Jeffrey LewisGet Enriched or Die Tryin' 2

The phat phont reading “get enriched or die tryin” is 5 Cent by Johan Waldenström .

I figured a man as gangsta as Ahmadinejad deserves his own piece.

Do we get to call it Pharsi, now?

Ahmadinejad is not kidding, is he? The Security Council’s August 31st deadline has passed. The Iranian response to the 5+1 has still not leaked, but Iran is still enriching uranium.

I figured I would summarize some of the big stuff.

IAEA Report: Baby, It Ain’t What It Looks Like

As a friend of mine likes to observe, when you say that, it usually is exactly what it looks like.

Still, there is no “smoking gun”—just zero progress made toward resolving the outstanding questions about Iran’s past activities. And the Iranians now seem less than eager to clear them up.

The IAEA report—posted by ISIS—observes a couple of anomolies, including some HEU particles on a container of waste and the loss of continuity over a container of 9.5 tons of UF6. Dafna Linzer reports these are irksome, but not particularly damning.

In particular, the IAEA report confirms that “a small number of particles of natural and high enriched uranium” were found on “equipment had been shown to the Agency in connection with
its investigation into efforts made by the Physics Research Centre (PHRC)” at Lavizan-Shian (or Lavisan, damn I need to pick a standard transliteration)—something rumored back in May and very suspicious. (Elaine Sciolino reports “the nuclear fingerprint of the particles did not match the other samples” citing “an official familiar with the inspections.”)

Paul has the backstory on Lavisan-Shian in Arms Control Today this month.

Oh, and by the way, Linzer alone had the big summary of the IAEA report before it came out—most of us in wonkland found our usual sources unusually stingy.

How Much Progress Have the Iranians Made?

The interesting development is that the Iranians have not made nearly as much progress as expected on their centrifuge program, either because of technical problems or deliberate delays.

David Albright and Jackie Shire explain in the excellent issue brief, Iran’s Centrifuge Program: Defiant but Delayed:

Iran has made limited progress at its Natanz uranium enrichment plant, installing and operating fewer gas centrifuges than expected. Senior Vienna-based diplomats have confirmed to ISIS that Iran may be either delaying deliberately the pace of its work while diplomatic efforts are underway, or is experiencing technical problems with its centrifuge program. It continues to conduct small experiments, and to operate a 164-machine cascade with uranium hexafluoride, but it is not operating this cascade consistently over a sustained period. ISIS has reported previously that Iran appears to be operating the cascade at reduced efficiency and output, yielding smaller quantities of low enriched uranium.

Albright and Shirer also observe that Iran will not begin installing centrifuges at Natanz during this last quarter of 2006. I am pleased to report that I told you so

What Sort of Sanctions Will The US Pursue?

“Expect,” Chris Nelson warns, “renewed emphasis by Treasury on going after trade credits, lending and investments in Iran, which means deepening the current dialogue with the EU and Japan (a replication of the current, increasingly successful efforts against N. Korea).”

The best reporting on possible sanctions ocurred over the summer while the Treasury Department developed its sanctions plan. Dafna Linzer in the Washington Post, Chris Nelson in the eponymous Nelson Report and our own Paul Kerr had the best details.

In May, Linzer reported the sanctions would target Iranian officials and various entities:

The plan is designed to curtail the financial freedom of every Iranian official, individual and entity the Bush administration considers connected not only to nuclear enrichment efforts but to terrorism, government corruption, suppression of religious or democratic freedom, and violence in Iraq, Lebanon, Israel and the Palestinian territories. It would restrict the Tehran government’s access to foreign currency and global markets, shut its overseas accounts and freeze assets held in Europe and Asia.

[snip]

U.S. intelligence agencies have spent months trolling through the personal accounts of Iranian leaders in foreign banks, analyzing Iranian financial systems and transactions and assessing how the government does its banking. They have calculated the amount of foreign investment at stake and even which charities have connections to the Tehran government.

Interestingly, the stumbling point to a sanctions regime is not likely to be the Russians or Chinese—at least not at first. The initial hurdle involves the Europeans and Japanese, who are most likely to feel the sting of sanctions on Iran. Chris Nelson had an excellent summary from mid-June:

In any event, Treasury’s negotiators are reported to be trying to finesse what everyone agrees is the bottom line for Japan…it’s oil dependency on the Middle East generally, and Iran in particular (6% of Japan’s total). Japan is also very involved in Iran’s economy, but Treasury is apparently neither seeking a trade nor an oil embargo…just a financial account cutoff.

