20% enriched uranium

Latest Parchin Accusation: Centrifuges!

At long last, a conspiracy theory on Iran’s Parchin site has surfaced that is too crazy to have come from David Albright and his merry band at the Institute for Science and International Security. Recall that Iran has played the ISIS folks expertly on Parchin, giving them a series of interesting things to look at in satellite images of the site. Iran’s manipulations hit their high point when they covered a number of buildings in pink tarp, provoking an especially cute level of concern over just what those tarps might be hiding.

The folks at Debka.com, though, have put themselves firmly into the position of world leaders when it comes to Parchin conspiracy theories. You remember the Debka folks, they are the ones who initially claimed that Israel’s Iron Dome had successfully shot down two incoming missiles when it turns out that the explosions that were heard were actually just Iron Dome misfiring in the absence of any incoming fire earlier this month.

Here is Debka’s glorious new theory, which follows on their recounting of the recent news that Iran has actually moved faster than the initial schedule in the interim agreement with the P5+1 powers on removing its stock of 20% enriched uranium and that they will redesign the Arak reactor to produce less plutonium:

But only on the face of it: This scenario ignore Tehran’s duplicity and conveniently passes over the sudden spurt in Iran’s production of low, 5-percent grade enriched uranium and the covert smuggling of the surfeit to the Parchin military facility of near Tehran for its secret upgrade to 20 percent, a level which can be rapidly enriched to weapons grade.
So with one hand, Tehran has reduced its low-grade enriched uranium stocks, but with the other, has smuggled a sizable quantity of those stocks for further enrichment to a facility barred to nuclear watchdog inspectors.

DEBKAfile’s intelligence sources reveal that 1,300 kilos of low-grade material has been transferred to Parchin and 1,630 advanced centrifuges have been installed there for rapid upgrade work.

Okay, then. Even though every single report from the IAEA has shown that every bit of uranium enriched by Iran has been accounted for and that none has been diverted (see this article from 2012 fear-mongering that grudgingly admits no diversion of material), Debka now wants us to believe that since Iran is removing its stock of 20% enriched uranium, it is doing so as a way to hide their diversion of over a ton of uranium that has been enriched to 5%. Oh, and at the same time, they have secretly installed 1630 centrifuges at Parchin.

But then the Debka conspiracy really starts to fall apart. It appears that they are only claiming that Iran will use these 1600 secret centrifuges to enrich the 5% uranium to 20%, rather than taking it to weapons grade of more than 90%. If we use the standard figures of approximately 25 kg of weapons grade uranium for one bomb and the numbers in this article (where one ton of natural uranium feed leads to up to 130 kg of 5% uranium and then 5.6 kg of weapons grade material), then 1300 kg of 5% uranium could be enough for two bombs.

It’s a good thing Debka is only claiming that conversion from 5% to 20% enrichment would be carried out with these secret centrifuges at Parchin, because getting to weapons grade with so few centrifuges in any sort of reasonable time frame is problematic. If we consult this document from Albright’s group, Figure 1A (on page 5 of the pdf), we see graphs for the amount of time needed to get to 25 kg of weapons grade uranium under scenarios of various numbers of centrifuges and various amounts of 20% enriched uranium. With Debka’s new conspiracy, if they were positing breakout to weapons grade, then we need to start at zero 20% uranium available and look between the 1000 and 2000 centrifuge scenarios. For 1000 centrifuges, ISIS calculates just over 24 months to produce one bomb’s worth of material, while for 2000 centrifuges, that time drops to 14 months. Interpolating for 1600 centrifuges would give us about 20 months of secret work with these 1600 secret centrifuges using 1300 kg of material secretly hidden from a previously perfect mass balance of Iran’s enrichment work.

Iran has already responded to this wild claim by Debka: Continue reading

IAEA Confirms Iran Has Halted Uranium Enrichment to 20%

Today, the IAEA has confirmed that Iran has discontinued enrichment of uranium to 20%, and has complied with the additional steps required at the beginning of the historic agreement between Iran and the P5+1 group of nations. By implementing the interim agreement, Iran has triggered the start of the six month period for negotiation of a final agreement that will be aimed at providing verifiable assurance that Iran does not seek to develop a nuclear weapon.

