Joshua PollackSome Straight Talk About Iran

After reading Jeffrey Goldberg’s lengthy article in The Atlantic about Israeli calculations on whether to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities, I’m left with an observation and a judgment.

First, the observation. We’re being ushered into an unusual conversation here. Months before the destruction of the reactor outside Baghdad in 1981, PLO headquarters in Tunis in 1985, the “uncompleted military facility” in northeastern Syria in 2007, or the arms convoy from Iran in the hills of northern Sudan in early 2009, there were no magazine features full of Defense Ministry types discoursing about timelines on a not-for-attribution basis. What’s more, if the Israeli government ever seriously contemplated sending its very capable air force against Saudi Arabia’s ballistic missile fleet in the late 1980s or (who knows?) perhaps Algeria’s nuclear reactor in the early 1990s, the decisive meetings of the inner cabinet weren’t exactly held at an al fresco table on the Tel Aviv promenade. Still less did the minutes appear on newsstands outside the UN. One senses this is not how or when real decisions of this sort are made.

It is, on the other hand, one way to inject urgency into the broader discussion about Iran policy. In fact, it’s how Israeli officials have tried to keep the Iran nuclear question high on the agenda in foreign capitals for some time now — and not just in Washington, either.

Second, the judgment. The nuke nerds — you know who you are, people — have failed to contribute effectively to the Iran policy conversation. Too often, it seems, we’re just talking to each another in our own special jargon of UF6, SWUs, SQs, LWR, NPT, NFU, BOG, NSG, and so on and so forth. Amid these minutiae, the larger debate has managed to bypass what I’d consider the hard-won insights that this community has produced on the Iran question over the last several years. That’s a disappointment.

If at First You Don’t Succeed

In the interests of a shot at redemption, here’s some plain American English about Iran’s nuclear program.

(Disclaimer: While the following comes out of years of discussions with scientists and experts, I’m still just speaking for myself.)

1) “To go nuclear.” Anonymous officials like to talk about “going nuclear” without saying what they mean. Just what is it that Iran is supposed to be capable of doing in nine months, five days, and eight hours — give or take thirty-three seconds depending on the sighting of the new moon — that they cannot do now? Making heaps of highly enriched uranium? Presumably not. They’re technically capable of doing that already, and have been for a few years now.

To “go nuclear” could mean, A) to accumulate the knowledge and materials necessary to fashion nuclear weapons. There’s not much left for Iran to do on that front — possibly nothing at all. This is bad, but could be worse.

Or it could mean, B) actually building nuclear weapons in secret. This is worse, but still denies Iran the potential political benefits of owning the bomb.

Or it could mean, C) doing what North Korea did between 2003 and 2009: renouncing treaty obligations, kicking out inspectors, building maybe half a dozen devices, and testing a couple of them. That’s the worst.

Any journalist conversing with a Senior Administration Official who talks about when Iran will “go nuclear” really ought to ask them which of the above things they mean, because they’re very different things.

2) “To break out.” This usually refers to Scenario (B) or (C) above. U.S. intelligence officials like to talk about this subject in terms of timelines, while carefully obscuring their assumptions. That leaves room for a variety of misunderstandings.

Before the Qom facility was exposed in September 2009, many assumed that Iran would someday decide to use its big facility at Natanz to make highly enriched uranium for a bomb, even though its location is known, it’s full of cameras, and international inspectors visit frequently — probably more often than you realize.

As it turns out, though, the intelligence community had a good hunch that the Iranians would actually try to build a secret facility somewhere else instead, far from prying eyes. They even slipped that detail into the much-maligned 2007 National Intelligence Estimate. So it turns out that the official breakout-capability timelines involve activities like excavation and pouring concrete.

That’s not to say that there’s no technical component; it’s possible that the Iranians wouldn’t want to forge ahead until they get an improved breed of gas centrifuges working, because their current ones are terrible and would take a long time to do the work. Whether that sort of thing is factored into the IC’s timelines, I don’t know.

3) “To achieve breakout capability.” My personal favorite. This is related to the distinction between Scenario (A) above and Scenario (B) or (C). The ability to break out is not the same as the intention to do so. And by “intention” I don’t mean “desire” — I mean “intention.” Here’s an example of desire without intention: “I’d really like to ride my motorcycle on a winding mountain road, but it’s too risky.”

