Friday, October 12, 2012

Biden’s deceptive remarks on Iran’s nuclear weapons program

Vice President Joe Biden in last night’s debate said that while Iran may have the capability to enrich uranium, it does not have a warhead and does not present a threat.  There are problems with his statement.

The first is it is likely the Iranians have already designed and tested major components of a warhead using substitute (non-nuclear) materials.  This was done under the direction of a Ukrainian scientist who had formerly worked at the Soviet/Russian nuclear facility Chelyabinsk-70.  The November 2011 IAEA report places this test at the Parchin, Iran military base. The IAEA has repeatedly been denied access to inspect the building where he test reportedly took place.  Commercial satellite photography early in 2012 documents efforts to sanitize the area.  Here is the quote from the IAEA report:

47. One necessary step in a nuclear weapon development programme is determining whether a theoretical design of an implosion device, the behaviour of which can be studied through computer simulations, will work in practice. To that end, high explosive tests referred to as “hydrodynamic experiments” are conducted in which fissile and nuclear components may be replaced with surrogate materials.41

48. Information which the Agency has been provided by Member States, some of which the Agency has been able to examine directly, indicates that Iran has manufactured simulated nuclear explosive components using high density materials such as tungsten. These components were said to have incorporated small central cavities suitable for the insertion of capsules such as those described in Section C.9 below. The end use of such components remains unclear, although they can be linked to other information received by the Agency concerning experiments involving the use of high speed diagnostic equipment, including flash X ray, to monitor the symmetry of the compressive shock of the simulated core of a nuclear device.

49. Other information which the Agency has been provided by Member States indicates that Iran constructed a large explosives containment vessel in which to conduct hydrodynamic experiments. The explosives vessel, or chamber, is said to have been put in place at Parchin in 2000. A building was constructed at that time around a large cylindrical object at a location at the Parchin military complex. A large earth berm was subsequently constructed between the building containing the cylinder and a neighbouring building, indicating the probable use of high explosives in the chamber. The Agency has obtained commercial satellite images that are consistent with this information. From independent evidence, including a publication by the foreign expert referred to in paragraph 44 above, the Agency has been able to confirm the date of construction of the cylinder and some of its design features (such as its dimensions), and that it was designed to contain the detonation of up to 70 kilograms of high explosives, which would be suitable for carrying out the type of experiments described in paragraph 43 above.

It may be that Biden is simply parsing words to convey a falsehood.  When he says Iran doesn’t have a warhead, he may be technically correct because they haven’t yet enriched the uranium to weapons grade (80 to 90%).  A warhead without the fissile fuel is not a warhead.  But if the remaining components are tested and ready, all that needs to be done is fabricate the two hemispheric shells of U-235 and assemble them into the warhead.

The other thing Biden misses is there is only a limited time of vulnerability for an attack to succeed.  Once the centrifuges have enriched the gaseous uranium hexafluoride to the weapons grade and it has been converted to metallic form, it can be hidden almost anywhere.  Only during the enrichment process, do we know here it is – most likely at Fodor, but possibly at Natanz.  Both are underground enrichment facilities. 

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has a much firmer grasp of the realities.  The red line he refers to is when enrichment begins above the 20% level, warhead or no warhead. 

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