Is this likely? The EU is not seen as so vulnerable as Japan, with the UK getting only 1% of its oil from Iran, France 6%, and Italy 9%. Flaws or holes in the US argument are obvious, not least being that Treasury is forced to confess that neither China nor Russia would be covered, much less participate, so their firms could be expected to move into Iran and cheerfully pick up the lost business.

But the question arises whether the EU and Japan, both of which strongly urge Washington to join directly in serious negotiations, are not in fact being given a chance to leverage the US on their bottom line…direct, sincere US negotiations with Iran.

Unfortunately for you, the Nelson Report is not online. But Linzer’s story with Anthony Faiola (Japan Wary Of Plan for Sanctions Against Iran, U.S. Ally Feels Tug of Financial, Energy Ties, June 13, 2006) pretty well captures the essentials.

Paul had two quality in stories in the May and July-August editions of Arms Control Today.

I’ll ask Chris to see if he would mind me putting a couple of the Nelson Reports online. [Chris said okay.]

How You Like Me Now?

Paul Kerr sends along an interview with Mohammad Saeedi (or Sa’idi), deputy head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization who basically said Iran might enrich up to 20 percent.

Iranian officials walked that statement back, but Saeedi isn’t exactly cowed in the interview with Fars (dated August 22, 2006)— the full text of which follows:

Mohammad Sa’idi, deputy head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, has stressed; “Iran will not offer an alternative proposal to the proposed Western package [of incentives].” He added: Iran’s response to the 5+1 nuclear package is very comprehensive, and presents the Europeans with a very suitable opportunity to make an impact.

In a detailed interview with Fars news agency’s foreign affairs correspondent, ,Dr Mohammad Sa’idi, the [Iranian] Atomic Energy Organization’s deputy head for international affairs and member of the nuclear negotiating team, gave the following answer to a question on Iran’s response to Europe’s proposed package [of incentives]: The committees have drawn their conclusions; so, Iran’s response will be given today, 31 Mordad or 22 August.

Of course, Iran’s response to the package is a very comprehensive response, which provides the Europeans with an exceptional opportunity to resume negotiations for the attainment of a final agreement.

He also said that there would be no alternative proposals to the proposed Western package.

Elaborating on the response to the 5+1 package, the deputy head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization said: The basis of the proposal was drawn up by Britain in Esfand [month beginning 21 February]. Later, attempts were made to gain the approval of some other countries for the package, and to add a number of parameters to it. For instance, the proposal regarding cooperation in the construction of the nuclear power plant, which was not in the previous package, was added to the proposal.

Highlighting the many serious ambiguities that exist in the proposal, he said: Iran’s response will highlight these ambiguities. One of the issues concerns the construction of the promised power plant; what are the conditions for it, and which country, and with what guarantees, plans to construct such power plants? Or will the issue become like the previous contracts on Bushehr and Darkhoin [power plants]? Therefore, this issue constitutes one of the problems.

The deputy head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization noted: In addition, the EU’s offer makes no mention of Article 4 of the NPT, which is our absolute right. But only Articles 1 and 2 of the NPT have been mentioned. Does this mean that they are omitting Article 4. The omission of Article 4 means the demise of the NPT. And if any of the two articles are omitted, then the entire substance of the NPT will collapse.

Noting that he sees a very bright future in respect of the nuclear issue, Sa’idi said: The reason for this is clear because the attainment of nuclear technology by the Islamic Republic of Iran is not an exclusive wish of any one group or certain individuals. But it is important to the entire nation and government. Therefore, since it is a general wish, the government has to adhere to the wishes of the nation, express that wish and defend the right of the Iranian people. And as history has shown, victory always belongs to the nations.

He said: Our government stance reflects the very stance and perspective of our people. This has been our strong point, which has helped us reach such stage of technology. Otherwise, had our nation not been on our side in terms of this technology, we would not have even succeeded in realizing the projects that have now become operational; they would have been shelved and forgotten about.

Noting that the Islamic Republic applies its own specific policies to every specific situation, the deputy head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization said: We have adopted specific measures for every scenario. Our dear nation can rest assured that those who are involved in this issue take all aspects into consideration, while safeguarding the nation’s rights, and they will take the correct and wise measures, so that we maintain the technology while advancing the Islamic Republic of Iran and its dear people to a point that is worthy of them.

