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November 29, 2004

Lying About Iran


by Gordon Prather

The neo-crazies – in and out of government – lied to you last year about Iraq's "nuclear programs," and this year they're lying to you about Iran's.

What constitutes lying? Well, either making an untrue statement with intent to deceive, or deliberately creating a false impression.

The neo-crazies told you right up till the eve of President Bush's "preemptive strike" that Iraq had reconstituted – deep underground and widely dispersed – the uranium-enrichment facilities totally destroyed back in 1991. That was an untrue statement, made with intent to deceive you.

They also told you that a uranium-enrichment capability was a necessary and sufficient condition for Iraq to have nukes within a year or two. That was an untrue statement, made to create a false impression.

You see, if you want to make a gun-type nuke, a uranium-enrichment capability is certainly necessary. And, if you have two 60-pound sub-critical pieces of weapons-grade enriched-uranium, all you have to do to make a gun-type nuke is bang them together.

But if you want to make an enriched-uranium implosion-type nuke – which is what Saddam was attempting to make – a uranium-enrichment capability is by no means sufficient.

Mohamed ElBaradei had reported to the UN Security that, as of March 2003, there had been no attempt whatsoever to reconstitute Iraq's uranium-enrichment capability. Furthermore, the CIA's Iraq Survey Group spent a billion dollars in the year following the invasion, searching everywhere and interviewing all the "usual suspects."

Result? Not only was ElBaradei right about there being no reconstituted uranium-enrichment capability, but there had also been no attempt since 1991 to design or test the high-explosive system absolutely required for an implosion-type nuke.

Well, now the neo-crazies would have you believe that Iran has an underground, widely dispersed uranium-enrichment capability. And that that uranium-enrichment capability is a sufficient condition for Iran to have nukes in a year or two.

But while the neo-crazies have been making that claim, Iran has been allowing ElBaradei to conduct in Iran the same sort of go-anywhere, see-anything inspection he conducted in Iraq.

Result? ElBaradei has concluded that all nuclear material in Iran has been accounted for and has not been diverted to activities prohibited by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Hence, there is no NPT issue for the IAEA Board to refer to the UN Security Council.

Furthermore, ElBaradei has found no evidence that Iran has yet introduced nuclear material into the uranium-enrichment facilities under construction.

That's important, because until nuclear material was actually introduced, Iran was under no obligation to report to the IAEA the construction of the gas-centrifuge plants at Natanz.

Obligated or not, Iran has placed "all essential components of centrifuges as defined by the Agency" under IAEA seals, except for 20 sets of centrifuge components to be used "for R&D purposes." Even then, Iran also offered to provide the IAEA with access to that R&D program "if requested."

Well, the neo-crazies promptly went bonkers. They charged that this R&D "exception" proved the Iranians had no intention of abiding by the agreement they made with Germany, France, and Great Britain to "suspend" all uranium-enrichment related activities and that this latest Iranian perfidy had to be brought immediately before the UN Security Council for action.

But don't let those neo-crazy charges create a false impression.

You see, Iran also stated that the "AEOI [Atomic Energy Organization of Iran] is not intending to use nuclear materials in any of the tests associated with the said R&D."

Gas centrifuges are not used exclusively for uranium isotope separation. Cascades of gas centrifuges are used to separate – in kilogram quantities for commercial sale – the isotopes of zinc, tungsten, molybdenum, krypton, xenon, germanium, iron, sulfur, oxygen, and carbon.

For example, large quantities of zinc-acetate-dihydrate are used as an additive in water-cooled, water-moderated nuclear power plants – particularly those burning plutonium-uranium mixed-oxide (MOX) fuels – to reduce corrosion and cracking of key components. However, the use of naturally occurring zinc would result in increased radiation exposure to plant workers, because Zn-64 – constituting 48% by isotopic concentration in naturally occurring zinc – is transformed into radioactive Zn-65 in the reactor environment. Hence the lucrative market for large quantities of "depleted" zinc-acetate-dihydrate wherein the Zn-64 isotopic concentration is reduced to less than 1%.

So, until IAEA Safeguarded "nuclear materials" are actually introduced into them, the origin of the centrifuges, the construction of cascades, and the operation thereof is none of the IAEA's beeswax. And who knows? Maybe the Iranians' secret plan all along has been to take over the depleted zinc market.


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Physicist James Gordon Prather has served as a policy implementing official for national security-related technical matters in the Federal Energy Agency, the Energy Research and Development Administration, the Department of Energy, the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the Department of the Army. Dr. Prather also served as legislative assistant for national security affairs to U.S. Sen. Henry Bellmon, R-Okla. -- ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee and member of the Senate Energy Committee and Appropriations Committee. Dr. Prather had earlier worked as a nuclear weapons physicist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California and Sandia National Laboratory in New Mexico.

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