Fredrik Dahl reports:

Iranhas halted its most sensitive nuclear activity under a ground-breaking deal with world powers, a confidential U.N. atomic agency report reviewed by Reuters on Monday showed, paving the way for the easing of some Western sanctions.

Western states were expected to ease sanctions later on Monday after the United Nations nuclear watchdog confirmed Iran is meeting its end of the bargain under a November 24 interim accord to resolve a decade-old dispute over its nuclear program.

Thomas Erdbrink has more:

Inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog, arrived in Tehran two days ago to begin validating the deal, Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, said in a statement reported by the state-financed broadcaster Press TV.

/snip/

In Washington, the State Department said in a statement on Monday: “Today, the International Atomic Energy Agency provided a report on the current status of Iran’s nuclear activities, focused on the steps Iran has committed to take by or on the first day of implementation of the joint plan of action. The United States, our P5+1 partners, and the E.U. are now studying this report. We will have further public comment after all parties have had the opportunity to review the report.”

The Washington Post reports that Iran confirms it has halted the most sensitive activities:

Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization and a former foreign minister, said in an interview on state television Monday that the deal with world powers over Iran’s nuclear activities was a victory for the Islamic republic.

Speaking of Western powers, and the United States in particular, Salehi said: “We know that they have power and do not wish us well. They wanted to put pressure on us with sanctions, but we were able to manage the situation well.”

Salehi, who holds a doctorate in nuclear engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said Iran does not need to continue the 20 percent sensitive uranium enrichment program to maintain what he said are his country’s peaceful nuclear activities. The deal allows Iran to continue enriching uranium to 5 percent.

“Now the iceberg of sanctions is crumbling while our centrifuges are still also working. This is our greatest achievement,” he said.

Returning to Dahl’s report, we have more details on the report that was filed today by the IAEA (it is only two pages and can be read here):

The IAEA said Tehran had begun the dilution process and that enrichment of uranium to 20 percent had been stopped at the two facilities where such work is done.

“The Agency confirms that, as of 20 January 2014, Iran … has ceased enriching uranium above 5 percent U-235 at the two cascades at the Pilot Fuel Enrichment Plant (PFEP) and four cascades at the Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant (FFEP) previously used for this purpose,” its report to member states said.

It was referring to Iran’s two enrichment plants, at Natanz and Fordow. Cascades are linked networks of centrifuge machines that spin uranium gas to increase the concentration of U-235, the isotope used in nuclear fission chain reactions, which is found in nature at concentrations of less than 1 percent.

Iran now stands to reap about $7 billion in sanctions relief that will phase in over the coming six months, provided that negotiations continue and that Iran continues to adhere to the terms of the interim agreement.

War mongers and backers of Israel are distinctly unhappy, but at least for now, peaceful negotiations have taken major steps toward making the world a safer place.

Historic P5+1 Interim Agreement With Iran Buys Time for Permanent Solution

There will be much weeping and gnashing of teeth by Bibi (Red Line) Netanyahu, war mongers John (Bomb, Bomb, Bomb, Bomb, Bomb Iran) McCain and Lindsey Graham and paid MEK shills throughout Congress today because an agreement was reached early Sunday morning local time in Geneva, culminating a process that has been over ten years in the making to seek a peaceful route to preventing any weapons development in Iran’s nuclear technology. Although this is only an interim agreement, it takes significant steps toward making it much more likely that any move by Iran to construct a weapon would be detected and would take longer. More or less simultaneously with the announcement of the agreement, AP reported that the US and Iran have been engaging in secret bilateral talks since March, well before Rouhani’s election this summer.

A fact sheet on the agreement is posted at the White House web site.

Concern over Iran’s nuclear program had ratcheted up in early 2012 when Iran significantly increased its rate of production of uranium enriched to 20%. That concern arose because 20% enriched uranium is technically much easier to take the remaining way to the 90%+ needed for a weapon. Before that point, most of Iran’s work had been directed toward uranium enriched below 5%. Netanyahu’s famous “red line” applied to the stockpile of 20% enriched uranium that would be needed to produce sufficient weapons grade uranium for one nuclear bomb. Significantly, the agreement reached today stops all of Iran’s enrichment to 20% and calls for Iran to either dilute back to below 5% or convert to a chemical form that makes it much harder to convert to weapons grade all of Iran’s stock of 20% uranium. In addition to halting enrichment to 20%, the agreement also prevents Iran from increasing its stockpile of uranium enriched to up to 5%.

