Jeffrey LewisMore on Iran

Michael Roston notes that, during his time at RANSAC, he sat in on a briefing from someone from Livermore who made the case that the Bushehr is not suitable for a nuclear weapons program.

That technical fact leads to a political conclusion: The natural bargain is to assist Iran in completing Bushehr in exchange for more stringent safeguards and shutting down other, more dangerous elements of the programs.

This, in fact, is the deal on offer by the Europeans:

The Europeans are now ready to promise Iran a whole range of measures, including access to nuclear fuel for its civilian reactors and recognising Iran’s right to a peaceful nuclear power program, according to a seven-page confidential paper the European trio presented to the G8 group of industrialized nations last week in Washington.

“We would support the acquisition by Iran of a light water research reactor,” the paper said, adding that the EU would “be ready to resume negotiations on an EU/Iran trade and cooperation agreement” and back Russia’s building of a nuclear reactor for Iran in Bushehr.

In exchange, Tehran would be expected to indefinitely suspend all uranium enrichment activities.

Sounds like a sensible bargain, but the Bush Administration appears divided over whether or not it can live with a completed Bushehr. Richard Boucher, in refusing to comment on the european proposal, frequently turned back questions about whether the United States would live with European assistance to Iran in constructing the light-water reactor at Bushehr by noting the Administration remained “concerned about Iran acquiring new technologies and capabilities in the nuclear area.”

John Bolton, as usual, has led the assualt on Bushehr, warning that “if Iran should withdraw from the Nonproliferation Treaty (“NPT”) and renounce this agreement with Russia, the Bushehr reactor would produce enough plutonium each year for about 30 nuclear weapons.”

So, you can see that it would be awkward if folks from the national labs were running around stating that Bushehr was relatively proliferation-resistant, given the difficulty of chemically seperating out the impurities.

Perhaps that is why Secretary Abraham is rumored to have shut down all research on the Iran.

I’ve been looking for a decent technical analysis of Bushehr in the public literature, but haven’t found anything.

Update:

Here are a pair of articles that appeared in The Nonproliferation Review 2:3 (Spring/Summer 1995) …

Greg J. Gerardi and Maryam Aharinejad, “An Assessment of Iran’s Nuclear Facilities,” pp 207-213

David Albright, “The Russian-Iranian Reactor Deal,” pp 49-51.

Albright makes the case that Bushehr is a cause for concern, but that US diplomacy should focus on accepting Bushehr in exchange for other restrictions including denying Iran access to a plutonium seperation program.

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