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Gnomemoot 0: A poorly thought out proposal

by Colman Wed Mar 15th, 2006 at 05:31:10 AM EST

Busy today, so just a quick few thoughts.

In previous discussions we decided that

  1. Iran wants nuclear power. They say they don't want nuclear weapons.
  2. The way their programme is set-up is conducive to creating nuclear weapons by diverting material from the civilian programme, though there is no evidence that is happening.
  3. No-one wants Iran to have nuclear weapons.

Let's add, for the sake of argument:

  1. There is a way of setting up a nuclear programme that is not conducive to building nuclear weapons. (I assume that) This depends on a higher level of technology than the current Iranian programme.

A suggested solution to the crisis: the West transfers the know-how and technology required to build a civilian nuclear programme that is not easily diverted to creating weapons while the Iranian mothball their current programme. The UN inspections continue to provide assurance that Iran is fulfilling its obligations under the NPT and everyone is happy. The parts of the current programme that are worrying are decommissioned in due time and we compensate Iran for doing so.

What's wrong with this plan? Everyone's interests are satisfied. In particular, what's wrong with point 4?


Display:


In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Wed Mar 15th, 2006 at 05:37:20 AM EST
In the context of point 4 and this diagram, François' posts are a must-read.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Mar 15th, 2006 at 05:57:08 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks, meant to link.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Mar 15th, 2006 at 05:58:14 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Iran's march towards becoming a nuclear power is as much about national pride and international standing as it is about meeting it's energy and security needs.

Money is a sign of Poverty - Culture Saying
by RogueTrooper on Wed Mar 15th, 2006 at 05:50:36 AM EST
Then there is no solution short of invasion and installation of a puppet government?
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Mar 15th, 2006 at 05:58:48 AM EST
[ Parent ]
That is the truth of the matter.

Personaly, I don't think the Western powers are in a particularly strong position regarding Iran and the use of force. I think Iran knows that too.  

Money is a sign of Poverty - Culture Saying

by RogueTrooper on Wed Mar 15th, 2006 at 06:02:47 AM EST
[ Parent ]
That is no solution, because not only it is not feasible but it can't work.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Mar 15th, 2006 at 06:08:04 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I know. Just following the logic.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Mar 15th, 2006 at 06:09:34 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Correction, if the goal is to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power, above all other consideration, then the Afghan/Iraq way is a solution.

But then you'd have Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan as failed states, and that would be WWIII, if you think about it.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Mar 15th, 2006 at 06:11:20 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Why would that be WWIII?

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Wed Mar 15th, 2006 at 08:37:23 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't think it would be containable. The risk of spreading into Central Asia, Pakistan, the Arabian Peninsula... would be just too great. Plus you'd have NATO bogged down in Afghanistan, the US and UK in Iraq and who know who in Iran.

WWI started for much less than this.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Mar 15th, 2006 at 08:50:07 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Your proposal is indeed reasonable, but I see the following obstacles:

  • if Iran wants the bomb, or wants the ambiguity of not giving it up (as dissuasion against aggressive Americans), then this proposal will not interest them. There thus is an additional requirement for a real peae treaty between the Us and Iran, and that will probably drag the Israel/Palestine situation in

  • the French, the Russians and the Americans will bicker on which civilian technology to provide (and who will provide it) - and that's enough to kill a deal

  • Iranians feel they can get away with their current toughness and, in the current oil situation, they are right.


In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Wed Mar 15th, 2006 at 05:51:03 AM EST
  1. Your first point is correct but that's rather the point. If  they don't want nukes then it is attractive.

  2. The alternative appears to be chaos. If it's just about money they can come to some sort of deal.

  3. Their current toughness doesn't seem to be getting them anywhere. They can spin this as a great victory easily enough.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Mar 15th, 2006 at 06:00:57 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, I agree with your point 3 and so does people within the Iranian regime according to this article in Spiegel online.  

Bitsofnews.com Giving you the latest bits.
by Gjermund E Jansen (gjans1@hotmail.com) on Wed Mar 15th, 2006 at 06:12:04 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It's worth noting that the EU-3 have not actually provided (possibly are not in a position to provide) anything to create a win-win negotiation.

