Jeffrey LewisSure Is a Nice Package

So, by now, everyone knows that a draft version of the 5+1 offer to Iran is available on the “internets”.

I spent most of the day making phone calls and have a pretty decent idea how the document hit the press. The important thing, as I noted yesterday, is that the document is the penultimate draft, rather than what the Iranians received.

For example, the draft document contains a reference to the “territorial integrity” of Iran—something that diplomats told Reuters is not part of the final package.

The draft, however, does provide some ability to compare descriptions of the package in the New York Times, Washington Post, and Associated Press.

Enrichment In Iran?

The big question is whether the package will allow Iran to enrich uranium in Iran, or just in Russia. WaPo’s Karl Vick and Dafna Linzer broke this story, quoting an anonymous US official:

We are basically now saying that over the long haul, if they restore confidence, that this Iranian regime can have enrichment at home. But they have to answer every concern given all that points to a secret weapons program.

(State Department flack Sean McCormick managed to confirm the offer was “part of that package” while insisting that “we’re not going to talk about the details of what’s in the package.” Smooth.)

Now, this was a big story, given that the Administration officials had clearly stated that the US goal was the permanent cessation of all enrichment and reprocessing. Now we learn that there might be some conditions under which we would allow the Iranians to go hog wild with enrichment, namely:

  • confirmation by the IAEA that all outstanding issues and other international concerns have been resolved and that it is in a position to conclude that there are no undeclared nuclear activities in Iran or diversion of nuclear materials;
  • demonstration by Iran that any new activity in the nuclear field is linked to a credible and coherent economic rationale in support of the existing civilian power generation programme;
  • and decisions by the IAEA BoG and UNSC that all of Iran’s obligations have been met and that international confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran’s civil nuclear programme has been restored.

Helene Cooper dedicates several column inches of New York Times real estate to the lofty purpose of allowing anonymous Bush Administration officials to explain the novel concept of temporary permanence:

This is a small conceptual step because they accept the notion that someday in some circumstances—maybe in 30 years when the mullahs disappear—there could be the end of a moratorium.

Cooper might have pointed out that isn’t what the package actually says, which would suggest either the anonymous official isn’t telling the truth or the offer isn’t in good faith.

Um, guys, did we forget the Heavy Water Reactor?

Iran is building a heavy water reactor near Arak. Just in case you forgot the details, let me remind you:

Once fully operational, the Arak reactor can produce about nine kilograms of weapon-grade plutonium each year, or enough for about two nuclear weapons each year. Because of concerns about the potential misuse of this reactor, the IAEA’s Board of Governors called on Iran to halt construction of the Arak reactor in a resolution adopted February 4, 2006.

ISIS annotated a lovely photo essay.

You might think the Bush Administration would demand that Iran stop construction on this reactor—which Bob Joseph described as well suited and John Bolton as optimal for the production of weapons grade plutonium—especially given our offer to build Iran light-water reactors.

You’d be wrong.

Frankly, I am baffled that the Bush Administration would allow Iran to keep building the heavy water reactor near Arak.


  1. frank

    anybody know where I can get a copy of the latest IAEA report emailed today (6/8/09)?

  2. Jeffrey Lewis
  3. Andy (History)

    Yeah, that is strange Arak is missing. Perhaps the intention is to prevent reprocessing. I’m not too familiar with the Arak facility, but it would have to be justified by this clause: “demonstration by Iran that any new activity in the nuclear field is linked to a credible and coherent economic rationale in support of the existing civilian power generation programme.” Will Iran be able to justify a heavy-water research reactor? I don’t see what civilian technology the Arak reactor will provide that Iran’s other research reactors cannot.

  4. Yale Simkin (History)

    “Will Iran be able to justify a heavy-water research reactor?”

    I suspect that the Iranians would say that they won’t be hostage to imported LEU or enrichment facilities that could be rendered unusable at the whim of outside powers.

    The HWR runs on natural uranium.

  5. hass (History)

    So while the offer claims to respect Iran’s rights under Art 4 of the NPT, it gives someone somewhere (US? EU? UN? IAEA? Russia?) a veto power over enrichment in Iran, based on the vaguely-defined standard of “credible and coherent economic rationale” for enrichment, or Iran meeting its unidentified “international obligations.”

    Sure, that’ll fly.

    Incidentally, do the facilities shown by the BBC here look like a hydroelectric dam rather than nuclear centrifuges?