The point is, Iran could dig a bunch of holes in mountainsides and even perfect the IR-3 or -4 or -5000 centrifuge, but that doesn’t guarantee that they’d immediately complete a facility or two, quietly commence enrichment operations, build bombs, etc. They might wait for the heat to die down first, or hold the option in reserve against being attacked. By the same token, if they were really prepared to accept the risk, they could have started doing it today or last week or last year at Natanz with the machines they have, and just dared us to bomb it. Breakout is fundamentally a political decision, not a technical threshold.

4) “Playing for time.” And here’s the bottom line. If Iran is going to achieve breakout capability at a hidden facility somewhere — call it Son of Qom — then bombing Natanz won’t address that problem. It’s often asserted, with an air of worldy maturity and sobriety, that a resort to arms will only provide a few years’ breathing room. If Natanz were the only possible place in Iran to set up centrifuges, that would make a certain sense. But it isn’t, so it doesn’t. The truth is closer to the opposite. Iran today is at worst pursuing Scenario (A) or (B). Bombing Natanz is liable to produce Scenario (C), breakout à la Pyongyang, full speed ahead.

The name of the game today isn’t bombing, it’s intelligence. To play for time, we try to catch Iran at building the Son of Qom in preparation for Scenario (B). But when that happens, if we are clever, we won’t bomb Son of Qom, opening the door to Scenario (C). Instead, we’ll shut that sucker down with a press conference. That’s intelligence, too, in the plain sense of the word.


  1. shaheen (History)

    A feeble attempt at redeeming myself and take a look at the Bigger Picture, without using any abbreviation and acronym.

    First, I would have added to your list the expression “nuclear threshold”. Another one that means all things to all people.

    Second, you’re absolutely right about the importance of political choices here. But do not forget that technical progress and political choices feed each other: there is something called momentum in advanced nuclear programs. I can think of at least one nuclear program in history where no strategic decision to “go nuclear” was ever taken (until it was decided to conduct a nuclear test).

    Third, my sense is that most analysts are looking at the infamous Military Option the wrong way. A decision to bomb would be taken if, but only if, a key secret installation (or set of installations) was suddenly discovered. Like a fully operating enrichment plant with P2 churning out 90% material (a Son of Qom, but a fully grown-up one). Or a weaponization facility. Or a fully instrumented cold tests site. Etc.

    • joshua (History)

      And you’re right about the feedback. Get a good helmet and you might take your motorcycle out on that mountain road. Or you might not wait that long, if a friend dared you to do it today.

      In short, it depends on a lot of things. But you already own a motorcycle and already can take it out for a ride — that’s the most important point.

  2. LHX (History)

    Good article; puts everything into perspective and STRUCTURES the situation we’re in today. It’s easier to make hasty and terrible decisions when one is confused.

  3. Alan Mirs (History)

    Excitant and Logical

  4. oogede (History)

    This short post is probably the best writing on the Iranian nuclear issue that i have read. And i read a lot.
    On the basis of this post i agree that you wonks should definitely do more of this sort of analysis. it cuts through the BS of the thinktankers, and pols more than anything else i’ve seen. bravo.

  5. jeannick (History)

    The Israeli media campaign could be a massive exercice of chupatz to misdirect the U.S. from pressing a little on the Palestine issue ,this has been very effective in blocking any feeble U.S. attempts
    One could believe the Iranian would see possession of deliverable nukes as some form of life insurance ,
    there has been a plethora of threats against them
    from people who have quite a track record for carrying them out
    after all had Saddam possessed some , there would have been less gay enthusiasm for a war driven regime change

    Any armed conflict with Iran raise the issue of the straits of Hormuz , a nuclear Iran could certainly create enough of a threat for ship owner to contemplate the sight of a oil supertanker going up in a fire ball ,

    Also , there is an abundance of media froth about the gulf monarchies being suportive of a strike , even up to assisting one eventually .
    That should be taken with a handful of salt , the gulf kingdom , particularly the Saudis , are way too cautious to leave their hand prints on any knifing of the Iranians

    America is far and the Persians are close
    a time honored tradition in the middle east is that one pay his debts back , a murder minded Iran across the water would not be a good prospect for a rather shaky dynasty with a large Shia population all over the Easter province

    • Danny Black (History)

      Sorry that comment makes no sense. Apart from the clearly false assumption that everyone except you is a goldfish, incapable of contemplating two thoughts at the same time, it is obviously false claim that somehow this has managed to divert resources from dealing with the “Palestine issue” – aka one of the least lethal conflicts in the middle east.

