To get your support for the application of the
Bush Doctrine to Iraq last year, the neo-crazies claimed to have slam-dunk intelligence
that Saddam had secretly reconstituted his uranium-enrichment program and would,
therefore, soon have nukes to give to terrorists.
But Mohamed ElBaradei – Director General of the International Atomic Energy
Agency (IAEA) – had told the UN Security Council that "after three months
of intrusive inspections, we have to date found no evidence or plausible indication
of the revival of a nuclear weapons program in Iraq."
To get your support for the application of the Bush Doctrine to Iran next year,
the neo-crazies are now claiming to have slam-dunk intelligence that the mullahs
have secretly been enriching uranium for years and, therefore, will soon have
nukes to give to terrorists.
Well, Iran will soon have a uranium-enrichment capability.
But IAEA experts have just spent two years developing a comprehensive picture
of Iran's nuclear and nuclear-related activities, including all nuclear-related
imports. They have found no evidence that Iran has yet enriched uranium. Much
less did they find any evidence that Iran has nukes or a nuke development program.
Do the neo-crazies and their media sycophants really believe that having a
uranium-enrichment capability is tantamount to having nukes? And if so, where
did they ever get such a crazy idea?
Currently, the world's leader in gas-centrifuge development and the world's
largest single provider of enriched-uranium is the Urenco Group, a private-sector
consortium with plants in Germany, the United Kingdom, and the Netherlands.
The Urenco Enrichment Company produces and markets enriched uranium for use
in the manufacture of fuel for nuclear power plants, while the Enrichment Technology
Company develops and deploys gas centrifuges.
The current generation of Urenco centrifuges comprise an ultra-light, thin-walled
tube made from specialty metals and composite materials, containing a cylindrical
rotor – also made from composite materials – which spins at an incredibly high
velocity in a vacuum, on almost frictionless (magnetic) bearings.
In order to obtain the desired enrichment of the U-235 isotope, it is necessary
to connect a large number of centrifuges together in series and in parallel.
This arrangement of centrifuges is known as a cascade.
Passing through the cascade, U-238 isotopic atoms in the uranium hexafluoride
gas are progressively removed, resulting in a gradual "enrichment"
of the U-235 isotope.
Nuclear power plant fuel is typically 3 to 5 percent U-235. Weapons-grade HEU
is typically 90 percent U-235 or greater.
In first-generation centrifuges, the rotors were made of aluminum and the bearings
were not frictionless. Hence they were relatively low-efficiency machines –
incapable of operating at high velocities – which translates into many more
centrifuges being required in the cascade. Thousands of them.
Last year, the Iranians invited ElBaradei to inspect a gas-centrifuge cascade
they were constructing. The facility – once operation begins – will be subject
to an IAEA Safeguards Agreement, which would prohibit the production of weapons-grade
According to the IAEA, the Iranian centrifuges appear to be based upon first-generation
That figures. A Pakistani metallurgist named A.Q. Kahn stole blueprints for
a first generation centrifuge from Urenco in 1975, and by the late 1980s, Khan
was publicly offering uranium-enrichment services – in competition to Urenco
– using "indigenously" designed and produced gas-centrifuges.
Now, as best the IAEA can determine, Urenco doesn't have nukes, even though
there are probably lots of scientists and engineers employed by Urenco who could
make a gun-type nuke if you gave them two 75-pound pieces of weapons-grade HEU
to bang together.
Khan probably also had similarly capable scientists and engineers.
But, in 1998, Pakistan tested several nukes, each far more sophisticated than
the gun-type nuke we dropped on Hiroshima. Even more sophisticated than the
implosion-type nuke we dropped on Nagasaki.
You see, the Pakistani nukes were apparently "boosted" with tritium
– which is the secret of making them small and lightweight.
So, whether it's Urenco or Pakistan or Iran, having a uranium-enrichment capability
is not tantamount to having nukes. It's certainly not tantamount to having nukes
that are small enough to be delivered by ballistic missiles.
If the Iranians wanted to design and engineer a missile-deliverable nuke, they'd
need the equivalent of Los Alamos National Laboratory and Sandia
If the Iranians wanted weapons-grade enriched uranium for their engineered
design, they'd have to get it from A.Q. Khan. Unlike Iran's, Khan's uranium-enrichment
facilities are not subject to the IAEA-NPT regime.
Meanwhile, some media type ought to visit Urenco and put to rest the neo-crazy
idea that having a uranium-enrichment capability is tantamount to having nukes.