Recall that when the IAEA’s latest report came out, I noted that Iran had been showing restraint since the beginning of 2012 by not committing any of the new centrifuges it was installing to actual enrichment activity. Further, no new centrifuges had been installed since Rouhani’s election. The agreement reached today includes a commitment by Iran to take steps to reduce the the number of centrifuges that are available for enrichment, among other restrictions on centrifuges. From the fact sheet:

Iran has committed to halt progress on its enrichment capacity:

·         Not install additional centrifuges of any type.

·         Not install or use any next-generation centrifuges to enrich uranium.

·         Leave inoperable roughly half of installed centrifuges at Natanz and three-quarters of installed centrifuges at Fordow, so they cannot be used to enrich uranium.

·         Limit its centrifuge production to those needed to replace damaged machines, so Iran cannot use the six months to stockpile centrifuges.

·         Not construct additional enrichment facilities.

My initial understanding of the reductions in centrifuges would apply only to those centrifuges that had been installed but were not yet in use. By consulting the actual IAEA report (pdf) from earlier this month, I calculated that there are roughly 15,660 centrifuges installed at Natanz, with about 9048 of them in use. That means there are an excess of 6612 centrifuges installed but not being used. Half of those would be about 3306 centrifuges to be made unavailable. At Fordow, there are about 2976 centrifuges installed, with 744 in operation. Of the 2232 extra centrifuges there, 1674 are to be made unavailable. Combining the numbers for the two facilities, Iran would be giving up access to 4980 centrifuges under this understanding of the agreement.

However, the fact sheet states quite clearly that the reductions apply to all installed centrifuges. With that as the case, then the reduction is much more dramatic, with 7830 centrifuges being made unavailable at Natanz and 2232 at Fordow, for a total of 10,060 centrifuges being made unavailable. These numbers seem to reduce the centrifuges actually being used for enrichment at Natanz, with the number going down from 9048 to 7830. This reduction of 1200 or centrifuges does seem to match with the number shown in the graph in Annex II of the November IAEA report that are associated with enrichment to 20%, so it would appear that those centrifuges are being shut down entirely rather than being shunted back to enrichment to 5%.

Of course, promising these changes is one thing, but verifying them is critically important. The agreement comes with much greater access to Iranian facilities by IAEA inspectors. Returning to the fact sheet: Continue reading

With Deal in Sight, Pressure Mounts on All Sides for P5+1, Iran

Fars News reports that Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and Catherine Ashton, chief negotiator for the European Union, will meet for lunch tomorrow just before the next round of P5+1 talks with Iran kick off in Geneva later in the afternoon. But even though an interim agreement that would freeze Iran’s current nuclear work in return for a release of some impounded funds to Iran while a longer term agreement is finalized seems more likely than not, those who oppose any deal are desperately lashing out at the last minute. This morning, two bomb blasts near the Iranian embassy in Beirut killed more than twenty and injured well over a hundred. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ramped up his rhetoric even further, making the outrageous claim that Iran has on hand sufficient uranium enriched to 5% to make up to five bombs within a few weeks of a “breakout”. Meanwhile, US President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry seem to have quelled for now any Congressional attempts to ratchet up sanctions ahead of this week’s negotiations, but should no agreement emerge this week, look for Washington politicians to race one another to see who can introduce the most severe new sanctions.

Although Beirut has seen several attacks back and forth recently with various Sunni and Shia groups attacking one another, the timing of today’s blasts suggest that the nuclear negotiations may be a target, as well. The Reuters article informs us that an al Qaeda group has claimed responsibility:

A Lebanese-based al Qaeda-linked group known as the Abdullah Azzam Brigades claimed responsibility for what it described as a double suicide attack on the Iranian mission in southern Beirut.

Lebanon has suffered a series of bomb attacks and clashes linked to the 2-1/2-year-old conflict in neighboring Syria.

Security camera footage showed a man in an explosives belt rushing towards the outer wall of the embassy before blowing himself up, Lebanese officials said. They said the second explosion was caused by a car bomb parked two buildings away from the compound.

But the Syrian information minister goes further, blaming Israel and Saudi Arabia for supporting the attack:

Syrian Information Minister Omran Zoabi implicitly blamed Saudi Arabia and Qatar for supporting radical militants, who have been accused for previous attacks against Shi’ite targets.