He noted: In this regard, our broadcast and print media have been playing one of their most important roles. The role played by our media in the nuclear case has been unprecedented.

Some 2,200 person-days inspections of Iran’s nuclear facilities

Assessing the recent developments in Iran’s nuclear projects, Sa’idi said: At present the nuclear projects in the country that have reached an operational stage have started production, and enrichment at a research level is being carried out according to schedule and without any interruption.

Describing the progress in the operations of our country’s nuclear installations, in particular at Natanz, as very satisfactory , he noted: These installations are continuing their operations according to the timetable, and no practical delays have been seen in their operations.

Stressing that “Iran does not restrict itself to any specific system or apparatus in its nuclear programme”, Sa’idi said: On the basis of Article 4 of the NPT we are permitted to carry out research on all nuclear technology systems, and to even reach the production level. Therefore, since there are no legal barriers, we carry out studies on all its related spheres, including a variety of centrifuge machinery, since in the future we must use the best and highest quality machinery.

The deputy head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization added: Countries that are currently engaged in enrichment, started with basic machinery, which they upgraded at every stage, to the extent that now they use the most advanced machinery to produce fuel.

Pointing to the inspections carried out by the IAEA inspectors of our nuclear facilities, he said: The agency inspectors have continuously monitored our developments, and one such inspection was carried out last week.

Regarding a precise figure for the inspections carried out by the IAEA inspectors he said: In the past three years, the inspections carried out by the IAEA translate to about 2200 person-days.

He said the Islamic Republic of Iran has treated the inspectors in accordance with the Safeguard Agreement. He added: At present are relations with the IAEA inspectors is at the highest level; since we are committed to international regulations, there is no need for us to restrict inspections by them.

We cannot suspend nuclear know-how of Iranian experts

Expounding the trend of our countries’ nuclear activities, Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization’s deputy head for international affairs said: The Iranian nation, as a general and definite intention, wants to safeguard this achievement; that is to say in the sphere of constructing nuclear reactors with the aim of meeting the country’s clean and alternative energy requirements, and producing nuclear fuel as a guarantee for the continued operations of nuclear plants that we intend to construct in the future.

Noting that only a few specific countries, including America, are against Iran’s attainment of such technology, he said: This is while a country that is abiding by the Safety Agreement, cannot, to all intents and purposes, be diverted from peaceful programmes. What has taken place in a year in the country’s nuclear operations has been highly remarkable .

In this period, the production of UF6 raw materials reached its industrial level, and is, in effect, being used by our experts as any normal installation.

Remarking that all past problems in the way of operating centrifuges in the sphere of research and development have been totally resolved, he said: At present, and throughout this period, our experts have had no ambiguities in respect of uranium enrichment. The suspension that at present some countries want the Islamic Republic of Iran to enforce is today no longer of any relevance. Perhaps had they raised the issue of suspension a year ago, then it would have been of relevance from a technical aspect, since Iran had at that time not succeeded in resolving the technical problems. But today, as it has come to resolve those technical problems, it has no ambiguities in terms of uranium enrichment. Therefore, this issue [call for suspension] is no longer relevant.

He continued: A more important point concerns the fact that today, thanks be to God, we have succeeded in training capable experts in the country. These capable experts are more significant than our nuclear facilities. The experts that we have in our country today are not just a handful of individuals; they are a large number of individuals who do not think of suspension. We can no longer suspend our expert human resources, because suspension means nothing to these dynamic and conscientious experts.

Bushehr nuclear power plant’s operational timetable to be finalized soon

Elsewhere in the interview, noting that the Bushehr nuclear plant has progressed by 93 per cent, he said: The main facilities in the nuclear plant, including a camera, steam generators, and reactor heart, have all been installed. In fact, there are only a few side installations remaining that will be put in place in the next few months.

He added: The problems that we have been facing, particularly in the past two years, concerned the Russian contractor that had build the power plant. The management and structural changes that have taken place at that company, which constantly changed the company from a state-controlled to a private one, hence the change in management, caused an unacceptable delay in the operation of the Bushehr power plant.

Concerning [Head of Russia’s Nuclear Energy Agency Sergey] Krinko’s visit to Iran and the agreement reached on the establishment of a working group to draw up a mutually-agreed timetable for the completion of the power plant, he said: This working group has met and drawn up a timetable. This timetable will be studied this week during the visit by Engineer Jannatian, who heads the working group, to Russia. Then, Engineer Aqazadeh will visit Russia in the near future, during which he will finalize the timetable with Mr Krinko.

