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post #1 of 3 (permalink) Old 11-20-2008, 05:23 AM Thread Starter
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Iran said to have enough nuclear fuel for one weapon

Iran said to have enough nuclear fuel for one weapon

Iran has now produced roughly enough nuclear material to make, with added purification, a single atom bomb, according to nuclear experts analyzing the latest report from global atomic inspectors.

The figures detailing Iran's progress were contained in a routine update on Wednesday from the International Atomic Energy Agency, which has been conducting inspections of the country's main nuclear plant at Natanz. The report concluded that as of early this month, Iran had made 630 kilograms, or about 1,390 pounds, of low-enriched uranium.

Several experts said that was enough for a bomb, but they cautioned that the milestone was mostly symbolic, because Iran would have to take additional steps. Not only would it have to breach its international agreements and kick out the inspectors, but it would also have to further purify the fuel and put it into a warhead design — a technical advance that Western experts are unsure Iran has yet achieved.

"They clearly have enough material for a bomb," said Richard Garwin, a top nuclear physicist who helped invent the hydrogen bomb and has advised Washington for decades. "They know how to do the enrichment. Whether they know how to design a bomb, well, that's another matter."

Iran insists that it wants only to fuel reactors for nuclear power. But many Western nations, led by the United States, suspect that its real goal is to gain the ability to make nuclear weapons.

While some Iranian officials have threatened to bar inspectors in the past, the country has made no such moves, and many experts inside the Bush administration and the IAEA believe it will avoid the risk of attempting "nuclear breakout" until it possessed a larger uranium supply.

Even so, for President-elect Barack Obama, the report underscores the magnitude of the problem that he will inherit Jan. 20: an Iranian nuclear program that has not only solved many technical problems of uranium enrichment, but that can also now credibly claim to possess enough material to make a weapon if negotiations with Europe and the United States break down.

American intelligence agencies have said Iran could make a bomb between 2009 and 2015. A national intelligence estimate made public late last year concluded that around the end of 2003, after long effort, Iran had halted work on an actual weapon. But enriching uranium, and obtaining enough material to build a weapon, is considered the most difficult part of the process.

Siegfried Hecker of Stanford University and a former director of the Los Alamos weapons laboratory said the growing size of the Iranian stockpile "underscored that they are marching down the path to developing the nuclear weapons option."

In the report to its board, the atomic agency said Iran's main enrichment plant was now feeding uranium into about 3,800 centrifuges — machines that spin incredibly fast to enrich the element into nuclear fuel. That count is the same as in the agency's last quarterly report, in September. Iran began installing the centrifuges in early 2007. But the new report's total of 630 kilograms — an increase of about 150 — shows that Iran has been making progress in accumulating material to make nuclear fuel.

That uranium has been enriched to the low levels needed to fuel a nuclear reactor. To further purify it to the highly enriched state needed to fuel a nuclear warhead, Iran would have to reconfigure its centrifuges and do a couple months of additional processing, nuclear experts said.

"They have a weapon's worth," Thomas Cochran, a senior scientist in the nuclear program of the Natural Resources Defense Council, a private group in Washington that tracks atomic arsenals, said in an interview.

He said the amount was suitable for a relatively advanced implosion-type weapon like the one dropped on Nagasaki. Its core, he added, would be about the size of a grapefruit. He said a cruder design would require about twice as much weapon-grade fuel.

"It's a virtual milestone," Cochran said of Iran's stockpile. It is not an imminent threat, he added, because the further technical work to make fuel for a bomb would tip off inspectors, the United States and other powers about "where they're going."

The agency's report made no mention of the possible military implications of the size of Iran's stockpile. And some experts said the milestone was still months away. In an analysis of the IAEA report, the Institute for Science and International Security, a private group in Washington, estimated that Iran had not yet reached the mark but would "within a few months." It added that other analysts estimated it might take as much as a year.

Whatever the exact date, it added, "Iran is progressing" toward the ability to quickly make enough weapon-grade uranium for a warhead.

Peter Zimmerman, a physicist and former United States government arms scientist, cautioned that the Iranian stockpile fell slightly short of what international officials conservatively estimate as the minimum threatening amount of nuclear fuel. "They're very close," he said of the Iranians in an interview. "If it isn't tomorrow, it's soon," probably a matter of months.

In its report, the IAEA, which is based in Vienna, said Iran was working hard to roughly double its number of operating centrifuges.

A senior European diplomat close to the agency said Iran might have 6,000 centrifuges enriching uranium by the end of the year. The report also said Iran had said it intended to start installing another group of 3,000 centrifuges early next year.

The atomic energy agency said Iran was continuing to evade questions about its suspected work on nuclear warheads. In a separate report released Wednesday, the agency said, as expected, that it had found ambiguous traces of uranium at a suspected Syrian reactor site bombed by Israel last year.

"While it cannot be excluded that the building in question was intended for non-nuclear use," the report said, the building's features "along with the connectivity of the site to adequate pumping capacity of cooling water, are similar to what may be found in connection with a reactor site." Syria has said the uranium came from Israeli bombs.

Iran said to have enough nuclear fuel for one weapon - International Herald Tribune
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Israeli Air Force chief: We are ready to deal with Iran

Israeli Air Force chief: We are ready to deal with Iran

"We are ready to do whatever is demanded of us" in order to stop Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, IAF commander Maj. -Gen. Ido Nehushtan told German magazine Der Spiegel in an interview published Tuesday.

Nehushtan told the magazine that whether a military strike is eventually decided upon is a political question and not an issue of Israel's military capabilities.

A strike against Iran's nuclear facilities "is a political decision," the IAF commander said, "but if I understand it correctly, all options are on the table… The Air Force is a very robust and flexible force. We are ready to do whatever is demanded of us."

When asked by the paper whether the Israeli military was able to destroy Iran's nuclear facilities, which are spread around the country and partly located underground, Nehushtan said, "Please understand that I do not want to get into details. I can only say this: It is not a technical or logistical question."

Nehushtan said the cutting edge capabilities of the IDF in the region were not only a derivative of the advanced technologies it uses.

"Modern technology is one thing, but the biggest advantage we have is our soldiers and officers. Israel is a small country. We neither have a big population nor natural resources. Our biggest asset is our human resources. And it is the Air Force that makes best use of it," he said.

Nehushtan then addressed the new reality in Lebanon since the integration of Hizbullah into the government in Beirut several months ago.

"Hizbullah has been part of the Lebanese government since this spring. It is not a fringe terror organization - it is supported by the state. Militarily, Hizbullah is stronger than the regular Lebanese army. If they attack us, we might react differently [to how we did in the 2006 Second Lebanon War]," he said.

Asked about deploying missile defense systems to protect Israelis from the Kassam rockets and mortar shells fired from Gaza, as well as the Iranian threat of ballistic missiles, the IAF commander described Israel's huge investments in missile defense as an "insurance policy."

"Each type of rocket requires a different defense system. Up until today, only the Arrow System, is functioning. It can intercept ballistic missiles. In order to defend ourselves against the short-range rockets of Hamas and Hizbullah, we are building the Iron Dome system. In response to the threat of medium-range rockets, we are developing a system called David's Sling. This is all very expensive. It is like an insurance policy: You pay a lot, even if nothing happens. But if something then does happen, then you are satisfied with the investment," he explained.

Israeli Air Force chief: We are ready to deal with Iran | Iran news | Jerusalem Post
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