Just as they have been working together to arm and fund Sunni fighters for Syria, Israel and Saudi Arabia have joined together to fight against any agreements between the West and Iran on nuclear technology.

The pending deal on Iran’s nuclear technology has been described by Al-Monitor: Continue reading

IAEA Report Shows Iran Halting Expansion of Nuclear Program — Slowdown Began Before Rouhani Elected

Despite a near-miss last weekend on an agreement between Iran and the P5+1 group of nations, a report released yesterday by the IAEA shows that Iran has already carried out several of the steps that such an agreement would have called for. The news is good enough that Joby Warrick even opens with a hopeful tone:

Iran appears to have dramatically slowed work on its atomic energy program since the summer, U.N. officials said Thursday. The report could add momentum to diplomatic efforts to resolve a decade-old dispute over Iranian nuclear activities.

The report by the International Atomic Energy Agency said Iran all but halted the installation of new centrifuges at its uranium enrichment plants beginning in August, the same month that moderate cleric Hassan Rouhani was sworn in as president. Work on a controversial nuclear reactor also slowed, the U.N. watchdog agency said. Iran continued producing low-enriched uranium, but at a slightly reduced rate, it said.

Similarly, the New Times also finds the report encouraging and associates the improvement with the election of Hassan Rouhani:

President Obama made a vigorous appeal to Congress on Thursday to give breathing space to his efforts to forge a nuclear deal with Iran, and the prospects for an interim agreement may have improved with the release of a report by international inspectors who said that for the first time in years, they saw evidence that the Iranians have put the brakes on their nuclear expansion.

The inspectors, from the International Atomic Energy Agency, said that very few new advanced centrifuges had been installed since President Hassan Rouhani of Iran took office in June, promising a new start with the West, and that little significant progress has been made on the construction of a new nuclear reactor, which became a point of contention in negotiations in Geneva last week.

Note that one of the big pieces of news heralded by the Post and the Times is the halting of installation of new centrifuges. But buried in the back of the report (pdf), in the second annex, is a graph showing the total number of centrifuges installed, the number of centrifuges dedicated to enrichment of uranium up to 5% and the number of centrifuges dedicated to enrichment to 20%. I have reproduced that graph here, but I have added arrows pointing to two major discontinuities in the trends shown in the graph.

The early arrow, where we see a halt of nearly two years in the installation of new centrifuges and a loss of a number of centrifuges enriching to 5%, corresponds very closely to the release of the Stuxnet worm in early 2010 (although it looks like the loss of functioning centrifuges may have been in late 2009, so the actual release most likely was around that time).

IAEA graph of Iran centrifuge operation over time. I have added arrows for the release of the Stuxnet worm and imposition of stronger sanctions.

IAEA graph of Iran centrifuge operation over time. I have added arrows for the release of the Stuxnet worm and imposition of stronger sanctions.

Beginning in early 2011, Iran put more of its installed centrifuges into operation for enrichment to 5% and continued at a fairly steady pace throughout much of the year. At the beginning of 2012, the US and EU imposed much stronger sanctions on Iran. Although Iran did put some centrifuges into operation for enrichment to 20% around that same time, this graph shows that even though Iran restarted installation of new centrifuges in 2012, no additional centrifuges have been put into service for enrichment to either 5% or 20% since early 2012. This capping of enrichment capacity that is in actual operation has rarely, if ever, been noted in the press. Significantly, it predates Rouhani’s election by over a year. Perhaps it is a sign that the sanctions were effective in getting Iran to put the brakes on their program. Alternatively, it might suggest that Iran knew where Israel’s “red line” would be (a stockpile of around 200 kg of 20% enriched uranium might be enough to make a bomb after further enrichment) and made sure that the approach to this line would be slow. They also delayed its onset by converting some of the 20% enriched uranium to fuel plates so that it would be less readily subjected to further enrichment under a “breakout” scenario.

The halting of new centrifuge installation shows up in the graph, where we see the installed centrifuge line level off in the middle of this year, but this seems less dramatic than stopping the process of putting installed centrifuges into use for enrichment.

When we realize that significant steps were taken to slow advancement of Iran’s nuclear program before Rouhani was elected, it becomes easier to understand why his “moderate” stance and willingness to enter into negotiations have not met with significant resistance from Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Kahmenei and other leading clerics.

