Friday, 29 November 2013

Can Iran be trusted?                      

The state of Iran has for many years suffered from oppression brought about by its religious rulers against its people. Further, most of the governments world-wide have little respect for the Iranian rulers because of their dictatorial rule and their propensity to ignore the rights of people who visit Iran. Further, many people in the Middle East, especially those in Israel, have believes or certainly suspected that Iran is a threat to the peace and stability of the Middle East.

A great concern that the world has is that Iran may be enriching uranium far more than they should in order to make nuclear bombs. I don’t know if this is what they are really doing but many governments suspect that the Iranians are doing just that. For example, in February 2012, The Israel government stated that they estimated that Iran could make four atomic bombs by further enriching uranium it has already stockpiled and therefore they could produce its first atomic bomb within a year if Iran decided to build one.

According to the UN Nuclear Agency, (UNNA) it stated in 2012 that Iran had accumulated more than 4 tonnes of uranium enriched to a level of 3.5 percent and nearly 100 kilos at an enrichment level of 20 percent.

The process takes low-grade uranium and refines it into a material that can power reactors —or make an atomic bomb. While nuclear power stations can be fuelled with relatively low-grade uranium fuel, an atom bomb requires a much more highly enriched version.          

When uranium ore is dug out of the ground, it is almost entirely composed of the relatively long-lived U-238 isotope. Only a very small fraction of the ore is made up of the unstable U-235, which is the isotope that can undergo spontaneous fission which is necessary to act as a fuel to generate electricity or be used as the main fissible component of an atomic bomb. But the U-235 has to be enriched high enough to be made as the main component of an atomic bomb.

One of the popular methods of uranium enrichment is by the use of gas centrifuges, which is the technique being pursued by Iran. The uranium hexafluoride gas is piped in a cylinder which is then spun at high speeds. The rotation causes a centrifugal force that leaves the heavier U-238 isotopes at the walls of the cylinder, while the lighter U-235 isotopes are left at the centre. The process is repeated many times over through a cascade of centrifuges to create uranium of the desired level of enrichment. When the U-235 level reaches around five per cent, the uranium is enriched enough to be used as fuel for civil nuclear reactors. However, it requires thousands of centrifuges connected in cascades to produce weapons-grade uranium.

It follows that Iran should not be enriching the U-235 more than 5 per cent and if they are, then they are doing this in order to make atomic bombs.  If the UN Nuclear Agency is right, then 100 kilos of 20 percent enriched uranium should be of some considerable concern to all of us since the last thing this world wants is atomic bombs dropping on cities. In 2004, Iran told the U.N. nuclear watchdog it planned to convert 37 tonnes of yellowcake into UF6 for a civil enrichment program. That, experts said, was enough to make one or more atomic bombs. Iran however says it did not enrich uranium beyond 4.8 per cent and only on a limited scale. Quite frankly, I don’t believe the Iranian’s statement.

Nevertheless, for enriched uranium to be used as the fissile core of a nuclear weapon, the uranium has to be enriched to more than 90 per cent and must be produced in large quantities. I don’t know if Iran has reached that level of enrichment and if so, even that quantity.

The atomic bomb, Little Boy that was dropped on Hiroshima in 1945, used 64.1 kilograms of 90% enriched uranium. Atomic bombs can also be built using less fissionable material—down to around 15 to 25 kilograms of material. Of course the resulting explosion would be much less.        

I can certainly see see  why Israel believed that Iran could build at least four atomic bombs if in fact Iran has 100 kilos of uranium at an enrichment level of 20 percent.

The equipment such as centrifuges used in enriching uranium is incredibly specific and simply not built in just any manufacturing plant. The machines and their components are highly specialized and are not useful for other industrial or scientific purposes.

When a country starts to buy large numbers of them on the black market, such as Iran was reported to have done several years ago, it raises suspicions that it is trying to develop nuclear weapons.                

Since 2003, Iran’s enrichment program has grown from a few dozen enriching centrifuges to more than 18,000 installed and more than 10,000 operating. The machines have produced tons of low-enriched uranium, which can be turned into weapons grade material.

Iran also has stockpiled almost 200 kilograms (440 pounds) of higher-enriched uranium in a form that can be converted more quickly to fissile warhead material than the low-enriched uranium. Its supply is nearly enough for one bomb.

Iran was also trying to develop advanced P2 centrifuges—devices that are capable of making weapons-grade uranium more efficiently than the P1 technology currently in use.

Iran said in 2012 that it was also planning to start up a plant in the city of Arak to produce heavy water for use in a different sort of nuclear reactor. Heavy water is just like regular water (H20) except it combines oxygen with deuterium instead of normal hydrogen. Unlike hydrogen, which normally consists of a single proton and one electron, deuterium contains a proton and a neutron plus one electron. Heavy water can be used as a nuclear moderator, controlling the rate of fission in the reactor. This type of reactor can also be used to produce plutonium, which presents a proliferation risk. The UN nuclear watchdog is concerned about the risk of diversion of nuclear materials as the Iranian research reactor could produce 8 to 10 kilograms of plutonium a year, enough to make at least two nuclear bombs.

