by user Leif.Nepstad
"Yesterday, the International Atomic Energy Association released its latest report on Iran’s nuclear activities, and the news was not good. Basically, it said Iran has continued its uranium enrichment program in defiance of a U.N. Security Council resolution.
But amid all the gloom, there were a few encouraging facts buried in the IAEA report. I don’t intend to discount the severity of the Iranian situation or how difficult it will be to stop Iran’s nuclear program – rather, I’d like to provide some context for the debate on how to proceed.
First, Iran has only enriched uranium up to 4.2% U-235, just about the level required to fuel a proliferation-resistant light-water reactor. This is still far below the threshold required to make nuclear weapons (20% U-235 is the minimum required to make a weapon, but most use about 90%). Unfortunately, just because Iran hasn’t enriched further doesn’t mean they can’t; the report says nothing about possible technical problems.
Second, the IAEA’s inventory of nuclear material at the Natanz pilot plant is “consistent with” the inventory supplied by the Iranians themselves. This gives some assurance that nuclear material is not being diverted to secret facilities. However, the main (underground) enrichment facility is not mentioned.
Third, while Iran has “declined to agree at this stage” to the use of remote monitoring, in the interim it has allowed “frequent inspector access” to the main underground enrichment plant at Natanz – the IAEA has eyes there, occasionally at least. This agreement will satisfy the IAEA only until the number of centrifuges reaches 500.
Fourth, there seem to be only about 500 fully installed centrifuges at Natanz – if all of them were running at full speed it would take about six years to produce enough highly enriched uranium for a bomb. However, Iran claims it has roughly 350 more “in final stages of installation;” this seems to be happening sooner than many experts expected.
Fifth, the IAEA has found no indications that spent fuel is being reprocessed for plutonium, at any of Iran’s declared nuclear facilities. However, construction continues at Iran’s planned heavy-water reactor, which could produce fuel for nuclear weapons. These are some pretty dim glimmers of hope, but they do indicate that some time remains before Iran will even have enough material to build a nuclear weapon. Given some hints that sanctions and financial pressure might be starting to work, who knows -- there might even be enough time to reach some sort of agreement."
This is the second article I've read about Iran and their limited uranium enrichment programs and I believe they are not currently developing nuclear weapons. I am, however, rightfully concerned that Iran is likely funding the Sunni militants in Iraq and we should certainly step up talks to put an end to that.