 

Will North Korean Bomb Test Provide Opening for Nuclear Negotiations with Iran?

Shortly after we learned last night that North Korea had carried out a nuclear weapon test, I saw some suggestions along the lines of “this may as well have been an Iranian test since Iran and North Korea are sharing data”. I wonder, however, whether the outcome of this test will in fact provide more room for Iran and the West to make real progress in negotiations that have been stalled for over a year.

Perhaps the most encouraging development after the test became known was this from Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman:

Iran said on Tuesday that all the world’s nuclear weapons should be destroyed, shortly after North Korea said it had conducted its third nuclear test in defiance of United Nations resolutions.

“We think we need to come to a point where no country will have any nuclear weapons,” Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast told a weekly news conference when asked about the test. “All weapons of mass destruction and nuclear arms need to be destroyed.”

Mehmanparast added that all countries should be able to use nuclear technology for peaceful purposes.

That is not a new position for Iran, but the timing for reiterating it is encouraging.

Of course, those who want war with Iran (and especially Israel, with Netanyahu continuing to use inflamed rhetoric) will dismiss such a statement quickly, but this statement from Iran actually comes with concrete actions to back it up. I have yet to see Western media sources acknowledge that in addition to Iran’s claims that it is using nuclear technology for peaceful purposes, it actually is taking steps to expand its production of medical isotopes (see this post where I point out Iran’s plans to construct four new research reactors for production of medical isotopes). We see more evidence of those concrete steps today, with Iran confirming in a news conference today that more of the stockpile of 20% enriched uranium has been converted to fuel plates for use in research reactors: Continue reading

The Diplomat to Jahn, Dahl IAEA Leak Pipeline on Iran Opens Once Again

I have often described the process of “diplomats” close to the IAEA’s Vienna headquarters gaining access to documents and other confidential information relating to Iran’s nuclear activities and then selectively leaking the most damaging aspects of that information to George Jahn of AP. Sometimes, the information also is shared with Fredrik Dahl of Reuters, who, like Jahn, is also based in Vienna. Many believe that Israeli diplomats are most often responsible for these leaks and for shaping the stories to put Iran in the worst possible light.

Today that process is in play once again and the “damaging” new information appears to be a letter from Iran to the IAEA in which Iran states that they intend to add thousands of new generation centrifuges called IR-2 centrifuges for the enrichment of uranium. The stories by Jahn and Dahl, already echoed by the New York Times (one can only assume that Joby Warrick will be along a bit later today to complete the first round of the propaganda machine), make this sound like a new and very important breakthrough that will make it much easier for Iran to produce uranium for a nuclear weapon. Only through close reading of the articles do we learn that these new centrifuges will be installed at the Natanz facility and will only be used for low-level enrichment to below 4% uranium (5% in the Dahl article). Enrichment to the more controversial 20% level is carried out at the Fordow facility and even that level is still short of the 90%+ needed for a weapon. Keep in mind also that IAEA regularly monitors both of these facilities and that all uranium has been accounted for, meaning that no 20% material has disappeared for secret conversion to weapons grade.

None of the articles gets around to pointing out that Iran installed its first IR-2 centrifuges over a year ago and the current development only represents installation of additional IR-2 units. Oh, and in the final paragraph, Jahn grudgingly admits that no time frame for this installation was given and that the installation work has not even started. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Here is Jahn’s breathless announcement from today’s leak:

Iran is poised for a major technological update of its uranium enrichment program that would vastly speed up production of material that can be used for both reactor fuel and nuclear warheads, diplomats told The Associated Press Thursday.

The diplomats said that Iran last week told the International Atomic Energy Agency that it wants to install thousands of high-technology machines at its main enriching site at Natanz, in central Iran. The machines are estimated to be able to enrich up to five times faster than the present equipment.

Jahn waits until the 13th of 15 paragraphs before getting around to stating that these new centrifuges will only enrich to low levels since they will be at the Natanz facility. Dahl’s opening is no less dramatic:

Iran has told the U.N. nuclear agency that it will deploy more modern machines to refine uranium, a defiant move that may further complicate diplomatic efforts to resolve the dispute over Tehran’s atomic activities peacefully.