The basic model has been "do a deal that convinces us you are not planning to develop nukes and um, we will, um... try to persuade George not to bomb you."

Iran still suffers from a number of US economic sanctions which affect their airline, oil and other industries and in various little ways cause nasty hardships for normal people (especially on the medical side.)

I feel I have to propose that some part of this be offered up to make it an actual negotiation, rather than just a demand of concessions with menaces.

by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Wed Mar 15th, 2006 at 06:06:41 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I think this is because the EU got involved as a buffer between the US and Iran. I have a feeling that the EU offering a deal to Iran would be seen by the US as a betrayal (which is why Russia was able to make an offer, and why the west was pissed off at it: geopolitically Russia is a 3rd player and the EU is the US's good cop).

However, if you asked me to explain why I think the EU offering a deal to Iran would offend the US, I would have to say that it's because the US's strategic goal is regime change in Iran, and nuclear proliferation is an excuse.

Then some people would roll their eyes and say it's just unbelievable the things you read in these discussions.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Mar 15th, 2006 at 06:18:14 AM EST
[ Parent ]
My proposal does only make sense if the participants interests are the rational ones as stated. If there is nefarious intent then it doesn't make sense. If the Iranians are intent on nuclear weapons it is no use to them. If the Americans want regime change this is a threat to their excuses. And so on.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Mar 15th, 2006 at 06:21:11 AM EST
[ Parent ]
But your proposal would have the potential of exposing who, if anyone, has nefarious intent.

If the EU3 were up to it, they would make a comprehensive nuclear energy cooperation offer and then sit back and see who of the US or Iran blinks first.

I would actually make the offer, because by now it is clear it would be unacceptable to both Iran and the US, and so I wouldn't have to actually implement it. Besides, I believe in the IAEA's ability to enforce the necessary controls.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Mar 15th, 2006 at 06:31:38 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I guess the real problem is that Colman's point 4 is a bit technically questionable.

Just about every technology can contribute to some kind of weapon in this case, it only flys if you accept Francois argument that only fusion weapons make strategic sense for Iran.

I might be prepared to accept that analysis, but I doubt you'll get consent from various people to Iran's capability to produce "low tech" nukes (Hiroshima style) being allowed. Particularly in light of the recent PR offensive to redefine the problem from "actions" to "knowledge."

by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Wed Mar 15th, 2006 at 07:41:26 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Uh?
Just about every technology can contribute to some kind of weapon in this case, it only flys if you accept Francois argument that only fusion weapons make strategic sense for Iran.

When did I make that argument?
by Francois in Paris on Sun Apr 2nd, 2006 at 09:49:18 PM EST
[ Parent ]
To me, the underlying problem is that the Americans still want to get even for the "humiliation" of the hostage crisis in 1979.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Wed Mar 15th, 2006 at 08:32:13 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Sounds plausible, especially considering that Bush once claimed that he had to remove Saddam from power because "he tried to kill my dad".

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Mar 15th, 2006 at 08:34:23 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Not to mention the half century grudge they've held against Cuba. Who says the US never thinks long-term.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Mar 15th, 2006 at 08:37:29 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Read Prof Juan Cole's review of the Iran nuclear situation - where he argues that nonproliferation is merely an (Israeli-inspired) excuse for regime change.

http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/20060313_fishing_for_a_pretext_in_iran/

As it did with regard to the Baath regime in Iraq, the militarily aggressive Bush administration wants to overthrow the government in Tehran. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, now in a coma, urged the U.S. to hit Iran as soon as it had taken care of Saddam Hussein. ...
The nuclear issue is for the most part a pretext for the Americans to exert pressure on the regime in Tehran. This is not to say that proliferation is not a worrisome issue, or that it can be ruled out that Iran wants a bomb. It is to say that the situation simply has not reached the point of crisis, and therefore other motivations must be sought for the Bush administration's breathless rhetoric.