      Even making the assumption that there are these host of shadowy people constantly trying to overthrow the Iranian regime, it is not clear why this would be a BAD thing. I guess the reason you have a problem with Israel must be because they don’t hang enough gays or stone enough “adulterers”.

      As for closing the Straits, if a fireball is all it takes then they have plenty of anti-ship missiles so they dont need nukes.Da

    • joshua (History)

      OK. I think enough has been said about this angle.

  6. joshua (History)

    There may be a delay in moderating comments. Apologies in advance.

  7. Mark Gubrud (History)

    Slam dunk.

  8. mark (History)

    “Too often, it seems, we’re just talking to each another in our own special jargon of UF6, SWUs, SQs, LWR, NPT, NFU, BOG, NSG, and so on and so forth”


    It takes a fair bit of effort for someone such as myself, with no knowledge other than having read a few books, and trying to become better informed on these subjects, to even began to understand many of the posts at this site.

    I have concluded that this site is for the most part, not intended to inform /educate people such as myself.

    Which is fine, if that’s the intent of the proprietor.

  9. Will E. (History)


    This is really, really useful. Thanks for posting it. As someone with an interest in foreign policy, who reads a fair bit in this area, I’ve always had a lot of trouble a) understanding the technical side of producing nuclear weapons and b) connecting technical terms (e.g. enriching uranium; operating X numbers of centrifuges; etc.) with their policy consequences.

    To that end, could you recommend (or write?) *plain language* sources describing:

    1. the major steps nuclear weapons creation process, start to finish, with some sense of what can be done in secret and what can’t be concealed; and

    2. where the Iranians are thought to be in that process, based on public information, and what missing parts of information might call that analysis’ final judgment into question.

    It seems that each time I read about the latest breaking revelation on the Iranian nuclear program, I have trouble figuring out what the article is actually saying because I lack the background knowledge.

    The post above was a remarkably useful first step, and I’d very much appreciate explanations in a similar vein.

  10. FSB (History)

    Flynt and Hillary “Leverett have a good piece on Iran in FP”:

  11. Dan Joyner (History)

    Dear Josh,
    This is an excellent post and I agree with your succinct analysis entirely. I’m not a technical NW expert, but rather an international lawyer who writes about NW and related law and organizations.
    For my small part, I did publish something earlier this year which reached a number of the same conclusions you do here, in the Harvard Law and Policy Review. Its an online journal at Harvard and my article can be found at:

    It contains both legal and policy analysis of options for dealing with Iran, including military strike options.
    Perhaps it would be of interest to ACW readers.

  12. BillVZ (History)

    Mr. Pollak,

    Your comment in reference to Goldberg’s article “Israeli officials have tried to keep the Iran nuclear question high on the agenda in foreign capitals for some time now” is certainly spot on.
    As regards “the hard-won insights that “this community” has produced on the Iran question over the last several years (that comes out of years of discussions with scientists and experts),” you have me confused.
    Have your discussions with such folks led you to believe it is an indisputable fact that Iran is in pursuit of nuclear weapons? As you say “the name of the game today isn’t bombing, it’s intelligence.” It is my understanding that the consensus of our so called intelligence agencies, the IAEA and the recent CIA defector ‘who came in from the cold’ that there is even stronger intelligence and evidence to the contrary.
    Does your observation take into consideration “what if Iran (as they maintain) is not even pursuing the weapons?”
    To play for time, and try to catch Iran at building the Son of Qom” is in my opinion hardly an act of intelligence, in the plain sense of the word.
    Mr. Goldberg’s piece and all the hype about uranium conversion, holes in the mountains, high explosives testing and the adaptation of a ballistic missile cone to carry a nuclear warhead is not the real issue for the United States and Israel is it?

  13. LAS (History)

    “B) actually building nuclear weapons in secret. This is worse, but still denies Iran the potential political benefits of owning the bomb.”