He noted: This timetable includes both the time for the transfer of fuel to Bushehr nuclear plant and the definite time of making the plant operational.

Sa’idi noted: In the opinion of the Iranian side, if the Russian firm soon resolves the management and structural problems, the power plant can become operational sooner than predicted by the Russian side. At present, thanks to the cooperation of the Iranian side, the technical work has achieved remarkable progress.

Regarding enrichment on Russian soil, he said: The project was first proposed at a time when it could have been highly effective. But now, in view of the Security Council resolution, the project must be re-examined to see if it can be as effective as it was originally.

Heavy water project to become operational in the very near future

Regarding the latest initiatives taken, in accordance with the 20-year perspective and the fourth development plan, for the construction of new power plants, he said: The projects that were planned since 1376 [1997] have gradually taken shape and reached a clear stage; in fact they are now at an operational stage. With regards to the fuel issue, there were three stages that we had to go through. The first stage involved the discovery and extraction of uranium, and the production of yellow cake, part of which is being implemented in Bandar Abbas and has reached operational phase; another part is being implemented in Saghand mine in Yazd, which will be made operational in the very near future.

He continued: The second stage is the production of UF6 or Esfahan’s UCF facilities, which have become operational. And the third stage concerns enrichment, regarding which we have achieved remarkable progress in the research and development sector. The country has bypassed the obstacles to that technology and has now attained advanced know-how.

The member of the negotiating team emphasized: Thanks to the production of nuclear fuel, we have, in fact, realized our initially designed targets. Moreover, we had two projects in the heavy water sector. One was the heavy water production project, the executive work for which began in 1377 [1998] and will, God willing, become fully operational in the very near future. This project is a great source of pride for the Iranian nation – In fact, Iran will be recognized as the ninth country in the world that possess a heavy water production complex.

Regarding the benefits of that project, Sa’idi said: Heavy water has many benefits. Not only it is used in reactors as a cooling and slowing agent, it is also of remarkable effect in treating life-threatening diseases such as cancer. He added: Alongside this massive project, there is the heavy water research reactors project, the construction stages of which is progressing well.

We will research all kinds of centrifuge machinery

Regarding allegations by the former German foreign minister, Joschka Fischer, that Iran does not need heavy water reactor and the antiquated centrifuge machinery, he said: With regards to heavy water reactor, our aim is totally clear; we proceed on the basis of what we had told the agency. Owing to its size and population, our country is obliged to produce isotopes and radiotopes for industrial, agricultural and, in particular, medical purposes. The Iranian Atomic Energy Agency is the supplier of the basic materials for the diagnosis of many life-threatening diseases to all the country’s hospitals . A significant section of these radiotopes is produced by Tehran’s five-megawatt research reactor and placed at the disposal of hospitals.

Noting the old age of Tehran’s research reactor, he said: Due to its old age, Tehran’s five-megawatt research reactor should, in principle, be set aside in the next five years.

So, in the recent years we looked at the issue and discovered that no country is willing to supply Iran with a new research reactor. Therefore, we were forced to design and build the reactor ourselves thanks to local design and expertise.

He continued: Perhaps Mr Fischer is not technically aware of such issues. But, from a technical viewpoint, a 40-megawatt research reactor contains two key scientific technical capability: one is heavy water, since no country is willing to offer its heavy water to another unless they have an agreement to that effect, since heavy water is itself a special agent; second is that we do not need enriched uranium in research heavy water reactors, and merely need UO2. In other words, Esfahan installations could produce that agent. Therefore, unlike in research light water reactors, which need over 20 per cent enriched fuel, we basically do not require enriched fuel for heavy water reactors. In other words we could use uranium oxide as fuel for these reactors – be they power or research reactors.

Pointing to the technical know-how for such reactors, the member of Iranian negotiating team said: Such reactors could be indigenous, which would be more cost-effective and justified. On the other hand, the research heavy water reactor could pave the way for us to build power heavy water reactors in the future.

Regarding Mr Fischer’s claim that our centrifuge machinery is very old, he described his claim as a technical error on the part of Mr Fischer.

Noting that Iran does not restrict itself to first, second or third generation machinery, he said: We will conduct research in all kinds of centrifuge machinery that could offer better and higher quality and which are more compatible with our indigenous expertise.