Iran has made the first concrete step under a cooperation agreement arrived at to clarify concerns about Tehran's disputed nuclear program. Under the plans, announced at a recent joint news conference, Iran would allow inspectors a first-time visit of its key Gachin uranium mine on the Gulf coast and give broader access to the heavy water facility being built in the central city of Arak. Their heavy water reactors in that facility use a different type of coolant to produce a greater amount of plutonium byproduct than conventional reactors. Inspectors from the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) have already visited the reactor site but seek more extensive examinations.

There are several hurdles that Iran would have to overcome before a country is considered nuclear-weapons capable. One is the electronic trigger, whose split-second timing is essential for unleashing the chain reaction necessary for a nuclear device to explode. Although Plutonium can be used in nuclear weapons production but separating it from the reactor byproducts requires a special technology that Iran currently does not possess.  However weaponisation, which involves putting the device into a missile or bomb that can be delivered to a target could actually fly to Israel from Iran if Israel is the intended target.  

Up to now, the sanctions against Iran have been enormous. Numerous governments and multinational entities impose sanctions against Iran. Following the Iranian Revolution of 1979, the United States imposed sanctions against Iran and expanded them in 1995 to include firms dealing with the Iranian regime. In 2006, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1696 and imposed sanctions after Iran refused to suspend its uranium enrichment program. U.S. sanctions initially targeted investments in oil, gas and petrochemicals, exports of refined petroleum products, and business dealings with the Iranian Republican Guard Corps. This encompassed banking and insurance transactions (including with the Central Bank of Iran), shipping, web-hosting services for commercial endeavors, and domain name registration services.

The European Union has also imposed restrictions on cooperation with Iran in foreign trade, financial services, energy sectors and technologies, and banned the provision of insurance and reinsurance by insurers in member states to Iran and Iranian-owned companies. On the 23rd of January 2012, the EU agreed to an oil embargo on Iran, effective from July, and to freeze the assets of Iran's central bank. The next month, Iran symbolically pre-empted the embargo by ceasing sales to Britain and France. That move accomplished little because both countries had by then almost eliminated their reliance on Iranian oil, and Europe as a whole had nearly halved its Iranian imports, though some Iranian politicians called for an immediate sale halt to all EU states, so as to hurt countries like Greece, Spain and Italy who were yet to find alternative sources. On the 17th of March 2012, all Iranian banks identified as institutions in breach of EU sanctions were disconnected from the SWIFT, the world's hub of electronic financial transactions. One side effect of the sanctions is that the global shipping insurers based in London are unable to provide cover for items as far afield as Japanese shipments of Iranian liquefied petroleum gas to South Korea.

Over the years, sanctions have taken a serious toll on Iran's economy and its people. Since 1979, the United States has led international efforts to use sanctions to influence Iran's policies, including Iran's uranium enrichment program, which Western governments fear is intended for developing the capability to produce nuclear weapons.

Iran countered that its nuclear program is for civilian purposes, including generating electricity and medical purposes. Now we will have to see if they are telling the truth.  Hopefully, the inspections conducted by the IAEA inspectors will get access to all of Iran’s nuclear facilities and make the determination that Iran is not enriching its uranium for nuclear warheads.

Iran struck the historic deal in November 2013 with the United States and five other world powers, agreeing to a temporary freeze of its nuclear program in the most significant agreement between Washington and Tehran in more than three decades of estrangement. The package includes freezing Iran’s ability to enrich uranium at a maximum 5 per cent level, which is well below the threshold for weapons-grade material and is aimed at easing Western concerns that Tehran could one day seek nuclear arms. This raises an interesting question. What will Iran do with all the enriched uranium it has already created that is above the 5% level?

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani (a moderate president) endorsed the agreement, which commits Iran to curb its nuclear activities for six months in exchange for limited and gradual sanctions relief, including access to $4.2 billion from oil sales. The six-month period will give diplomats time to negotiate more sweeping controls over Iran’s nuclear program.

In Jerusalem, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu acknowledged that the overall deal between Iran and world powers will reduce Israeli threats to launch military action against Iranian nuclear sites like they did years ago. He hailed the delay as a chance to “achieve a much better deal.” I hope he is right.

Iran is increasing its hydroelectric capacity. Several hydropower plants are currently in operation, and several more are under construction.  Further, Iran consumes very little carbon-intensive coal. Iran plans to expand the use of solar electricity generation systems for supplying power to houses.    Iran further seeks to become a major regional exporter of electricity and has attracted more than $1.1 billion in investments for the construction of three new power plants. In 2006, Iran had generated 45 megawatts of electricity from wind power (ranked 30th in the world). This was a 40% increase over 32 megawatts in 2005. Total wind generation in 2004 was 25 megawatts out of 33,000 megawatts total electrical generation capacity for the country. In 2008, Iran's wind power plants in Manjil (in Gilan province) and Binaloud (in Razavi Khorasan province) produce 128 megawatts of electricity. By 2009, Iran had wind power capacity of 130 megawatts. In 2012, it was much higher.                                                                   
I am not suggesting that Iran should not generate electric power by the use of nuclear plants built for that purpose but increasing the level of enrichment far above what is needed to power those plants makes Iran’s word that they are not enriching uranium for nuclear warheads highly suspect.    
Hopefully this deal made by the five major world powers and Iran will alleviate the fear that Iran is enriching its uranium so that it can be used in nuclear warheads. If Iran is telling the truth that their uranium is being used for electrical generation and medical uses only, then the fears will be dissipated. The question that is on everyone’s mind is, can Iran be trusted?








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