    I don’t understand this.

    People say that Israel is smart when it neither denies nor confirms its assumed nuclear weapons.
    What kind of potential political benefits is Israel missing for not officially having nuclear weapons? And how important are those benefits (if there are any at all)?

    Why should this policy be smart for Israel and ineffective for Iran?

    • Nathan (History)

      Assumes that when they say “in secret” it actually stays secret. Israel may maintain a degree of obfuscation about its bombs, but we know they have them, thus there is a political impact.

      However a bomb that we actually do not know about does not affect the political calculus. How do you adjust your behaviour to accomodate something you don’t suspect is there?

    • joshua (History)

      A fair point, but it would be harder to play the “open secret” game from inside the NPT.

  14. Markob (History)

    I agree with all of the above, BUT there is more to US-Iran relations, especially since the Islamic revolution, than the nuclear aspect. The nuclear crisis needs to be viewed within this much richer political context. It would be wrong to suppose, as this post seemingly does and pretty much most nonproliferation community analysis does, that the nuclear aspect forms the core of the standoff between Washington and Tehran. The assumption, that the nonproliferation community naturally makes, that things are otherwise is the main problem here. It’s like assuming that nonproliferation was at the core of US-Iraqi relations after 1991. It wasn’t. The big problem with the study of nonproliferation is that it is a peculiar type of apolitical politics. It is also largely subordinated to US strategic objectives; all the SWU’s and IR-1 and IR-2’s gives off the appearance of scientific objectivity, but this obscures the fact that nonproliferation has become a cottage industry since 1989 because proliferation, as Ken Waltz put’s it, cramps Washington’s style. The very usage of “contributing to the policy conversation” suggests this. To be in the policy conversation requires making some tacit assumptions. If, for example, one assumes that the US has no right to maintain strategic hegemony in the Persian Gulf and should leave the political and economic order of the region to the people of the region themselves then, of course, you are out of the DC “policy conversation.”

  15. Freddy (History)

    We don’t know exactly when Iran will have useful nuclear weapons. But we do know they are working on it with effort and money and diligence.

    Iran has no enemies except those caused by its nuclear weapons program. Saddam is dead. So the intent of the weapons is offensive, not defensive. There are no attackers waiting for Iran to get nukes, so they can be deterred.

    The leaders of Iran are not mentally normal in our terms: They are trying to persuade both Germany and Iran that the Holocaust did not occur. Their vicious antisemitism is an irrationality of its own. And yelling “Death to America” for 30 years is not something you do if you are rational in pursuit of your national interests.

    There are 2 things Iran can do with nuclear weapons:
    1. They can attack Israel. They believe in this so strongly they support both Hamas and Hezbollah. That’s 2 terrorist groups. You’d think one was enough. There is no rational Iranian self-interest here.

    2. They can expand their power to build a small Persian Empire with an oil monopoly by cowing the local petro-states. With a near monopoly on the worlds oil supply, they can then begin to export their Islamic Revolution to Europe and the rest of the world.

  16. Tuvia (History)

    Oh yes, the dreaded “press conference”. Now that will really stop a regime like Iran.

    • joshua (History)

      Indeed. If you trouble to read the IAEA reports, you’ll see that nothing significant has happened at Qom since it was exposed. That’s because a secret facility is useless once it’s no longer a secret. Get it?

    • Johnboy (History)

      “If you trouble to read the IAEA reports, you’ll see that nothing significant has happened at Qom since it was exposed.”

      Hmmmm. Just out of curiousity, did the IAEA find any evidence of anything significant happening at Qom in the months before they asked to be let in to have a look around?

      “That’s because a secret facility is useless once it’s no longer a secret.”

      Well, yeah, I get that point.

      But to claim that “exposing Qom” is what “stopped activity at Qom” is something of a stretch, isn’t it?

      For that to have any credence you need to show that activity was ongoing up until the moment that expose hit the headlines.

      Maybe Qom is just an insurance policy that never needed to be payed out i.e. the Iranians dug a “secret facility” that remained empty, and all for the sensible reason that they never needed to go to Stage II i.e. filling it with “secret stuff”.

    • joshua (History)

      Go read the reports and judge for yourself. They’re all online and written in reasonably direct English.

  17. George William Herbert (History)

    Some criticism of the simplified “B”.

