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
As Marcy points out this morning, Iran is now emphasizing the many ways that the US is waging war on Iran. What I find interesting in both the physical attacks, whether they hit equipment or people, and the propaganda attacks waged in the media is that the flow of information is of overwhelming importance. I’ll hit three examples of the importance of information flow in the posturing for war with Iran.
Information Flow Between IAEA and Intelligence Agencies
Iran is now disclosing remarkable details on the August attack that disrupted electricity to the Fordo uranium enrichment plant near Qom. Especially intriguing is a fake rock discovered later that appeared to house electronics for monitoring communications at the site. But more important to me is that Iran is using the Fordo event to renew its claims that the IAEA is too closely affiliated with both US and Israeli intelligence. Consider this report today from Fars News in Iran, titled “Iran Angry at IAEA’s Use of External Sources of Information for Reports“. The article begins by lamenting that IAEA relies on information from US and Israeli intelligence:
Head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) Fereidoun Abbasi lamented that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) uses external and unreliable sources of information for reporting Iran’s peaceful nuclear program.
“Unfortunately, the IAEA is influenced by intelligence sources outside the Agency, and its information leaks and the CIA and Mossad benefit from the leaked information,” Abbasi said in a meeting with members of the Iranian parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Commission in Tehran on Tuesday.
The article goes on to note that IAEA inspectors appeared to know instantaneously when the power was disrupted at the Fordo plant and links this to accusations of infiltration of IAEA:
In relevant remarks earlier this month, Abbasi also warned the IAEA about infiltration of saboteurs and terrorists.
“On Friday August 17, 2012, power lines running from the city of Qom to Fordow facility were cut using explosives. It should be reminded that power outage is a way of damaging centrifuge machines. In the early hours of the following day, (IAEA) inspectors demanded a snap inspection of the facility,” he said, addressing an IAEA meeting in Vienna.
“Isn’t there any connection between the visit and the blast? Who else could have quick access to the facility other than IAEA inspectors to register and report dysfunctions?” he asked.
The fake rock would still have been operating on August 17, so Iran has told us that US and/or Israeli intelligence would have known immediately of the loss of power. And yet, somehow this information also made its way to IAEA within only a few hours. Such a sequence of events certainly paints a picture of the intelligence community having very good lines of communication with the IAEA and the information flow appears to go in both directions.
Control of Information on Uranium Enrichment
Just as was the case for explaining that the disputed explosion chamber at Parchin likely is used for nanodiamond research rather than nuclear trigger research, a report from b at Moon of Alabama should have completely defused the yammering over the August report on Iran from the IAEA. We learn from b that although Iran produced a large amount of 20% enriched uranium during the reporting period, much of Iran’s stockpile of 20% enriched uranium was converted to fuel plates for the Tehran Research Reactor that produces medical isotopes. Importantly, once converted to fuel plates, the uranium is no longer in a chemical form that can be put back into centrifuges for further enrichment to weapons grade. As a result, b is the only person who could bring us this important news just after the report was released: Continue reading
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.
In a long interview with RT, Iran’s envoy to the IAEA, Ali Asqar Soltaniyeh, explained yet again that Iran’s position is that the team from the IAEA that visited Iran earlier this month was not the appropriate set of inspectors to visit the Parchin site. The IAEA has accused Iran of using this facility to develop technology for explosive triggers that could be used in a nuclear weapon. Iran was working under the impression that this group was meant for negotiations aimed setting ground rules for upcoming inspections.
Working along those lines, Soltaniyeh told RT that Iran has not ruled out a future IAEA visit to Parchin:
The IAEA delegation that visited Tehran recently was comprised of experts on legal, political and technical issues and not inspectors, Soltaniyeh said in an interview with Russian RT television.
The group visited Iran for negotiations on reality and framework of mutual cooperation, he said.
Iran does not rule out the access of IAEA to its military sites such as Parchin but this depends on some preconditions which IAEA should meet, Soltaniyeh said.
Weakening his own argument somewhat, Soltaniyeh went on to tell RT that Iran had offered to allow the IAEA team to inspect a different site at which the IAEA had accused Iran of carrying out high explosives work:
“I just want to tell you that last week, perhaps this is the first time I am telling you, we, in fact, offered the agency to go to another site which the director general in his report has referred to as a large scale high-explosive test. We offered, but the team was instructed by the director general to go back to Vienna. Therefore we don’t have any hesitation that every activity we have has nothing to do with nuclear weapons.”
In the video, Soltaniyeh also points out that IAEA inspectors did visit Parchin twice in 2005, as we were reminded earlier by Moon of Alabama.
In a somewhat related, but entirely unexpected move, Joby Warrick has moved off his role of transcribing only information that paints Iran in a bad light to provide information that removes one of the primary justifications Israel has been advancing as the basis for a unilateral attack on Iran. Earlier this month, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak introduced the concept of a “zone of immunity” that Iran could enter wherein their final progress toward a nuclear weapon could not be disrupted: Continue reading
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton railed Tuesday against Iran’s beginning of operations at its Qom uranium enrichment facility, which is buried deep within a mountain to protect it from bunker-buster bombs. Less than 24 hours later, the Deputy Director of the Natanz enrichment facility was assassinated when a bomb attached to his car exploded in northern Tehran. Iran is blaming Israel,citing similarities of this attack with two previous attacks on Iranian nuclear scientists, attacks in which Iran says the US also was complicit.
Despite the fact that Iran’s new uranium enrichment plant at Qom is designed to enrich uranium to only 20%, well short of the 90%+ that is needed for nuclear weapons, the US response to the start of operations there paints it as a highly provocative act:
“This step once again demonstrates the Iranian regime’s blatant disregard for its responsibilities and that the country’s growing isolation is self-inflicted,” Clinton said in a statement.
“The circumstances surrounding this latest action are especially troubling,” Clinton said.
“There is no plausible justification for this production. Such enrichment brings Iran a significant step closer to having the capability to produce weapons-grade highly enriched uranium.”
Clinton rejected Iran’s assertion that it needed to enrich uranium to produce fuel for a medical research reactor, saying Western powers had offered alternatives means of obtaining such fuel but their offers had been rejected by Tehran.
Remarkably, Clinton also called for Iran to return to the “P5+1″ talks, apparently having missed Iran’s Foreign Minister stating last week that Iran is ready to return to these critical talks aimed at diffusing the tension over Iran’s nuclear technology.
It appears that the US is having a bit of trouble with message management over its actions in relation to Iran. Over at Moon of Alabama, b reports on an embarrassing incident yesterday in which transcription from a “senior administration official” in the Washington Post got a bit too candid and had to be revised. Continue reading