An international nuclear tender will take place at an appropriate time

Regarding an announcement for an international nuclear tender, he said: We have prepared the preliminary documents for two 1000-megawatt nuclear plants. All capable national and international companies can take part in this international tender without any restrictions. As regard the date, I hope that the conditions will become ripe for us to announce it. So, we are awaiting a suitable opportunity to announce a date for the international nuclear tender in the not too distant future.

Regarding the next Security Council resolution, he said: Whatever the content of the next resolution, and whenever it may be issued, it will most certainly have no bearing on the resolve of the Iranian nation and government to pursue the nuclear programme. They have tested the Iranian nation in the hardest of circumstances. Therefore, whatever the circumstances, our nation will adapt itself well to those circumstances. The beloved Iran will remain proud and victorious.

Comments

  1. Andrew (History)

    “Previous traces were found to have been the result of used and discarded centrifuge equipment the Iranians bought from Pakistan. Officials at the IAEA said privately yesterday that the new contamination appears to be from old spent fuel the Iranians moved out of harm’s way during their eight-year war with Iraq.”—WaPo

    Hot Air then asks:”Forgive a possibly stupid question, but how and why would highly enriched uranium have contaminated Iranian equipment 20 years ago?”

    Is Hot Air right or full of hot air?

  2. Jeffrey Lewis

    Perhaps full of hot air—but that’s okay.

    Spent fuel contains U-235, which can be recovered through chemical reprocessing.

    I don’t really understand environmental sampling techniques, so I mention it as only a possibility—we’ll have to wait for the final result of the testing.

  3. pete

    I find the mentioning of the HEU traces on the waste container (NOT equipment, that is the HEU found on the PHRC equipment, a fully different matter) without proper explanation in the IAEA report questionable. Most readers will be laymen who will only read that HEU has been found in Iran and therefore will get very excited. However, there is no reason yet to believe that this is the remnant of a clandestine activity or part of nuclear weapons activities.
    As far as I understand (comments very welcome), to produce plutonium it is natural or depleted uranium that is irradiated, because it is U238, abundant in natural and even more in depleted uranium, which can capture a neutron in this process and turns into Pu238. So one would never use HEU with lots of U235 to produce Plutonium. No one who want to build a bomb would use HEU to produce weapons plutonium! The HEU must have been irradiated for an other reason, which seems likely to be use in a research reactor. And it is known Iran used HEU legally and safeguarded in a research reactor. (Just cannot think of a good source for that rifgt now) So when ”Officials at the IAEA said privately yesterday that the new contamination appears to be from old spent fuel the Iranians moved out of harm’s way during their eight-year war with Iraq”, this seems a very plausible explanation.

    The problem with the IAEA reports is that they mention the “facts” but do not explain that the facts are not always as particularly suspicous as they seem. I am sure these HEU particles will be mentioned now often and by many as clear indications of Iran’s nuclear weapon intent. It already leads to confusion amongst us wonks! Excellent ammunition therefore for Fleitz and Bolton and the House of representatives intel committee.
    I am much more interested in this Physics Research center. It has already been mentioned in a 1998 report: “Western intelligence officials allege that the Physics Research Center (PHRC) is the site of attempts to produce fissile material and the German intelligence agency Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND) lists it as an Iranian procurement front. The PHRC is where Iran has tried to buy or build uranium enrichment centrifuges since at least the early 1990s.”

    The now discovered HEU traces seem to confirm the allegations made in 1998!
    Oh and spent fuel may contain U235, and that may be recovered, but what has that to do with this issue? I might be somewhat concerned that some of the HEU (which by the way can also be just 20% enriched uranium!)has not been safeguarded well. How else could and up at an for the IAEA unexpected place.

  4. Jeffrey Lewis

    Re: the U235, I only meant that one explanation is a fission product. No idea whether that would trigger the finding or the particles were from some other — as I noted, I don’t know enough about the testing process and we would have to wait.

    Anyway, as you point out that only distracts from the confirmation of rumors dating back to may about HEU on equipment from Lavisan-Shian, which Iranian officials claimed was to “support and provide scientific advice and services to the Ministry of Defence”; that “no nuclear material declarable in accordance with the Agency’s safeguard[s] was present”; “no nuclear material and nuclear activities related to fuel cycle [were] carried out in Lavisan-Shian”; and then razed in a rather suspicious manner.

  5. hass (History)

    It should be noted taht the “Transparency” section in that the report refers to demands by the IAEA that go “well beyond” Iran’s existing safeguards obligations. Iran provided that sort of access for a while but pulled back after the EU breached the terms of the Paris Agreement negotiations.

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