    Iran would gain a range of potential benefits from being an open nuclear power, ranging from national prestige to deterrent effects against potential aggressors (US, Israel), to (in their minds) hopefully more influence over their neighbors.

    If they intend a widely aggressive foreign policy stance, they gain nothing from secret bombs.

    If they intend a defensive stance, or a slow spreading but somewhat aggressive stance, then they gain something from secret bombs (or a breakout capability which is turnkey) – they gain the ability to declare the weapons as a defensive maneuver in a crisis which is focusing against them.

    The latter avoids the negatives of an open program (everyone around them will get much more paranoid about them, real serious sanctions land, etc). It provides much of the defensive advantages of an open program – in that you can, within a crisis, shift to an open stance to deter active military attacks.

    On a separate note – regarding some earlier discussions about Israel, it’s not really correct to list Israel as a non-public program. Israel is a well known nuclear state, which has a public non-confirm-deny stance. That’s tremendously different than the program being truly a secret. It’s a similar calculation to my note above about Iran – Israel going public and open would run the risk of condemnation, and wouldn’t in practical terms increase their deterrent capability (none of the potential aggressors show any doubt as to the credibility of Israel’s nuclear program). Israel retains the option to go public as part of a de-escalating diplomatic program at some future date, to reassure its neighbors and bring in more openness, or to go open with a test as an additional warning in case of a confrontation with someone, or retain its official ambiguity in the absence of either substantial diplomatic developments or crisies.

    • kme (History)

      Interestingly, I think the actions of North Korea coupled with the testing moratorium by the established powers has somewhat dented, if not eliminated entirely, the “national prestige” element of a nuclear weapons program.

      These days, a nuclear weapons program imputes as much, or more, “national lunacy” as it does prestige.

  18. PashaG (History)

    And BTW, the Iranians don’t actually have to achieve “breakout capability” themselvses. They just need to get several nukes and look like they could have built it all themselves.

    Remember, there are North Koreans in this world. They want cash and some deniability (maybe a test of resolve against a very clear provocation just to test their own deterrence). They want money. Iran has lots of it.

    Remember also, Iran was out sourcing the Bomb building with the Syrian operation. They are not stupid and they are in a hurry.

    They high grade enrichment (an plutonium) can be done offsite.

    This makes the targets for the Israelis multidimensional. In other words, expect a decapitation to go along with the first wave.

    • Jack (History)

      It would be difficult and nonsensical for Iran to take a bomb from North Korea and claim it as their own.

      NK is known to have Plutonium reserves, but no weapons grade Uranium (there enrichment program being suspended. Iran, on the other hand, is enriching Uranium. A bomb test would reveal what the bomb was made with and that the material was not developed in Iran.

      Pakistan, OTOH, could conceivably give Iran a bomb just like they did the centrifuges, but why would they want to?

      A country might be willing to transfer one or two bombs, but this would not provide Iran with any benefits. It would get all the drawbacks of proliferating without any real deterrent threat.

    • joshua (History)

      We don’t really know the status of North Korea’s enrichment program, unfortunately. But I do not think they are so generous that they would share either fissile material or a bomb. They’ve actually made some (conflicting) remarks on this subject. But it’s a long story. I hope to publish something soon that touches on this.

  19. joshua (History)

    For the benefit of newcomers, a word about comments.

    As you have surely noticed, this is a moderated comment board. But because of other obligations, I am sometimes slow to moderate comments. Patience is recommended.

    I’m also selective about comments. Guidelines:

    1. There is a presumption that it won’t be posted, not the other way around. Don’t be offended if yours isn’t.

    2. Please don’t assert your opinions or untested hypotheses as facts. We’re not in the business of starting rumors.

    3. If it’s just saying the same things over and over again, it’s probably not going to get posted.

    4. The usual, commonsensical stuff. Don’t be insulting. Don’t slander anyone. And so forth.

    Posts involving Iran, Israel, or both tend to arouse a lot of strong feelings. Comment moderation tends to become more stringent in these cases. We’re trying to have, to the extent possible, a dispassionate discussion about arms control and nonproliferation. With all due respect to commenters’ sincere and strongly held views, I aim to keep these comment boards out of the endless Middle East flame wars.