by CyrusI on Wed Mar 15th, 2006 at 05:02:31 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I think the American concerns with Iran are far more pragmatic.  It's just impossible to ignore that Iran has been stirring the pot for years, supporting Hamas and Hezbollah.  And it's certainly impossible for the Israeli's, the American's and the world, to ignore the threats to wipe Israel off the map.  The practical result of that threat is to put Israeli leaders in the position of not allowing Iran to get nuclear weapons, or a clear path to nuclear weapons--at least not under the current regime.  I've changed my thinking on this point quite a bit over the course of our discussions--Israeli leaders will have tremendous pressure to attack Iran if they are close to getting nukes--multiple air strikes, with the objective not of wiping out their nuclear program, but of setting it back.  Obviously this situation is very fluid right now, and many things could change for the better or the worse.  but i would guess those israeli strikes are planned and ready to go, and I would also guess that they have infiltrated Iran and have far better intelligence on their key vulnerable points for an attack.  The israeli's have known for 25 years, at a minimum, the threat Iran poses to them.  I'm sure they have agents inside Iran that could make such attacks much more impactful than we might imagine.
by wchurchill on Thu Mar 16th, 2006 at 02:28:20 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Who poses a great threat to whom: Iran's hot air about "wiping Israel off the map" or Israel's actual, existing nuclear weapons pointed at Tehran (not to mention their lobbyists working hard in Washington to induce a US attack on Iran -- and note that the US has overtly threatened to drop nukes on Iran on a first-strike basis.)

The "threat to wipe Israel off the map" is assumed to be realistic as is over-inflated so as to portray Israel as the victim, and thus conveniently justify Israel's actions as "preemptory" in nature.

As for supporting Hezbollah -- note that Hezbollah a Lebanese organization that was fighting to eject illegal occupation by Israel. Considering that the US was arming and backing nun-raping death squads in Central America and toppling democratically elected governments and now has violated the UN CHarter by illegally attacking and invading other countries where it engages in torture etc., then I hardly see any reason to criticize Iran for supporting Hezbollah or Hamas (and whatever that "support" actally consists of is a whole different question: note that Israel encouraged the rise of Hamas as a counter-balance to Arafat.)

by CyrusI on Thu Mar 16th, 2006 at 11:10:45 AM EST
[ Parent ]
hey CyrusI, I posted a response to you on this, but I guess in my normal exhibition of technical competence (I lose responses for example when the message comes back that the subject is more than 50 charectars, and I don't see the notice), it is lost in the blogosphere.
thus conveniently justify Israel's actions as "preemptory" in nature.
but if I recall, I was making the point that you seem to agree with my comment that Israel will atack, but disagree with my interpretation of their motivations?  

So we're at the same point in terms of predicting the future?  But for the life of me, I don't understand why Israel would attack Iran (it's going to be a very tough thing to pull of; Arab countries and the EU are going to be against it, etc.), unless they felt truly threatened.  Just curious about your thoughts on this, and wanted you to expand your views, if you want to.

by wchurchill on Fri Mar 17th, 2006 at 10:36:04 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I can't see the future either, and an Israeli attack on Iran is not certain. But fundamentally Israel does not want the US and Iran to get along - and so Israel is willing to create a war in the Mideast, either using its own forces or by forcing the US to do it - to ensure that its own interests are protected. A recent Harvard study pointed out how effective Israel is in controlling US foreign policy:   http://ksgnotes1.harvard.edu/Research/wpaper.nsf/rwp/RWP06-011/%24File/rwp_06_011_walt.pdf.

For example, Israel may be bluffing about attacking Iran in order to threaten the US and thus force the US to give it certain concessions including an official and formal mutual defense pact with the US which obligates the US to come to Israel's defense (but which doesn't obligate the Israelis to get US approval of their military activities.) Until now, this has been something controversial: in Israel, they were concerned that such a pact may allow the US to have a veto over Israeli military adventurism, and of course there are many in the US who oppose having to essentially underwrite whatever fights Israel intends to pick in the future. The Israeli-US negotiations were recently (and very quietly) re-started on this issue.