The Islamic Republic said in a letter to the International Atomic Energy Agency that it will use the new centrifuges at its main enrichment plant near the central town of Natanz, according to an IAEA communication to member states seen by Reuters.

Such a step could enable Iran to enrich uranium much faster than it can at the moment and increase concerns in the West and Israel about Tehran’s nuclear program, which they fear has military links. Iran says its work is entirely peaceful.

With all this panic going around, the Times had to join in:

Iran has told the United Nations nuclear supervisory body that it plans to install more sophisticated equipment at its principal nuclear enrichment plant, a diplomat said on Thursday, enabling it to greatly accelerate its processing of uranium in a move likely to alarm the United States, Israel and the West.

The diplomat, based in Vienna which is the headquarters of the International Atomic Energy Agency, cited a letter from Iranian officials to the I.A.E.A. saying it wants to upgrade its main enrichment plant at Natanz. The upgrade could speed up enrichment by as much as two or three times, the diplomat said, requesting anonymity in light of the confidential nature of the Iranian note.

As I mentioned earlier, Jahn notes at the very end of his article that there is no time frame for this installation. Neither Dahl nor the Times makes this important point in their panic-mongering:

One of three diplomats who spoke to the AP said Iran gave no time frame for its planned upgrade. He said installation work had not started at Natanz, adding it would take weeks, if not months, to have the new machines running once technicians started putting them in.

Considering that Jahn also included this quote from Mark Fitzpatrick of David Albright’s Institute for Science and International Security, it appears that Jahn is finally gaining awareness of how he has been used lately to ratchet up anti-Iran sentiment:

“This won’t change the several months it would take to make actual weapons out of the fissile material or the two years or more that it would take to be able to mount a nuclear warhead on a missile, so there is no need to start beating the war drums,” he said. “But it will certainly escalate concerns”.

Fitzpatrick also is quoted by Dahl, but only with the inflammatory “game changer” language, not the calmer disclaimer on the lack of impact on the critical final steps of weapon production.

Note: During the time I was writing the version of the post above, Jahn and AP updated their story, but it retains the URL linked above (when Reuters produces new versions of stories, they get new URL’s so their changes can be tracked more easily). Notably, the mention of no time frame for the installation has been moved up to the fourth paragraph and the opening language has been altered significantly. The new version of the story emphasizes what IAEA is saying rather than what diplomats told Jahn. Here are the opening paragraphs of the version of the story times-tamped 8:32 (I failed to save a copy of the previous version with a time-stamp about two hours earler):

The U.N. nuclear agency has told member nations that Iran is poised for a major technological upgrade of its uranium enrichment program, in a document seen Thursday by The Associated Press. The move would vastly speed up Tehran’s ability to make material that can be used for both reactor fuel and nuclear warheads.

In an internal note to member nations, the International Atomic Energy Agency said it received notice last week from Iran’s nuclear agency of plans to install high-technology enriching centrifuges at its main enriching site at Natanz, in central Iran. The machines are estimated to be able to enrich up to five times faster than the present equipment.

Although the word “diplomats” still appears in the headline for the story (“Diplomats: Iran Prepared to Up Nuclear Program”) Jahn does not reference a diplomat until the fourth paragraph when he talks about the time frame. It’s almost as if Jahn and his editors are starting to realize how formulaic the diplomat to Jahn pipeline has become. Of course, anyone who has been paying attention knows how AP “saw” the document Jahn describes in his opening, he is just being less direct about it in this new version of the story.

Medical Impact of US Sanctions Drives Iran’s Need for 20% Enriched Uranium

While Western media routinely proclaim the danger of Iran enriching uranium to 20% since it is “just a few short steps” from the 90%+ enrichment needed for producing nuclear weapons, what is often overlooked is the role that Western sanctions on Iran play in forcing Iran to carry out this 20% enrichment. Iran treats 850,000 patients a year with medical radioisotopes and has only a 40 year old research reactor in Tehran for producing isotopes. Despite attempts by neocons to claim that the sanctions have exceptions for humanitarian goods, the reality is that the sanctions forced Iran to produce new fuel for the Tehran reactor and we see today a mention in the Iranian press suggesting that four new research reactors are planned so that Iran can produce more radiomedicines domestically.

