Friday, February 22, 2008

Iran To Go Nuclear In One Year?

According to the European Commission Joint Research Center it is possible although not probable:

From Der Spiegel

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.

For one scenario, the JRC scientists assumed the centrifuges in Natanz were operating at 100 percent efficiency. Were that the case, Iran could already have the 25 kilograms of highly enriched uranium necessary for an atomic device by the end of this year. Another scenario assumed a much lower efficiency -- just 25 percent. But even then, Iran would have produced enough uranium by the end of 2010.

For the purposes of the simulation, the JRC modelled each of the centrifuges individually and then hooked them together to form the kind of cascade necessary to enrich uranium. A number of variables were taken into account, including the assumption by most experts that Iran isn't even close to operating its centrifuges at 100 percent efficiency. What is known, however, is that the Iranians are operating 18 cascades, each made up of 164 centrifuges. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad himself said last April that the country had 3,000 centrifuges in operation. At the time, most Western observers discounted the claim as mere propaganda. But the International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed Ahmadinejad's assertion in November.

However the IAEA report issued today confirms that Iran is continuing to enrich uranium and has in fact acquired better centrifuges.

From the AFP:

UNITED NATIONS (AFP) — A report by the UN nuclear watchdog on Iran's suspect atomic program bolsters the case for the Security Council adopting new sanctions against Tehran, hopefully late next week, senior US diplomats said Friday.

The Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said earlier Friday it had made "quite good progress" in its long-running probe 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 IAEA complained that Tehran was continuing to defy UN demands to halt uranium enrichment and had started developing faster and more efficient centrifuges to produce enriched uranium, which can be used to make the fissile material for a bomb.

With the National Intelligence Estimate putting Iran as being able to produce weapons grade fissile material in ten years and the JRC's report stating its possible to do in twelve months I'm for splitting the difference and assuming it'll take five years and then crafting our policies to reflect the new assumed time line. Personally I'm not for taking military options off of the table but having said that I am also for directly engaging in talks with Iran via diplomatic channels rather than a leader to leader summit. Once we take military options off of the table we lose the ability to blockade their ports and declare no fly zones on their borders with Iraq and Afghanistan. I also believe we should only pursue such a course of action only after all diplomatic and nonmilitary punitive options have been exhausted.

Iran is either playing a dangerous or strange game. As Dave Schueler points out they are either developing nuclear weapons or want the world to think they are. So while we need to treat them as if they are pursuing the former we need to figure out what benefit is derived from the latter.