Ultimately, the goal of Israel is to naturally to dominate the Mideast -- and the biggest stumbling block to this desire is Iran since it it the largest and most populous country. Read more about this here:
 http://www.iranian.com/Parsi/2006/January/Nuclear/index.html

by CyrusI on Mon Mar 20th, 2006 at 12:41:10 PM EST
[ Parent ]
excellent point Colman, and holding the parties accountable.  Very nice job, btw, in carrying this dialogue forward.
by wchurchill on Thu Mar 16th, 2006 at 02:33:03 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The diagram Jerome posted certainly implies that this may not even be technically feasible, never mind the political feasibility.

And they've already rejected the Russian offer of the next best thing, to be provided the fuel without the processing infrastructure.

The fact is that what we're experiencing right now is a top-down disaster. -Paul Krugman

by dvx (dvx.clt št gmail dotcom) on Wed Mar 15th, 2006 at 05:59:15 AM EST
But the Russian offer is clearly unacceptable. Why would they allow an outside power control over a strategic resource they can produce themselves? That's stupid. Maybe a Russian run facility inside Iran, but not outside.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Mar 15th, 2006 at 06:02:25 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Agreed, and they would most likely view a Russian facility on Iranian soil similarly.

...Which brings us back to square 1.

The fact is that what we're experiencing right now is a top-down disaster. -Paul Krugman

by dvx (dvx.clt št gmail dotcom) on Wed Mar 15th, 2006 at 06:07:27 AM EST
[ Parent ]
They'd have strategic control over such a facility at least.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Mar 15th, 2006 at 06:08:48 AM EST
[ Parent ]
ummm... I'm not entirely sure what strategic control means in this context.

The fact is that what we're experiencing right now is a top-down disaster. -Paul Krugman
by dvx (dvx.clt št gmail dotcom) on Wed Mar 15th, 2006 at 06:17:49 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Men with guns outside the door.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Mar 15th, 2006 at 06:19:22 AM EST
[ Parent ]
When I saw this on the Recent Comments I thought you were warning us of impending arrest... Phew!

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Mar 15th, 2006 at 06:21:25 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Here? Hah. We don't do men with guns much.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Mar 15th, 2006 at 06:23:26 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, that's a problem too, isn't it? They could bust in and take control at any time (I imagine that they would insist that the facility be staffed with Iranian techs if they were to consider the idea at all), and independent monitoring goes out the window again.

The fact is that what we're experiencing right now is a top-down disaster. -Paul Krugman
by dvx (dvx.clt št gmail dotcom) on Wed Mar 15th, 2006 at 06:33:52 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Then it would take very little time to get UNSC authorisation to bomb the reactor.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Mar 15th, 2006 at 06:35:44 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It causes an immediate incident that the Iranians are on the wrong side of and makes it hard for the Russians to stop production as leverage.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Mar 15th, 2006 at 06:38:43 AM EST
[ Parent ]
True. But with that much downside, this proposal is less advantageous for Iran then the current system, assuming they want to develop a nuclear weapons capability (or hold that option open).

The fact is that what we're experiencing right now is a top-down disaster. -Paul Krugman
by dvx (dvx.clt št gmail dotcom) on Wed Mar 15th, 2006 at 07:25:22 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Assuming that. My proposal takes everyone at face value. They say they don't want nukes, so there shouldn't be a problem.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Mar 15th, 2006 at 07:27:29 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The catch seems to be that they don't seem to want to submit to outside verification of any kind. It would be a lot easier to fashion a technical solution if they were more willing.

The fact is that what we're experiencing right now is a top-down disaster. -Paul Krugman
by dvx (dvx.clt št gmail dotcom) on Wed Mar 15th, 2006 at 09:05:16 AM EST
[ Parent ]
That's nonsense. The Iranians have repeatedly offered to operate enrichment facilities on their own soil, as part of joint-ventures with other governments, under strict limitations and monitoring that goes beyond what the Additional Protocol requires.
by CyrusI on Wed Mar 15th, 2006 at 05:04:25 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Not sure how real this is as news, or how much this has been "suggested" to the NYT, but there it is:


In Iran, Dissenting Voices Rise on Its Leaders' Nuclear Strategy (NYT)

TEHRAN, March 14 -- Just weeks ago, the Iranian government's combative approach toward building a nuclear program produced rare public displays of unity here. Now, while the top leaders remain resolute in their course, cracks are opening both inside and outside the circles of power over the issue.