Here is how the medical isotope situation was described by Thomas Erdbrink three years ago:

The impending shortage of technetium-99 is caused by the controversy surrounding the Iranian nuclear program. The sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council, aimed at moving Iran to halt its uranium enrichment program, are supposed to leave medical practice unaffected. In reality, however, Iran has become unable to procure a wide range of medical products. Body scanners cannot be imported from the US or the EU, since parts in these machines could also be useful to Iran’s nuclear program. An embargo on medical isotopes was introduced in 2007, in defiance of the medical exception clause touted as part of the trade sanctions, Iranian leaders said.

Isotopes are a rare commodity produced at only five sites worldwide. One of these, the High Flux Reactor in the Dutch town of Petten, currently accounts for 30 to 40 percent of worldwide production, but it is scheduled for retirement soon. Apart from the UN sanctions, so many restrictions — particularly American — on trade with Iran exist, that in practice nobody is willing to supply Iran with medical isotopes any longer.

Out of dire necessity, Iran now uses its 41-year-old research reactor in Tehran — originally constructed by the US — exclusively for isotope production, a job which used to take only a day a week. However, the reactor’s fuel, provided by Argentina in 1993, is quickly running out, the scientists said.

The situation had not improved by late 2010:

Iran imports some ready-made isotopes, but it has faced greater restrictions under UN sanctions and has to pay higher prices to get them. Sanctions do not directly ban the sale to Iran of medical equipment, but they make foreign producers more reluctant to provide it, and those who will sell it do so at inflated prices.

“We are paying twice the value of this product to import it from Turkey,” said Mohammad Reza Ramezani, an official at Shariati Hospital, pointing to a cargo of technetium-99, the most common radioisotope used in diagnosis, that arrived from Turkey at day earlier.

Iran did indeed embark on its plan to enrich to 20% and has converted a significant portion of that 20% enriched uranium to fuel plates for the Tehran reactor, a move that leaves the uranium more difficult to subject to further enrichment to weapons grade. However, many have noted that Iran now has produced much more fuel than would be needed in the near future by the Tehran reactor and yet enrichment to 20% continues. At the end of a story carried today by Fars News Agency praising Iran’s accomplishments in nuclear technology, though, we see that Iran now plans additional research reactors. It appears that these reactors will supply material for more domestically produced radiomedicines: Continue reading

Pinheads Dance on Nuclear Accusations Against Iran

Cringe before the power of the dirt piles!

I noted on Tuesday that Fredrik Dahl of Reuters dutifully transcribed accusations from anonymous “Western diplomats” to report that satellite images (which David Albright finally published yesterday–I’m so happy we get to see those dirt pile photos!) revealed that Iran had brought fill dirt to the Parchin site where there have been accusations that Iran may have carried out work on developing an explosive trigger for a nuclear weapon. That post had barely been up for an hour or two when George Jahn unleashed a spectacularly bad graph purporting to show Iranian calculations on nuclear bomb yields. Glenn Greenwald did a terrific debunking of the graph yesterday, showing, among other things, how profoundly wrong the science in the graph was. I had noted back in September, when Jahn first started hinting at what turned out to be his beloved graph, that this particular accusation first came to light in the November, 2011 IAEA report. Jahn and those who are feeding him his “exclusives” sat on this graph for a year before releasing it, presumably because it is so craptastically ridiculous that it could not be made public until the laughter over Bibi’s bomb cartoon and the pink tarps had died down.

The timing of this nearly simultaneous flinging of poo by Dahl and Jahn is explained by the fact that the IAEA is meeting now to discuss the most recent report on Iran’s nuclear activities. The US is using this meeting to roll out a new bit of “leverage” against Iran, stating that if Iran does not comply with IAEA requests by the time of the next IAEA report in March, the US will request that the IAEA refer Iran to the UN Security Council for its intransigence. Aside from how hypocritical this announcement looks, coming within just a few hours of the US condemning the UN for allowing Palestine to achieve non-member observer status, it also appears that Iran knew this ploy was coming. Today we see a report from Mehr News noting that Iran has reported the US to the UN for violating Iranian airspace at least eight times during October.

