Iran, Plutonium and Assessing the Threat
By Steve Schippert | March 9, 2006
With all of the discussion surrounding Iran's largely clandestine nuclear program concerning the enrichment of uranium, it is prudent to consider plutonium, which the Iranians have already produced quantities of by their own admission. A developing system of nuclear power plants, as Iran insists its goals are, has no use for plutonium. Alexandra has taken a look at the issue today at All Things Beautiful.
Regarding the general nature of the Iranian deception, she makes a critical observation that must be considered, especially by those who harbor any doubts as to Iranian intent.
Ali Larijani, the new secretary of the "Supreme Council for National Security" in Iran, went to a lot of trouble this week to convince the western press that Iran's intension is to gain nuclear capacity for peaceful use only. At the same time, his own brother, Mohammed Javad Larijani, who is also the head of the Physics Research Center in Iran, told an Iranian audience a completely different story. [TW: Emphasis added.]
During a speech he made at a conference on "Nuclear Technology and the Iranian people's will" on August 1st, Mohammed Javad Larijani told his audience that "It is our right to have nuclear defense and we will not be ready to give up this right..." and that "Iran's dispute with the West should have been over nuclear weapon production rather than over the nuclear fuel cycle...."
But doesn't it contradict Khamenei's famous Fatwa, which supposedly religiously forbid the non-peaceful use of nuclear technology? Well, trust Mohammed Javad Larijani to sort things out. According to his speech "When we say that the legislator tied our hands regarding the use of nuclear weapons, he means only that we are not to make the first nuclear strike..."
Iran, therefore, admits bluntly their intention to develop nuclear weapons.
Though not the sole example by any stretch, Alexandra has framed the above perfectly. Readers would do well to also consider the recent fatwa issued by Mohsen Gharavian.
Regarding the plutonium issue, she references a Ha'aretz article: Western sources: Iran has covert nuclear channel, which says, in part:
The Iranians admitted about three years ago to separating small quantities of plutonium, which is clearly associated with atomic arms development. (The materials needed to build an atomic bomb can be acquired either by enriching uranium or by producing plutonium.)
Inspectors who examined the plutonium concluded, judging from the amounts found, that the Iranians must have started creating the plutonium in the mid-1990s and not three years ago.
It should be considered that the inspectors would make such conclusions based upon their known sets, meaning the sites they knew of. That Iran has a covert system for nuclear research/production is clear. To assume otherwise is to unwisely assume that they have come fully clean, a position not even held by ElBaredei or Annan.
What we know is simply that the Iranians had a quantity of plutonium that was much larger than was expected. This, also, must be considered the quantity that they were shown, which may not be parallel with the quantity Iran possessed.
What we do not know is how Iran amassed such an unexpected quantity. The assumption that Iran must have started plutonium production far earlier than they claim is probably tied to the expected capacities of known facilities. But what of the potential of unknown facilities?
It should be clear that we do not know of all facilities. Iran has admitted or revealed little that was not first disclosed by outside sources. Iran may have produced a larger amount by simply having concurrent programs as of yet unseen. The potential North Korean source must also be considered.
If Iran were able to manage successful undetected shipment(s), this would also explain unexpected quantities. How much analysis the inspectors performed (signatures that ID source) on the plutonium shown is also not readily known, but it would be uncharacteristic of the Iranians to foolishly risk detection in such a manner.
There is much room for debate on how to deal with the Iranian Nuclear Weapons Program.
There is precious little room (and increasingly less each day) for debate on simply acknowledging its clandestine existence.
To assess the nature of the Iranian Nuclear Threat, one should not focus on the weapons and their frightening consequences. Instead, the threat is defined by the nature of the regime which will control them.