Some people in powerful positions have begun to insist that the confrontational tactics of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad have been backfiring, making it harder instead of easier for Iran to develop a nuclear program.

This week, the United Nations Security Council is meeting to take up the Iranian nuclear program. That referral and, perhaps more important, Iran's inability so far to win Russia's unequivocal support for its plans have empowered critics of Mr. Ahmadinejad, according to political analysts with close ties to the government.

One senior Iranian official, who asked to remain anonymous because of the delicate nature of the issue, said: "I tell you, if what they were doing was working, we would say, 'Good.' " But, he added: "For 27 years after the revolution, America wanted to get Iran to the Security Council and America failed. In less than six months, Ahmadinejad did that."

Note that "27 year" reference which dovetails nicely with my own comment above that the underlying issue is the "wimpy 70s", including Carter, the oil crisis and the hostage crisis...

As to the rest, it's very much plausible, but as it's become impossible to know the intentions of the NYT on sush issues these days, I don't know what to make of it.

It does sound like "see, we're right to be tough, the Iranians will blink first".

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Wed Mar 15th, 2006 at 08:36:39 AM EST
Yeah, Iran's politics are very complex and Ahmadinejad is just one player among many. Time for the West to understand that.
by Francois in Paris on Wed Mar 15th, 2006 at 12:28:35 PM EST
[ Parent ]
A point we've made several times ...
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Mar 15th, 2006 at 12:30:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Funny thing: when the reformist president Khatami was in charge, the right-wing war mongers claimed that his efforts to reach out to the US should be ignored since the office of the president in Iran was just a ceremonial figurehead.

Now that Ahmadinejad is the president, he is characterized as the "leader" of Iran whose pronouncements are to be taken 100% face value, when in fact he's not in charge of Iran's defense forces, intelligence agencies, judiciary, etc.

Ahmadinejad makes for a good & convenient bogeymonster.
But I have to ask: why is it that he's considered to be so threatening, but the US threats to use nuclear weapons against Iran on a first-strike basis are not considered to be threatening to the Iranians?

by CyrusI on Wed Mar 15th, 2006 at 05:46:47 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Zeynep calls it like it is on the "threat" from Iran

If Iran says that U.S. would also suffer "harm and pain" if it causes "harm and pain" to Iran, that's a threat from them and not from us. And the Post informs us that diplomats think what it means is that Iran might pump less oil, or otherwise pressure world oil markets. So, we have a right to bomb them, but they don't have a right to extact less of a natural resource that's on their soil, as a response to our bombing them.

How on earth did all our oil get under their soil?  Dearie me.

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Wed Mar 15th, 2006 at 06:03:53 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Why is it that I'm always swamped by work when there are interesting discussions on Eurotrib? Murphy's Law or something ...

I don't have time to engage in a discussion so I'm just going to state my position and leave it at that.

As for most political problems, there is no technological foolproof fix to this issue.

If you want to solve the narrow issue of Iran (and Iran-like countries) access to nuclear energy, the solution is mostly political:
  1. Give those countries satisfactory access to PWR and BWR reactors and to the technology required to maintain them.
  2. Obtain that those countries renounce completely any form of fuel cycle technology. They must renounce to:
    • Upstream technology for manufacturing fresh fuel : uranium mining, extraction, transformation, enrichment and assembly
    • Downstream technology for handling spent fuel : reprocessing, recycling and waste separation and storage.
    • Ancillary technologies such as tritium recovery, etc.
  3. As the trade-off for point 2, guarantee to those countries access at competitive costs to ready-to-use fresh fuel and prompt removal and disposition of spent fuel.
  4. No exit clause without returning all the fuel elements and dismantling the reactors.

