehicle wouldn’t actually work), which is why the IAEA have found no use of nuclear material which could be associated with these allegations. The Iranians, knowing all this, are now willing to play hardball because they know there are no new damaging revelations going to come out of investigations of the laptop data, even by accident – and so the hardliners have decided to be hardliners and cock a snook at the US. It’s a theory that seems to fit the data and squares the circle between US and Iranian allegation and denial cycles.

    If so, the hardliners in both camps need an excuse to climb down out of their trees.

    Regards, C

  • Actually, I think I’m a paradox. I’ve opposed every use of military force by the United States for the last 30 years but I’m not a pacifist. I think there are circumstances in which the use of force is justified and prudent but we’ve been choosing unwisely.

    Perhaps my reaction was in being characterized as “hawkish” along with Weekly Standard. If I were characterized as hawkish relative to, say, Hilzoy at Obsidian Wings or maybe even Matt Yglesias I’d agree.

    I could be wrong but I think that Michael VDG is more hawkish than I. That would place me in the center right by European standards. I place Michael in the far right, at least in his native Netherlands.

  • Agreed.

    And thanks for letting me clarify and taling my comments in good faith.

    Regards, C

  • Fletcher Christian Link

    Two points here. First, I hope that none of you are tarring the Brits with the same brush as the French and Germans regarding helping the Iranian nuclear programme. The French and to a lesser extent the Germans have a long history of using a short spoon to sup with the Devil; anyone remember the Iraqi supergun?

    Second point; the British and the French between them, and possibly singly, are quite capable of erasing Iran (or at least most of its population) from the map in the case that Iranian bombs are used against them. The real issue is whether either would have the guts to do it.

    Are we going to expect the Israelis to pull our nuts out of the fire again? Probably.

  • Well, we don’t know what assumptions the JRC study used. What some experts over at ACW have pointed out, and what the NIE implicitly indicates, is that HEU for a bomb is possible this year or early next, but this would require using the Russian-supplied LEU reactor fuel and feeding it into the cascades. LEU represents about 80% of the separative work required to get to HEU, so starting with LEU it becomes much quicker and easier to get to HEU. The added benefit is that the Russian uranium is pure and unlikely to crash Iran’s cascades – a significant problem Iran has had is creating pure hex to feed into cascades.

    Cernig points out that Iran’s cascades have not operated above 20% efficiency, but what we don’t know is why. It could be a problem with the cascades, it could be caution on Iran’s part, it could be hex purity problems (or husbanding their limited supply of Chinese hex), or it could be a political decision. So the assumption that Iran can’t operate above 20% or at near-peak efficiency is not quite true – we don’t know that.

    Anyway, as the NIE notes, this 2008-2009 scenario is very unlikely because it would expose Iran’s intent for all to see since both the fuel and cascades are under safeguard – IOW, Iran couldn’t do this without the world knowing and it’s unlikely the US would sit by for a year while the centrifuges turned out HEU for a bomb.

    The long-term concern is really that once Iran has the technology to make their own centrifuges and build them into semi-reliable cascades, then building a covert enrichment facility becomes quite easy. Without the additional protocol in place the IAEA will have no authority or ability to ferret out such a facility. It’s why the US has consistently fought against Iran and others from obtaining this technology.

  • Actually, I just ran across this ISIS brief which shows Iran is underfeeding its cascades (still for unknown reasons), but it also clearly shows they are still not operating at peak capacity.

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