Thursday, May 24, 2007

Three To Eight Years, If Iran Chooses Nukes - IAEA

By Cernig

The head of the IAEA, the experts who have the task of tracking nuclear energy and weapons developments worldwide and who were right about Iraq's WMD, has given his expert assessment of how long it might take Iran to develop a nuclear weapon, should it choose to.
I tend, based on our analysis, to agree [with US assessments] that even if Iran wanted to go for a nuclear weapon, it would not be before the end of this decade or sometime in the middle of the next decade," Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the UN's nuclear watchdog, told a news conference in Luxembourg. "In other words, three to eight years from now."

He said the agency had seen no evidence that Iran was trying to "weaponise" nuclear material, or of undeclared nuclear facilities in the country.
Which hawks will be quick to point out isn't a guarantee of the nonexistence of such things. Then again, Occam's Razor says the simplest explanation is usually the best one and the simplest explanation for not finding what you've spent years looking for is that it isn't there to find.

But just suppose the hawks are correct and Occam is wrong - that Iran has chosen to make nuclear weapons and has kept their development secret somehow from intrusive IAEA inspections. That three years is a worst case scenario - everything would have to progress smartly for the Iranians.

Yet we know they are having trouble with the quality of their feedstock (they can only run their cascades at 20% efficiency) and in procuring centrifuge parts. We know that even once a nation has developed a nuke, making it easily deliverable via a missile warhead is an entirely new problem that commonly takes a small and sanctioned regime a good few years to accomplish. It's unclear, for instance, whether North Korea has accomplished that task even yet and Pakistan took several years to do the same trick. So estimate a missile-deliverable nuke at five to ten years if all goes well for Iran...and all the while the IAEA will still be inspecting, still taking in intelligence from various sources including national governments and looking where that intel indicates.

Then it takes a few more years to build up a credible stockpile. One nuke isn't enough as any kind of threat or deterrent on an international scale. Now we're talking eight to thirteen years before there's a credible threat. (Incidentally, Ahman-nutjob is term limited to two terms. Even if a miracle happens and he gets a second term, he's history by 2013.)

All only if Iran has made a choice for which the IAEA can find no evidence, mind you. And then only if Iran doesn't hit any major snags along the way.

There are always snags. Some are natural, some are placed in your way.
CBS News has learned that Iran is continuing to make progress on its expanded efforts to enrich uranium — in spite of covert efforts by U.S. and other allied intelligence agencies to actively sabotage the country's nuclear program.

...Sources in several countries involved told CBS News that the intelligence operatives involved include former Russian nuclear scientists and Iranians living abroad. Operatives have sold Iran components with flaws that are difficult to detect, making them unstable or unusable.

"One way to sabotage a program is to make minor modifications in some of the components Iran obtains on the black market, and because it's a black market … you don't know exactly who you are dealing with," Fitzpatrick says.

Senior government representatives, who spoke to CBS News on condition that neither they nor their country be identified, pointed to the case of the exploding power supplies. Installed at the pilot enrichment facility at Natanz in April 2006 as Iran was first attempting to enrich uranium, the power supplies, used to regulate voltage current, blew up, destroying 50 centrifuges. The head of the Iranian Atomic Energy Agency, Vice-President Gholamreza Aghazadeh said in January of this year that the equipment had been "manipulated."

There is other evidence, CBS News was told, that some of the technical difficulties Iran is having in consistently running its centrifuges are the results of a concerted effort at industrial sabotage.

Sources familiar with the U.S. effort against Iran tell CBS News that U.S. intelligence agencies have run several programs in recent years, employing different techniques, including modifying components in hard-to-detect ways and making subtle changes to technical documents and drawings, rendering them useless.
So where is that immanent threat the "bomb Iran" crowd keep yelling about? And since bombing would certainly decide the Iranians if they haven't already made the choice (and there's no evidence they have) as well as guarantee they would withdraw from the NPT, exactly how is it supposed to help other than by postponing what it would make inevitable?

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