  20. PashaG (History)

    Untested Hypothesis:

    Your analysis is wrong because it assumes the untested hypothesis that the Israelis must wait until some nuclear progress on the part of the Iranians to launch a strike.

    This is not the case as supported by the facts thay you yourself raise, i.e. that the Israelis are being very public about their sabre rattling. So I agree that a decision is not being made.

    It has already been made. You assume that it hasn’t.

    Whos untested hypothesis is more realistic?

    The Israelis want to mitigate the damage in the court of world opinion of a strike (it this OK to assume?). So what would they do if they knew they were forced into the corner?

    Is there anything realistically to stop the progress of Iran under the Mullahs from achieving their stated nuclear goals?

    Since there is not, then we have the situation that I described.

    From which my conclusion follows:

    There will be war in our time.

    Sit on that thought for a bit. What does it mean about the dynamics to follow?

    And that is why the Dolphines are in the Gulf. They are not there for a deterrent. Against what? What would they deter under the scenario that you have described?

    Does there presence cause the Mullahs to pause the program? Hasn’t so far. Do the Mullahs not know already that Israel has a second strike capability?

    They seemed to already acknowledge that.

    The untested hypothesis is how and what next. That is what is interesting–not imagining somehow that there is a seperate set of facts that can be assumed such that arms control works where it has already abysmally failed.

    And why do you think the North Koreans were in Syria? Is Syria really so desperate itself for the bomb? Where did they get the need? Ideology? Self-defense?

    Who has that need in the ME? Who is a partner of Syria.

    Ergo, what does that say about the Iranian-DPRK connection?

    These are just logical questions that have not been well answered yet. They are not rumors. They are not unsupported hypothesis anymore than all questions are intrisically.

    And yet we draw inferences and conclusions and press forward to test the idea. Which I suggest for all.

  21. Norman Robbins (History)

    Take scenario B, building nuclear weapons in secret. Do we have good information and precedent to assert the likelihood of B if Iran were to accept the Additional Protocol?

    • joshua (History)

      For some reason the above comment got caught in a spam filter. That’s why its appearance was delayed.

      I’m not sure what the intended meaning of the question is. The AP was developed in no small part in response to the IAEA’s experience with Iraq in the 1980s. It would make an important difference but is not a panacea when it comes to detecting hidden sites.

  22. johngalt (History)

    “shut that sucker down with a press conference”

    Just like we ‘shut down’ Saddam with those 17 UN resolutions, right?

    • joshua (History)

      You are aware that Saddam never reconstituted his nuclear program after the Gulf War, right? But that is a very different story. Let’s stay on topic, shall we?

  23. MHF (History)

    The analysis presented by Joshua, like many others, is almost totally one sided, in that it is presented without appreciable understanding of the character of the illegitimate people governing Iran.
    The whole nuclear weapons issue in Iran by current people in charge has only one purpose: to keep themselves in power for as long as eye can see. It has the side benefit of irking U.S. and others, and keeping outsiders worried and occupied with threatened availability of petroleum from Persian Gulf.
    If the current government and their philosophy is understood correctly, the matter could be resolved rather easily. Iranian people’s representative government is the solution to all these worries, even if Iran makes and holds nuclear weapons. The goal should be to do as much as possible in helping Iranians to get rid of the military government in Iran.
    If there is “bombing,” it could easily and soon escalate to the use of nuclear weapons against Iran– I do not see U.S. capability and resolve to have extended fight in Iran similar to what happened in Iraq. Use of nuclear weapons would immediately shut down everything, and end the hostilities, and remove the illegitimate government in Iran, a la Japan.

    • joshua (History)

      I cannot imagine the circumstances under which the U.S. would use nuclear weapons against a country that did not have them. Regardless of the nuances of declaratory policy. It’s not happening. Moreover, the U.S. has zero ambition to fight a land war in Iran. Zero. None. Really. “Cakewalk” arguments no longer get much purchase here.

  24. Bob from Virginia (History)

    Course D, the 12th Iman comes to Ahmandijehad in his sleep, tells him to sail a nuke into NYC and he will be blessed, he wakes up and does so.
    You are logical and rational.
    We are not dealing with logic or rationality here.
    So what if a bombing raid only delays the Mullahs, then have another bombing raid and delay them some more. Sooner or later the regime will fall and hopefully the raids will be unnecessary.
    It seems you are trusting to our intelligence, which has proven that it stinks, and their fear of world opinion.
    It really comes down to using force or not using force to stop them.

