Pentagon's Nuclear Weapons Theory Bombs

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The Toronto Sun

Pentagon's Nuclear Weapons Theory Bombs

As the U.S. economy sank ever lower, a huge brouhaha erupted this week over claims that Iran might have nuclear weapons.

The new CIA director, Leon Panetta, said "there is no question, they (Iran) are seeking that capability." The Pentagon chief, Admiral Mike Mullen, claimed Iran had "enough fissile material to build a bomb."

Prime Minister Stephen Harper had claimed Iran posed an "absolutely unacceptable threat." However, to Harper's credit, he just admitted that Afghanistan is a no-win war.

While Rome burns, here we go again with renewed hysteria over MWMD's -- Muslim weapons of mass destruction. War drums are again beating over Iran.

The czar of all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies, Admiral Dennis Blair, stated Iran could have enough enriched uranium for one atomic weapon by 2010-15. But he reaffirmed the 2007 U.S. National Intelligence Estimate that Iran does not have nuclear weapons and is not pursuing them. Defence Secretary William Gates backed up Blair.

Public confusion over Iran comes from misunderstanding nuclear enrichment and lurid scare stories.

Iran is producing low-grade uranium-235 (LEU U-235), enriched to only 2.5%, to generate electricity. Tehran has this absolute right under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Its centrifuge enrichment process at Nantaz is under 24-hour international inspection. Iran's soon-to-open nuclear plant at Bushehr cannot produce nuclear weapons fuel.

Today, some 15 nations produce LEU U-235, including Brazil, Argentina, Germany, France, and Japan. Israel, India and Pakistan, all nuclear weapons powers, refused to sign the non-proliferation treaty. North Korea abrogated it.

UN inspectors report Iran has produced 1,010 kg of 2% to 3% enriched uranium for energy generation. Theoretically that is enough for one atomic bomb.

Costly process

But to make a nuclear weapon, U-235 must be enriched to over 90% in an elaborate, costly process. Iran is not doing so, say UN inspectors.

Highly enriched U-235 or plutonium must then be milled and shaped into a perfect ball or cylinder. Any surface imperfections will prevent achieving critical mass. Next, high explosive lenses must surround the core and detonate at precisely the same millisecond. In some cases, a stream of neutrons must be pumped into the device as it explodes.

This process is highly complex. Nuclear weapons cannot be deemed reliable unless they are tested. North Korea recently detonated a device that fizzled. Iran has never built or tested a nuclear weapon. Experts believe Israel and South Africa jointly tested a nuclear weapon in 1979.

Even if Iran had the capability to fashion a complex nuclear weapon, it would be useless without delivery. Iran's sole medium-range delivery system is its unreliable, inaccurate, 1,500-km ranged Shahab-3. Miniaturizing and hardening nuclear warheads capable of flying atop a Shahab missile is another complex technological challenge.

It is inconceivable that Iran or anyone else would launch a single nuclear weapon. What if it didn't go off? Imagine the embarrassment and the retaliation. Iran would need at least 10 warheads and a reliable delivery system to be a credible nuclear power.

Israel, the primary target for any Iranian nuclear strike, has an indestructible triad of air, missile and sea-launched nuclear weapons. An Israeli submarine with nuclear cruise missiles is on station off Iran's coast.

Off the map

Iran would be wiped off the map by even a few of Israel's 200 nuclear weapons. Iran is no likelier to use a nuke against its Gulf neighbours. The explosion would blanket Iran with radioactive dust and sand.

Much of the uproar over Iran's so far nonexistent nuclear weapons must be seen as part of efforts by Israel's American partisans to thwart President Barack Obama's proposed opening to Tehran, and to keep pushing the U.S. to attack Iran's nuclear infrastructure. They and many Israeli experts insist Iran has secret weapons programs that threaten Israel's existence.

The hawkish Hillary Clinton's naming of veteran Israel supporter Dennis Ross as her new legate to Iran adds to the confusion over administration policy towards Iran. Who is in charge of foreign policy? What's the plan?

Eric Margolis

Columnist and author Eric Margolis is a veteran of many conflicts in the Middle East, Margolis recently was featured in a special appearance on Britain’s Sky News TV as “the man who got it right” in his predictions about the dangerous risks and entanglements the US would face in Iraq. His latest book is American Raj: Liberation or Domination?: Resolving the Conflict Between the West and the Muslim World

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