Iran/Syria - Uranium Update

Discussion in 'Current Affairs, News and Analysis' started by In-Limbo, Feb 20, 2009.

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  1. Starting with the Iranian article, our UN envoy Sir John Sawers has recently revealed a sinister offer made by Iran a few years back over a polite cup of tea.

    You can argue it was pure psyche on the Iranian part, you can argue Bush screwed up with the "Axis of Evil" banter, but you can't argue that Britain pays a steep price for Iranian ambitions.

    From the Iranian embassy siege in 1980 to Iraq, what is often portrayed as an otherwise cordial relationship between Iran and Britain is quite stretched.

    A further article today illustrates that the Israelies may have got it right by striking that secret Nuclear facility in Syria:

    Unfinished business.
  2. Biped

    Biped LE Book Reviewer

    Well, now they've got a thrid more uranium than they admitted to, or the UN reckons it knew about, let's see what happens first.

    Is Israel going to step up its covert action, or is simply going to steam in and flatten the joint.
  3. Funny how this comes out immediately after one of the worlds most dangerous and potentially genocidal psychopaths is elected to lead Israel. it's all lies.
  4. Ord_Sgt

    Ord_Sgt RIP

    Not a Netanyahu fan then ;)
  5. What, all of it?!! :?

    Phew that's a relief.

  6. Others are suggesting we're going to shelve ABM-Europe and Russia is going to smack Iran round the head as a thankyou.

    Buggered if I know, but it'll pan out this year (or next) but likely not the one after, unless it's all lies of course 8O
  7. Cordial relationship? They have commited 2 acts of war against us in the past 5 years ffs.
  8. Hey Livni got the most mandates at the election, do you reckon she is a psycho? I reckon she can be a bit hard at her 'time of the month' but not genocidal.

    FV - the election did not have any immediate results as to who would lead Israel. It was only a start to the negotiation between the various parties.
  9. Ord_Sgt

    Ord_Sgt RIP

    From The Times.

    Time to revive the "War with Iran" thread I think.
  10. Arik, no \i don't think she's a psycho. Thought it was over and the decision had been made. thanks for pointing me straight
  11. Are you saying that the IAEA team that found Uranium at the Syrian "facility" was lying? Is so, why? And don't go to the depleted uranium argument - it won't wash because the physical and metallurgical properties will be different to those of partially processed "fuel".
  12. I don't know how many of you watched the programme ? To me, due to the number of big hitters on all sides involved and the level of detail reported I got the very strong impression that the programme was the invisible hand of government laying down the position for the public to see with their own eyes, as a precursor before something happens..........

    Lets just hope it doesn't.

    The one major omission from the programme was the position of Israel, which would perhaps have made it 'too complicated' for the layman viewer, but which simply can't be ignored as its the 500lb Gorilla in the corner.
  13. An interesting piece on the IAEA ability to detect increases in enriched uranium amongst a few other points;
    "I was travelling on Friday and got back to the internet to observe the aftermath of the s*!t storm over material accountancy in Iran.

    The story that seems to be emerging is that Iran understated the quantity of low enriched UF6 it produced because of a genuine error in calculation, as reported by various sources including Mark Hibbs (in the comments to Jeffrey’s post and, I assume, elsewhere) and Global Security Newswire. Presumably, during its annual physical inventory verification (PIV), the IAEA found an anomaly and worked with Iran to discover it was an error rather than anything more suspicious.

    Measurement uncertainties
    In its report the IAEA repeated its standard comment that the results of the PIV were “within the measurement uncertainties normally associated with enrichment plants of a similar throughput.” This raises an interesting question: What uncertainty would be expected in performing a physical inventory at the Fuel Enrichment Plant (FEP)?

    The typical measurement errors associated with weighing canisters, sampling UF6 and measuring enrichment levels are actually very small. They are all given in a favourite of mine—the gloriously wonkish International Target Values 2000.

    I don’t have the time now to do a calculation to work out what measurement uncertainty would be expected for the FEP as it currently stands but, a couple of years ago, I did this calculation assuming the facility was fully fitted out with 50,000 centrifuges and producing 30 tU/yr of 3.5% enriched LEU. It’s in a study I did for VERTIC with the memorable title, The use of voluntary safeguards to build trust in states’ nuclear programmes: The case of Iran. Incidentally, in Appendix I, this paper contains a moderately technical summary of the principles of nuclear materials accountancy—if you’re interested.

    Anyway, I calculated the measurement uncertainty for a PIV in the FEP when completed would probably be just a few kg of uranium (depending on the exact type of measurement techniques used). This is consistent with the expected values given by the IAEA in its Safeguards Glossary (table III, p. 53). So, the measurement error for the FEP today, which has just 4,000 centrifuges (or thereabouts), would be considerably smaller (no, it’s not a linear relationship).