  25. joshua (History)

    Maybe. On the other hand, the Supreme Leader might have something to say about that. I don’t think Iranian decision-making can quite be reduced to a single ghostly apparition of Imam Zaman.

  26. hogat (History)

    hi all
    about Iran nuke program:
    1- Iran wont create a bomb but Iran want this capabilities
    for any day maybe country like us Israel Pakistan India that are in Iran orbit decide to invade Iran
    and this capability is right of Iran like this country that have NW.

    2-if us and … attack Iran facilities what happen:
    Iran get good reason and leave NPT after 6 month test nuke weapon with missile.
    at this war Iran not lose . us economy had fallen .
    Iran ignite me and Israel
    and all us base . oil get rise
    Iran have 8 year war with Iraq that supported by west
    but Iran not lose the war

    i now one thing that Iran is in total ready to war
    and if happen . this is big war that us is tested
    and cant imagine what happen

    Iran have not power to war in direction with us
    but have a power with its mean to control the war .

    Iran attack dimona in Israel with out any doubt.

    the war in earth is for us is impossible
    because Iran is big powerful and have 30 million people
    that say thay are ready to death for Iran and for their Islam

  27. hmd (History)

    I have a question, maybe some of the experts here can answer me:
    The Russian Built Iranian nuclear power plant at Bushehr is using VVER 1000 pressurized water reactor. As far as scientific textbooks have mentioned, Plutonium produced by LWRs can not be used for building fission device because of Pu240 poisoning which results in premature chain reaction and fizzling. Does VVER1000 at Bushehr subject to such effects?
    And if the answer is yes, what’s the necessity for safeguards and agreements about return of spent fuel rod back to Russia?
    And if the answer is negative, does that means fuel rods can be changed at short regular intervals without shutting down the reactor? I imagine by some kind of party tricks (I know it’s not possible except on Mission Impossible Movie, but let’s not bond our imagination!) they may switch a few rods at the time and therefore my last question is this: if they could do so how much Pu239 they can get in for example each 30 days from a reactor at this size?
    By the way, dear Joshua, Jeffrey Goldberg clearly defined his meaning on breakout in paragraph 8: “the capacity to assemble more than one missile-ready nuclear device within about three months of deciding to do so”.

    • joshua (History)


      Yes, reactor-grade plutonium can be used in weapons, but it’s suboptimal. See:

      LWRs, generally speaking, aren’t designed for removal of fuel rods without shut-down.

      And yes, I noticed the definition given for breakout in the article. It struck me as somewhat arbitrary. Why three months? Why one device? Why “missile-ready,” as opposed to a test device? With what risk of detection?

  28. hmd (History)

    I want to thank you for your generous answer to my question about LWRs. I’ve been really shaken up, cause I believed there is no direct threat from VVER1000 at Bushehr.
    And about3 months: sure Mr. Goldberg has the exact answer about how he gets that number but it sounds reasonable to me with the heavy momentum of international community in responding to grave situations (for example it took nearly two months after disputed Račak Massacre in Kozovo for NATO to come along with a meaningful response) , three months means just a snap, also two bombs worked once for US to finish the WWII, though these guys wanted it to start WWIII and moreover the last 4 nuclear armed nations ( Israel, S.Africa, India and Pakistan) did not make themselves too much troubles for a long time before conducting a test while enjoying the benefits of nuclear weapons.
    By the way, I can not debate you on that. The attitude of ACW as far as I know is to concentrate on technical and scientific aspects of problems and I can not let myself to disturb this great atmosphere with political issues though I think we are trying to figure out a peaceful technical solution for a political problem, which due the different natures of those games can not be found. Islamic Republic – which I am living there – running a fuel cycle program that does not make any sense except for nuclear weapon production and during past seven years, it have shown , will not leave it at all costs and alongside the most dangerous fact is that they have proved they are not limited themselves to play reasonable in every steps, so this is a problem about political intentions of a certain government which can not be expressed in terms of SWU, Pu240, IR-1 and etc.
    Again thanks for your answers and your time.

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