Some quick and incomplete explanations for that position. I assume the risk is a clandestine program piggybacking the official program. If a country signs an agreement as above and then reneges on it, it's a different story and the remedy can be legitimately very harsh.

Point 1:

There are 3 technologies tracks currently available for nuclear power plants with satisfactory production and safety track records: CANDU, PWR and BWR.

None of those reactors require uranium enriched above 6% U235 so the primary fuel is unsuitable for weapons: at the very least 20% U235 and for practical weapons at least 80% U235 and preferably 98.5% U235 or better. For borderline countries (that we don't fully trust but we don't fully distrust either), it may even make sense to let them access MOX fuel (plutonium) with high even isotopes content (at least 35% Pu238, Pu240 and Pu242). That type of plutonium is not fully proliferation-proof but it's not directly suitable for weapons either (there is a caveat, see below).

CANDU reactors are excellent reactors for fuel, very efficient with fissile materials and incredibly flexible with fuel types. Their remarkable qualities also make them the absolute proliferation nightmare. Fabulous reactors for producing weapon-grade plutonium and they can even run on natural uranium. Their continuous loading capacity requires inspector presence on site on a 24/7 basis and allows for easy cheating with fuel burn-up levels. In a large production environment, it's probably very easy to slip out-of-inventory fuel elements in the cycle (in particular, loaded with natural uranium). The large number of discrete fuel assemblies required per reactor (~5,000 bundles for a 640 MWe reactor) makes inventory control potentially difficult and embezzlement of spent fuel pretty easy.

High power CANDU reactors MUST NOT be made available to suspect countries.

PWR and BWR are a pretty different story. As the whole core is operating under very high pressure, PWR and BWR do not support continuous loading and must be completely stopped and the core vessel fully opened to manipulate the fuel : typically a refueling takes 30 or 40 days between two 9 to 18 months "campaigns" of continuous operation. So, it is much easier to monitor the fuel manipulation and to detect unauthorized opening of the core. Inventory control is also much easier as the number of discrete fuel assemblies in a reactor is much smaller (241 assemblies in a 1600 MWe EPR) and only 1/3 or 1/4 of the assemblies are actually replaced per cycle. The inventory in the cooling pools can also be kept pretty low at less than a full reactor load. Finally, the latest PWR and BWR designs authorize very high burn-up levels (more than 70,000 MWd/t for EPR) so the plutonium in the spent fuel is heavily contaminated with even isotopes (about 39% Pu238/Pu240/Pu242 for 60,000 MWd/t fuel burnt) and is not directly suitable for weapons.

The proliferation danger from large PWR or BWR plants is rather low. The fresh fuel is unsuitable for uranium weapons and the spent fuel is also unsuitable for plutonium weapons. The only inventory with suitable plutonium is inside the core and very hard to manipulate without being noticed. Also, those are very powerful reactors so the number of sites to monitor is pretty small.

Other realistic technologies, deployable in the next 10 years, are not bringing anything valuable in term of non-proliferation:

The much vaunted PBMRs are a nightmare for fuel inventory and control (360,000 elements for a 100 MWe reactor ??? 350 elements discarded each day and same amount injected) and as it is a continuously loading reactor, it's very easy to mess with fuel burn-up to obtain good plutonium and it requires 24/7 monitoring. Given the huge bulk of manipulated fuel, embezzlement is likely to be easy. Also the pebble elements are not doing anything against proliferation, no matter what the PBMR proponents pretend. They are just more expansive to reprocess than buying fresh uranium but it's easy to crush the pebbles open and recover the fuel kernels (especially, if you are not preoccupied with environmental concerns, simple high temperature charring under pure oxygen will do). A distributed implantation of those small reactors would also multiply the number of sites to monitor.

Fast neutrons reactors, with their high neutron flux and their breeding capacity, are of course a complete no-no for suspect countries.

Point 2:

Both the upstream and downstream fuel cycle technologies have very high proliferation potential.