    What this means is that the IAEA’s comment that the results of the PIV were “within the measurement uncertainties normally associated with enrichment plants of a similar throughput” almost certainly refers to situation after the error in Iran’s calculations was spotted. The 209 kg discrepancy that sparked the controversy is way, way outside the typical measurement uncertainty.

    Why did Iran not spot the error itself?
    This is a question that I have been asking myself. I would have expected Iran to have checked its calculations by actually measuring UF6 masses and enrichment levels. I mean you’d do that if you ran an enrichment plant, wouldn’t you?

    Certainly, this is standard practice in the one enrichment facility I have seen up close and personal. All UF6 cylinders were continually weighed. After each one was full it was heated (to “homogenize” the material) and a sample taken so its enrichment level could be ascertained by mass spectrometry. With these practices an error of 1 kg—let alone 209 kg—would be spotted pretty quickly.

    The fact that Iran failed to spot its own error suggests that it isn’t doing any of this standard housekeeping. And, I think, this gives us a glimpse into a programme that in its rush to get started and churn out LEU has forsaken normal operating practices.

    It ties in with the fact that Iran has stated its maximum enrichment level is higher than the IAEA measured, and also with a story I heard from one of the first inspectors to go to the conversion facility at Esfahan once it had started operating. This person said that the Iranian technicians were very keen to learn basic safety techniques from the inspectors, including how to deal with UF6 leaks. Health and safety has not been a major concern for the Iranian nuclear programme either.

    To be clear: none of this sloppiness is illegal—it’s just bad practice. And, it makes the IAEA’s job harder.

    Tightening safeguards?
    The measurement uncertainty discussed above matters because it sets the size of a diversion that the IAEA could confidently detect. In my paper I calculated that, with 95% probability, the IAEA could detect a diversion of about 5 kg from the FEP when it is fully kitted out. This is 15 times smaller than the 75 kg target value for LEU. Bear in mind that IAEA safeguards are designed for much larger facilities than Natanz so it’s not surprising the IAEA could detect such a small diversion. So, I am very confident in the IAEA’s ability to detect the diversion of one significant quantity of LEU from Natanz.

    However, I am much less confident in the IAEA’s ability to detect a diversion in a timely manner (or to detect a clandestine facility—but that’s a different story). Specifically, the IAEA aims to detect the diversion of LEU within one year.

    Currently a PIV at Natanz (when the IAEA measures a pre-determined fraction of all the nuclear material at the facility so it can accurately estimate the total inventory) is conducted once a year—the standard practice in most (if not all) facilities under IAEA safeguards. Given the time taken to process the results of this inspection, it means that a diversion occurring just after a PIV might not be detected for 13 or 14 months.

    I say “might” because containment and surveillance is in place and that might detect a diversion even before the PIV comes around. Similarly, the IAEA conducts interim inspections in many facilities, normally to verify material flows into or out of the facility but sometimes to conduct interim inventories (albeit in a less rigorous manner than during a PIV). If such inspections occur at Natanz they would increase the probability of detecting a diversion within a year. (Note: These are different from the short-notice randomly-occurring inspections in the cascade hall that are definitely happening and occur about once a month).

    In any event, given what we know (or rather don’t know) about the safeguards approach for Natanz, I think there are legitimate questions about whether detection in Iran would be timely. Others have made this point too—including David Albright. But, to be fair, this is not just an Iranian problem. It is true in bulk handling facilities in other states as well.

    It would not be hard to fix, if funds were available. Performing a PIV twice a year or increasing the frequency of interim inspections would be useful in helping the Agency meets its current timeliness detection goal or even a more ambitious one. And, in an ideal world, I argued in my paper that this is exactly what the IAEA should do.

    But, here’s the rub. Any change to the IAEA’s verification approach could only be effected with Iran’s permission. The safeguards approach for Natanz (contained in the co-called facility attachment) took about a year to negotiate. And, reading between the lines of the IAEA’s reports, it was a painful process. I find it almost impossible to imagine Iran agreeing to the IAEA performing a PIV more often or conducting more frequent interim inspections.

    And, again, to be fair, this is not just an Iranian issue. At a fundamental level, the main problem with IAEA safeguards is not the accuracy of measuring techniques or the frequency of inspections—but severe limits on the Agency’s legal authority. I have no doubt that intransigence on negotiating or renegotiating a facility attachment is an issue in many other states too. The situation in Iran just throws this problem into sharper relief."
  14. Iran May Achieve Capability to Make A Nuclear Weapon in 2009

    David Albright, President, Institute for Science and International Security
    Bernard Gwertzman, Consulting Editor,