  6. Jeffrey Lewis

    I’ve seen that picture before and have no idea what it is.

  7. Lisa Simpson (History)

    I have seen video and still photos from inside centrifuge facilities at the Natatz. This is not it. My guess is that it is from the electricity production building at Bushehr and is labeled by the BBC and “Iran” and “Nuclear”.

  8. frank

    Lisa- is that video and pics the ones released by IRNA? I’ve seen the pics but not the video- is it available somewhere? thanks

  9. Andy (History)

    The picture shows the turbines inside the generating facility at Bushehr. Here’s another view:

    As for the Arak reactor, of course it will run on natural uranium. The Iranians call it a research reactor, which seems logical since it will only have a 40MW output. The question is, what purpose does it serve in a peaceful, civilian nuclear program?

  10. yale

    The question is, what purpose does it serve in a peaceful, civilian nuclear program?”

    From NTI:

    Nuclear Facilities
    Location: Arak
    Subordinate to: AEOI
    Size: 40MW
    Primary Function: Nuclear research
    On 5 May 2003, the Iranian authorities informed the IAEA of its intention to construct a heavy water research reactor at Arak. Construction of IR-40 is planned to begin in 2004. IR-40 is a planned 40MW Heavy Water Reactor that will use natural UO2 fuel and heavy water as both cooler and moderator. The AEOI will use IR-40 for research and development, radioisotope production, and training. To meet the isotope production requirements, Iranian officials believe that the reactor must have a neutron flux of 1013 to 1014 n/cm2/s. This would require a reactor capable of producing 30-40MW (th) when using UO2 as fuel. The decision to produce a heavy water reactor was made in the mid-1990s.

    Key Sources:
    [1] “Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement in the Islamic Republic of Iran,” International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), 6 June 2003, p. 3.
    [2] “Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement in the Islamic Republic of Iran, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), 26 August 2003, p. 8.

    Again, as I said before, the cover-story justification for the reactor is for (huge) radioisotope production and for development of an non-embargoable type of plant. With homegrown D2O and Nat U, then they have the potential to copy India. No need for enriched fuel and LWRs.

    BS of course, but with the fatal (and totally unnecessary) promotion of “civilian” atomic power in the NPT, a perfect bulletproof cover for weaponizing is provided.


  11. hass (History)

    What purposes do research reactors usually serve? Anyway
    I have heard various estimates on how many nukes the Arak reactor can “potentially” make—1 or 2 per year. Not exactly an efficient way of building a nuclear weapons arsenal, esp. since it is under iAEA safeguard. At that rate, it would take Iran 200-400 years to match Israel’s arsenal. I remember that the Iranians had said that they had set out to investigate both the heavy water and the enriched uranium route for nuclear energy, not knowing which one would pan out due to sanctions etc.

  12. mark gubrud (History)

    I’ve often wondered why Arak has been so little mentioned, since it would appear to put the last nail in the coffin of any pretense that Iran’s nuclear program is “purely peaceful” in intent. But plutonium production and reprocessing is probably a longer and tricker road to bomb capability than uranium centrifuges, and harder to do covertly. Construction at Arak has only just begun. If a deal is cut now, even if primarily focused on the uranium issue, it will certainly provide a foundation for addressing Arak and plutonium production, or for renewing accusations against Iran, at some later date.

  13. Allen Thomson (History)

    > With homegrown D2O and Nat U, then they have the potential to copy India.

    Let us not forget that natural uranium/D2O reactors also are a source of tritium. Tritium (plus deuterium) is the MSG of nuclear weapon design.

  14. yale

    “Tritium (plus deuterium) is the MSG of nuclear weapon design.”

    Very true. A properly designed fission bomb need only reach ~1/3 of a kiloton to trigger DT boosting and go to full yield.

    This has 3 important ramifications.
    1) It multiplies the number of weapons that can be made from the same fissile inventory, and
    2) Much smaller weapons, needing only minimal compression, enables easier missile integration.
    3) Boosted weapons are essentially pre-detonation-proof. This would allow Iran to use high-burnup plutonium from LWRs without a performance penalty.

    The downside is that a country would not feel comfortable with boosted designs without at least one test.

    In any event, a nation thinking ahead would want to begin 3H production ASAP.


  15. James (History)

    In case you missed it, AFP came out last week with a detailed list of elements in the final proposal handed over to Iran.