Lost in all of this noise is the fact that for all the posturing over Iran’s 20% enriched uranium being “close” to weapons grade, Iran continues to divert significant amounts of the 20% enriched material into fuel plates for the Tehran reactor where the uranium has become chemically incapable of further enrichment to weapons grade. From David Albright’s summary of the most recent IAEA report (pdf), we see that Iran has produced 232.8 kg of 20% enriched uranium but has diverted 95.5 kg, or 41%, of this to fuel plates. Back in August, Moon of Alabama explained the significance of the chemical changes that take place when fuel plates are produced [emphasis in original]: Continue reading

Amid Cautious Optimism for P5+1 Talks, Iranian, Israeli Spies Arrested in Azerbaijan

As we approach the re-start of the P5+1 international talks on Iran’s nuclear technology this weekend, there are multiple signals that Iran may be planning to make a major move aimed at reducing tensions. As CNN pointed out yesterday, Iran suggested last weekend that it may halt its enrichment of uranium to the 20% level and return to only enriching to 3.5%:

“Based on our needs and once the required fuel is obtained, we will decrease the production and we may even totally shift it to the 3.5%,” Iranian nuclear chief Fereydoun Abbasi said in a televised interview, according to state-run Press TV.

Iran does not plan to produce 20% enriched uranium for long, Abbasi said, according to Press TV.

Uranium enriched at 20% is typically used for hospital isotopes and research reactors, but is also seen as a shortcut toward the 90% enrichment required to build nuclear weapons. Nuclear experts say Iran’s supply is far greater than it would need for peaceful purposes.

Iran says there is a medical purpose to its nuclear program.

Further signaling that a big move is in the works, we have this today on PressTV:

“Iran’s representatives will participate in the negotiations with new initiatives and we hope that the P5+1 countries will also enter talks with constructive approaches,” Jalili told reporters in Tehran on Wednesday, IRNA reported.

“The language of threat and pressure against the Iranian nation has never yielded results but will lead to more seriousness in the attitude of the Iranian nation,” he added.

He emphasized, “We are ready to hold progressive and successful talks on cooperation.”

At the same time that we are seeing hints of progress on the diplomatic front, it appears that a number of Iranian and Israeli spies have been taken out of action from their operations bases in Azerbaijan.

Back in the middle of March, Azerbaijan announced they had arrested 22 spies working for Iran:

The authorities in Azerbaijan have arrested 22 people on suspicion of spying for Iran, accusing them of links to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards.

The undated arrests were confirmed in a brief statement by the Azerbaijani national security ministry.

/snip/

“Firearms, cartridges, explosives and espionage equipment were found during the arrest,” the Azerbaijani national security ministry said.

The 22 detainees are said to have received orders from the Revolutionary Guards to “commit terrorist acts against the US, Israeli and other Western states’ embassies and the embassies’ employees”.

Yesterday, Iran announced the arrests of a number of Israeli agents, some of whom are presumed to have been in Azerbaijan and some of whom were in Iran. From Mehr News: Continue reading

Emptywheel Twitterverse
bmaz RT @LegallyErin: There's something very sexy about Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal. I always date the worst guys.
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bmaz @imraansiddiqi You seemed like such a respectable chap, and now here you are talking about Kardashians. #Shame
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bmaz @cody_k I went as a Pando journalist blowing shit out of my ass about Greenwald.
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bmaz @dcbigjohn @erinscafe In or out of the furry costume?
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bmaz RT @AntheaButler: Hands up, don't shoot. RT @deray: Superhero protest. #Ferguson http://t.co/ejnhDLq7jv
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bmaz @JoshuaADouglas @rickhasen @chrislhayes And I ask because that was why I blew off the injunction+contemplated whether were provable damages.
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bmaz @JoshuaADouglas @rickhasen @chrislhayes Question since you are in state there, is hearing even possible before the injunction would be moot?
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bmaz @JoshuaADouglas @rickhasen @chrislhayes Exactly. But with the defenses, hard to see an injunction burden being met.
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bmaz @JoshuaADouglas @rickhasen @chrislhayes Not to mention the actual public figure blah blah blah that will lead the defense. Meh.
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bmaz @JoshuaADouglas @rickhasen @chrislhayes I think that's debatable, but assuming so, what are provable damages in an election context?
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bmaz The Guantánamo Tapes http://t.co/r6JfRJl7r4 Yes, of course force feeding tapes depict torture, why you think govt fights to keep classified?
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bmaz @gideonstrumpet @ScottGreenfield @LilianaSegura @roomfordebate My entry up:More Catcalling Debate Room Needed at NYT https://t.co/8k1CNdwGhx
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