Fear-Mongering Over New IAEA Iran Report Falls Flat

Try as they might, those who are pushing hard for a military attack on Iran under the guise of preventing Iran obtaining nuclear weapons are finding it impossible to whip up enough fear to overcome the media frenzy surrounding the home stretch of the Presidential Election season. Today’s biggest dose of fear-mongering is courtesy of Jodi Rudoren and David Sanger at the New York Times:

For Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the International Atomic Energy Agency on Thursday offered findings validating his longstanding position that while harsh economic sanctions and diplomatic isolation may have hurt Iran, they have failed to slow Tehran’s nuclear program. If anything, the program is speeding up.

But the agency’s report has also put Israel in a corner, documenting that Iran is close to crossing what Israel has long said is its red line: the capability to produce nuclear weapons in a location invulnerable to Israeli attack.

Despite Rudorin and Sanger claiming that Iran is “close” to “the capability to produce nuclear weapons in a location invulnerable to Israeli attack”, a closer examination of both data they present in the article and of the IAEA report itself shows that Iran’s “progress” toward a weapon is precarious at best.

For example, a chart in the Times article shows the proliferation of centrifuges at the Qom facility which is located inside a mountain and presumed to be immune from Israeli (but probably not US) bombs. The figure shows that the total number of installed centrifuges at this facility has increased steadily from 0 in September of 2011 to 2,140 this month. However, the same figure also shows that only 696 of those centrifuges are functioning and the number of functioning centrifuges has not changed over the course of the three reports issued in February, May and August of this year.

The claim that Iran’s program is “speeding up” also looks quite dubious in light of this report from Fredrik Dahl of Reuters:

Iran has sharply increased the number of centrifuges it has in the fortified Fordow bunker, a U.N. report said on Thursday, showing Tehran has continued to expand its nuclear program despite Western pressure and the threat of an Israeli attack.


But the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report said the newly-installed machines, which are not yet operating, were all so-called IR-1 centrifuges – a 1970s-vintage model which has been prone to breakdowns in the past.

Iran has for years been trying to introduce centrifuges with several times the capacity of the IR-1 version it now uses for the most sensitive part of its atomic activities.

If it eventually succeeded in deploying the newer models for large-scale enrichment, it could significantly reduce the time needed to stockpile refined uranium, which can be used to generate electricity or, if processed much further, nuclear explosions.

Nowhere in the Rudoren and Sanger report and only near the very end of Dahl’s report, do we get the most important reminder about Iran’s nuclear material, and even then it is buried while making a different point:

The IAEA, which regularly inspects Iran’s declared nuclear sites, has little access to facilities where centrifuges are assembled and the agency’s knowledge of possible centrifuge progress is mainly limited to what it can observe in Natanz.

That aside about the IAEA regularly inspecting Iranian facilities is hugely important and missing from most media accounts of the push toward an attack on Iran. Here is the relevant passage from the most recent IAEA report (pdf) itself:

Under its Safeguards Agreement, Iran has declared to the Agency 16 nuclear facilities and nine locations outside facilities (LOFs). Notwithstanding that certain of the activities being undertaken by Iran at some of the facilities are contrary to the relevant resolutions of the Board of Governors and the Security Council, as indicated below, the Agency continues to verify the non-diversion of declared material at these facilities and LOFs.

[emphasis added]

IAEA inspectors are onsite at Iran’s nuclear facilities and they confirm that all of Iran’s nuclear material is accounted for, with none being diverted for unknown purposes. Despite all the bluster from the war mongers that Iran is making progress toward a weapon, the fact remains that uranium enrichment still goes only to 20% and not to the 90%+ needed for a weapon, Iran’s functioning enrichment centrifuges are still very old technology and all uranium entering the enrichment process has been accounted for by IAEA inspectors.

With such gaping holes in the claims that Iran is dangerously close to “break out” capability on weapons development, it is no surprise that this latest round of beating the drum for war is being lost in the attention on the upcoming election.

Many years ago, Jim got a BA in Radiation Biophysics from the University of Kansas. He then got a PhD in Molecular Biology from UCLA and did postdoctoral research in yeast genetics at UC Berkeley and mouse retroviruses at Stanford. He joined biosys in Palo Alto, producing insect parasitic nematodes for pest control. In the early 1990’s, he moved to Gainesville, FL and founded a company that eventually became Entomos. He left the firm as it reorganized into Pasteuria Biosciences and chose not to found a new firm due a clash of values with venture capital investors, who generally lack all values. Upon leaving, he chose to be a stay at home dad, gentleman farmer, cook and horse wrangler. He discovered the online world through commenting at Glenn Greenwald’s blog in the Salon days and was involved in the briefly successful Chris Dodd move to block the bill to renew FISA. He then went on to blog at Firedoglake and served a brief stint as evening editor there. When the Emptywheel blog moved out of Firedoglake back to standalone status, Jim tagged along and blogged on anthrax, viruses, John Galt, Pakistan and Afghanistan. He is now a mostly lapsed blogger looking for a work-around to the depressing realization that pointing out the details of government malfeasance and elite immunity has approximately zero effect.
9 replies
  1. greg brown says:

    I am already made nauseous by the drumbeats of a mass-murdering cult getting ready to slaughter hundreds of thousands more people in the name of national security and democracy. Wishing I knew how we could stop it…

  2. joanneleon says:

    They have more 40-year old centrifuges and we know this because they reported it to the IAEA and there is no evidence that they are only enriching to 20% or less, and no evidence that raw materials are being diverted to secret locations and this is the new information that proves that the threat has increased? Really, the journalists who keep pushing this warmongering propaganda should be discredited. Instead the ones who tell the truth are blacklisted.

    Every day this feels more like the year long drum beat to war with Iraq. It feels exactly like it. Long, slow propaganda campaign for months on end where the population does not want to go to war and the dubious evidence and fearmongering is spread and everyone slowly gets desensitized to the idea of invading and/or attacking a country. Will there be a Colin Powell/Jack Straw moment? Who will they call on to do it this time? I think there will be no Colin Powell moment. One day we will wake up to breaking news. For years I did not think it would happen but now I am less sure. Have deals been made for after the election as long as Israel holds off until after November?

  3. Arbusto says:

    From a Minnesota Post article today:

    Speaking at the Non-Aligned Movement summit in Tehran, Khamenei told leaders of developing countries that “the Islamic Republic of Iran considers the use of nuclear, chemical and similar weapons as a great and unforgivable sin. We proposed the idea of ‘Middle East free of nuclear weapons’ and we are committed to it,” Voice of America reported.

    He made the same comment several years ago. Not that Iran should be different than the US where the right hand could care less what the left is doing, but still he’s the power in Iran.

  4. harpie says:

    Thanks for this, Jim. I tried to post some of this information, as well as the Moon of Alabama work, in a comment at the NYT article, but, as expected, it hasn’t been published.

  5. kim says:

    Note also that the times includes a graphic where it refers to 20% enriched uranium as “close to bomb grade”. The NYT is at it again.

  6. OrionATL says:

    maybe it’s time to engage the nytimes public editor with some critical facts the papers’ reporters and editors have choosen to overlook.

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