Upstream, the enrichment capacity required for the yearly refueling of a 1000 MWe PWR or BWR is at least 100 tSWU/yr. By using a slight tweaking of the UF6 flows in the cascade and two recirculations, the same 100 tSWU/yr centrifuge cascade system can also produce 576 kg of high weapon grade HEU (98.5%) with the same initial feed (225 t of natural uranium, but using a more wasteful 0.46% tail assay rather than a 0.35% tail assay). That's enough for building 23 weapons per year using a moderately sophisticated implosion assembly (25 kg HEU per weapon) or 36 high-tech weapons (16 kg/ HEU per weapon). It's very difficult to detect, would require 24/7 monitoring and the cascade doesn't even need to be stopped or seriously reconfigured to do the recirculation. It seems that Pakistan built its nuclear arsenal with a total separative capacity of just a few tSWU/yr so with 100 tSWU/yr ...

Downstream technology for recycling involves fuel reprocessing and uranium and plutonium separation. If the plutonium is heavily spiked with even isotopes, it is not directly suitable for weaponization (unstable weapon, very high radiations, very high risk of pre-ignition (dudes and accidents)). But the same installations could be used to separate weapon grade plutonium from a clandestine low burn-up reactor running on easily acquired natural uranium (heavy water or graphite moderator). The telltale gas emissions of this activity would be masked by those of the civilian activities.

That being said, for a country that also has upstream technology, centrifuge cascades can also be used to isolate Pu239 from reactor grade plutonium. The technology would similar (transformation to hexafluoride and centrifugation) but some parameters are very different:
  1. The difference in isotopic weight is much lower so the separation is far less efficient.
  2. The manipulated quantities are small, a few hundreds kilograms to a few tons.
  3. The concentration in the desirable Pu239 isotope is much higher in the initial feed so the need for separation power is lower, compensating 1) somewhat.
  4. The critical mass for plutonium is much lower than for uranium and the initial feed is highly radioactive so specific precautions would be required to shield the cascade, special radiation-hardened control electronics would required and the centrifuges would need to be dimensioned and configured so the process mass remains safely much below critical mass/density.
It is theoretically possible but it has never been done on a large scale as far as I know.

Now, how do you explain point 2 to the target countries? A big stick and point 3 may work. Otherwise, I don't know.

Point 3:

That's the highly political one.
  1. How do you convince suspect countries, such as Iran, that their access to fresh fuel is safe and beyond the influence?
  2. How do you convince a safe country that it should accept spent fuel (and then own it) from the suspect countries?

The second issue is not an easy one but I'm pretty sure French or Russian politicians would be able to convince their constituents that it's ok to shoulder someone's else wastes if it makes the world safer. Especially as reprocessing (used by both countries) makes the wastes much easier to manage.

The first issue is the tough one. I'm not a shill for the mullahs but you must accept that their paranoia toward international laws and treaties is not completely without grounds. Promises only bind those who believe in them and countries like the US have not made them any more credible lately. So what structure would work? An extra-territorial/supra-national version of URENCO with its own mines and facilities under IAEA supervision? May be ...


PS: By the way, I don't think this above is actually the solution. The issue and the right approach are, in my opinion much broader. It's about turning Iran in a liberal democracy (just NOT the GWB way) and in that case, I don't really mind if a democratic Iran has nukes.
by Francois in Paris on Wed Mar 15th, 2006 at 12:26:48 PM EST
Why should Iran or any other country "renounce" the fuel cycle when they have the legal right to enrich their own fuel, they have the resources, and the technical knowhow, and especially when the other members of the NPT have failed thus far to implment any of their existing obligations under the same treaty?

Fuel enrichment CAN IN THEORY be used to make nukes. THAT IS PRECISELY the reason why the IAEA has inspectors to catch a secret military diversion.

It is said that Iran COULD build bombs if it decided to do so, in 5-10 years. In fact ANY country "could" do so.