    February 20, 2009

    David Albright, a long-time expert on Iran's nuclear program, says that Iran will probably accumulate enough low-enriched uranium this year to "reach the first level of breakout capability, namely enough low-enriched uranium to make one nuclear weapon." And in an ironic twist, he says even though Iran's stated goal is to have a nuclear program for domestic power, it appears to be running out of uranium for such a plan. "It's one of the unfortunate ironies of the situation that while they don't have enough uranium for a civil nuclear energy program, they have plenty for a weapons program," Albright says. "Even if Iran runs out of uranium, they have more than enough to eventually produce tens of nuclear weapons." He urges the United States to seek tougher sanctions, but also to open wide-ranging negotiations with Iran.
  15. A report from the IISS,
    Iran's missile development

    Further tests needed to cement recent advances

    The November 2008 test launch of Iran's new Sajjil missile indicated a significant shift in the country's missile-development programme. The immediate strategic impact will be limited, since neither the range nor the payload capacity of the Sajjil is substantially greater than that of Iran's existing Shahab-3 missile. However, the transition from the liquid-propelled Shahab to production of the multi-stage, solid-fuelled Sajjil would be important if shown by further tests to be sustainable.

    Iran's active approach to rocket development was further highlighted by the February 2009 launch into space on a domestically produced rocket of its first home-made satellite – a milestone that coincided with the 30th anniversary of the Islamic revolution.

    The Sajjil is estimated to be able to carry a maximum one-tonne payload 1,500–1,800 kilometres. While these capabilities are similar to those of the Shahab, the technical capacity required to build a medium-range, solid-fuel missile is of a different order to that needed for its liquid-fuel equivalent. If progress could be extended beyond the initial Sajjil launch, Iran might be able to begin the design and development of a new generation of long-range missiles. Solid-fuel missiles can be launched more quickly and are thus less vulnerable to pre-emptive strike.

    © The Office of the Iranian President
    Iran's president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad gives the 'go' for the Omid satellite launch

    Iran's missile strategy

    During the Iran–Iraq War of the 1980s, Tehran initiated a two-track effort to develop ballistic missiles to compensate for its barely operational air force. The first track focused on the immediate acquisition, from Libya and later North Korea, of short-range (300-km), liquid-propellant missiles based on the Soviet Scud. Tehran integrated these systems, dubbed Shahab-1 and -2, into the military and in the mid 1990s established the infrastructure to assemble the missiles locally – although it still relied on foreign supply of components.

    In the late 1990s, Iran began to import, and possibly assemble imported components of, the North Korean No-dong missile. Improvements, made reportedly with Russian and possibly Chinese assistance, were incorporated into the No-dong around the turn of the century, resulting in the Shahab-3. This is now the mainstay of Iran's missile forces and the foundation for its nascent space programme, which test-launched two sub-orbital missiles in 2008 as well as launching the home-made Omid satellite in February 2009.

    While this first track addressed Iran's immediate needs for an extended-range strike capability, there are technical obstacles to extending missiles' capability when using imported technology. The second track pursued by Iran centred on developing an indigenous capability to manufacture solid-propellant systems. Focusing on small, extended-range artillery rockets, Iran had established the capacity by the late 1990s to design, develop and produce solid-fuel rockets with ranges just beyond 250km. These single-stage Zelzal and Fateh-110 missiles, whose range has been increased to 400km in recent years, are powered by one motor containing one-and-a-half to two tonnes of solid fuel.

    While full details of the Sajjil missile and its test launch are unavailable, it is obviously much larger than any solid-propellant missile previously produced by Tehran. Judging from videos and pictures, the Sajjil's first-stage rocket motor alone contains up to ten tonnes of solid propellant and is capable of generating 55–65 tonnes of thrust (see above). The knowledge, equipment and experience needed to produce such a motor go far beyond that behind the two-tonne motor used by the Zelzal and Fateh-110. The technological leap represented by the Sajjil missile is further underlined when the difference between liquid-fuelled and solid-fuelled rocket engines is considered.

    Liquid-fuelled rockets

    Liquid-propellant engines involve a complex combination of mechanical parts, including pipes, valves, regulators, pumps, turbines, injectors, nozzles and a heat-resistant pressure vessel. These force the oxidizer and fuel from on-board storage tanks into a combustion chamber, where they are mixed and react to generate high temperatures and pressures. The resultant combustion gases accelerate through the engine's exit nozzle, propelling the missile.

    In theory, a team of engineers could disassemble an existing engine and, with access to the necessary industrial infrastructure and dual-use production equipment, manufacture exact copies of the components. These parts could then be reassembled into a working engine with the same performance characteristics as the original. In practice, this process is difficult. Iraq, for example, attempted to reverse engineer the Scud ballistic missile, but never fully succeeded. North Korea may have had greater success, although some analysts believe that not even Pyongyang can make a complete engine without imported components.

    However, even if engineers succeeded in replicating a liquid-fuel engine, they would not be able significantly to improve its performance. Nor could they design or build a more powerful variant without access to the original development and design documentation or access to the initial designers. Indeed, reverse engineering cannot impart the experience and knowledge accumulated during the original development, design, testing and redesign process. It cannot reliably reveal critical design tolerances or material compatibility requirements.