To suggest that a country should give up fuel enrichment because it COULD at some indefinite point in the future decide to build nuclear weapons is simply ridiculous and is besides the point anyway: non-proliferation is really NOT the issue in the US-Iran confrontation, it is a pretext.

by CyrusI on Wed Mar 15th, 2006 at 05:09:32 PM EST
[ Parent ]
PS: By the way, I don't think this above is actually the solution. The issue and the right approach are, in my opinion much broader. It's about turning Iran in a liberal democracy (just NOT the GWB way) and in that case, I don't really mind if a democratic Iran has nukes.
Yes, I agree, and I don't mind Iran having Nukes after some significant period of liberal democracy allowed it to prove itself.  I'm not particularly worried about India have nukes--liberal democracy, track record,,,  But I guess the question is with Iran, how do you get there, from her?.  So we're stuck with the issues we are wrestling with for the short and near term.
by wchurchill on Thu Mar 16th, 2006 at 02:12:27 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Not how do we get there from here, but how do they get there from here?

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Mar 16th, 2006 at 02:30:26 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Agree with Migueru. How does Iran get there, not "we"?

The problem is that applying pressure on Iran to enforce something like above also helps the theocrats to hold on power by playing the nationalist card. They can always blame us for everything that goes wrong, economy, public security, etc.
by Francois in Paris on Thu Mar 16th, 2006 at 08:22:40 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Interesting article: http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East/HC17Ak02.html

The referal of Iran's file the the UN Sec Counsel was legally unjustified. The demands that Iran sign the Additional Protocol and the demand that Iran implement "transparency measures" that go beyond Additional Protocol are legally unjustified. The sanctions on Iran's nuclear program which forced Iran to seek out technology from Pakistan was legally unjustified. Barring Iran from obtaining enriched fuel from EURODIF even though Iran was a shareholder in that company was legally unjustified. Ignporing that Article IV of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (which recognizes Iran's inalienable right to civilian nuclear technology ) is legally unjustified....

In light of all this, why should Iran trust anything that the Russians or the EU promise Iran?

by CyrusI on Thu Mar 16th, 2006 at 11:20:28 AM EST
I really think you are choosing to ignore the "connecting the dots" part of this whole discussion.
  1. It's incredible that a leader of a country pubicly states his view that he wants to wipe another country off the face of the map.  
  2.  His comment is further complicated by the fact that Hitler's Germany tried to do exactly that to the Jews.
  3.  And further complicated by the fact that this leader denies that Hitler's Germany tried to do exactly that to the Jews.
  4.  Further complicated that, at least in our previous discussions on ET, our technical guru's believe that it is Iran's intention to build a nuclear weapon, though Iran says in seemingly a duplicitous manner, that they are not.
  5.  And further complicated in that the EU and Russia are trying to satisfy the stated need of Iran to have Uranium for nuclear power plants.  So why can't they accept those options?
by wchurchill on Fri Mar 17th, 2006 at 10:49:48 PM EST
[ Parent ]
There is absolutely no evidence of any nuclear weapons program in Iran, and that's the only fact that three years of IAEA investigations have shown. You can speculate about "intentions" all you want.

As for the leaders claims about wiping another country off the map, I refer you to the repeated US (and now French) threats to use nuclear weapons against Iran on a first-strike basis. Why is the US-EU threat to nuke Iran any less threatening?

In fact, why are the words and slogans of Ahmadinejad exaggerated so much when the countries that have the threats posed by REAL, ACTUAL nuclear weapons in the hands of the West ignored?

Sounds like a case of selective hysteria.

by CyrusI on Mon Mar 20th, 2006 at 12:26:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Lets face facts: the issue is not about Iranian nuclear weapons "intentions" -- its about Israel and Israeli lobbyists pressuring the US to do the bidding of Israel which seeks to dominate the Mideast.

REad about it yourself: John Mearshimer of the University of Chicago and Stephen Walt of Harvard
have written an excellent study of the pro-Israel lobby and its impact on US Middle East policy.  It is available at http://ksgnotes1.harvard.edu/Research/wpaper.nsf/rwp/RWP06-011/%24File/rwp_06_011_walt.pdf

Also, read this

http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/20060313_fishing_for_a_pretext_in_iran/

and this:
http://www.iranian.com/Parsi/2006/January/Nuclear/index.html

by CyrusI on Mon Mar 20th, 2006 at 12:28:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]


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