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How Close Is Iran, Really, To Nuclear Weapons 299

Posted by samzenpus
from the big-boom dept.
Lasrick writes "A Reuters blog post by Yousaf Butt explains the science, or lack thereof, behind recent claims that Iran is closer to building the bomb. Butt has been writing in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, most recently blasting the unsourced AP 'Iranian graph' that claimed to show nuclear testing activity as well as the Washington Post story about Iran's alleged order of 100,000 magnets for their centrifuges."
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How Close Is Iran, Really, To Nuclear Weapons

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  • by crazyjj (2598719) * on Monday February 25, 2013 @11:53AM (#43003507)

    Of course, left unsaid in all of this is... would Iran ever use a nuke?

    Iran wants nukes for the same reason that the North Korea wants them, to keep the U.S. from ever invading their legs of the "Axis of Evil" (like they did with Iraq). And if you're a smaller country about the only way to ensure that the U.S. can't and won't invade is to have nukes.

    So it's very unlikely that Iran would ever use its nukes. Merely having them would achieve their objective (stopping any invasion).

  • by fredrated (639554) on Monday February 25, 2013 @11:54AM (#43003539) Journal

    The point is to start a war with them to suit Israel.
    End of story.

  • by maweki (999634) on Monday February 25, 2013 @11:55AM (#43003549) Homepage
    Al Jazeera English is one of the most respected and most neutral networks in the world. Yeah, they are biased about Qatar and Syria (everybody knows that). But Al Gore didn't sell his TV Station to a Jihadist Network. It is a well respected organization that has guests like Neil de Grasse Thyson or Gary Johnson (which are not known for supporting Anti-Americanism).
  • by mblase (200735) on Monday February 25, 2013 @11:59AM (#43003585)

    Iran has been VERY good at making the West look like the bad guys in this, and every other, disagreement. Basically, it's extremely hard to know whether Iran is actually actually hiding a nuclear weapons program, or whether they're just making it look like they're hiding a nuclear weapons program. It's quite possible they're doing both. Lord Vetinari would applaud.

    The good news is that Israel probably has a better idea than the IAEA as to when Iran will actually be able to launch a nuclear weapon, and Israel will keep that information close to their chest as well.

    In the end, it's all just posturing for more respect from other nations. Iran isn't reckless enough to actually do anything that would end in the entire Western world declaring war on them in response.

  • by wvmarle (1070040) on Monday February 25, 2013 @12:05PM (#43003667)

    Not surprised he's an activist; that are the anti-Iran people too.

    Currently there is, as he argues, no evidence that Iran is trying to produce a nuclear bomb. The regime denies they want to, and the information we have about their nuclear program supports that claim.

    The author mentions two interesting extra arguments, though. First of all, he admits that the IAEA can not check everything. It is possible for Iran to have a secret program trying to put together a nuclear bomb, and if they hide it very well, there would be no evidence to be found. But that'd be really hard.

    And as soon as Iran has a mature civilian nuclear industry, they have a nuclear weapons capability. Which is fully within their rights as signatories of the NPT. This is a simple result of this technology being dual-use by nature. Many countries have the capability to build a nuclear weapon in a matter of months, but do not do this. By signing the NPT they agree not to, so to develop a bomb they would have to break the NPT (openly or not), and in all likelyhood expell the IAEA inspectors.

    Anyway one key point in his argument I fully agree with: the problem that certain countries have with Iran is more political than legal. And in that line, the best way to prevent Iran building a nuclear weapon may be very well by actually helping them to develop the civilian nuclear industry they want - that way you can keep certain key technologies out of that country, keep better track of what they're doing, and, maybe most importantly, make the regime happy and take away any urge they may have to make a nuclear weapon.

  • by rbrander (73222) on Monday February 25, 2013 @12:06PM (#43003677) Homepage

    ...about 50 countries are estimated to have it. Sometimes called "Latent", but I prefer the "Threshold" term, it has the right connotation of stepping right up to the line and voluntarily stopping.

    Nation that CAN build a bomb in months flat = Nation not to stage a major invasion of. (By the time Russia, Pakistan, or the US could marshal up forces to take on a nation of 70 million, the first bombs are coming off the line).

    Nation that HAS built a bomb = target

    And Iran knows it.

    Understanding that doesn't involve liking or trusting them. Meanwhile this has to be the ninth time in a dozen-odd years that the "Attack Iran" nuts (after their Iraq debacle, "nuts" is the only appropriate word) have played Lucy and the Football with gullible US conservatives. The big windup, then no bomb.

  • by gutnor (872759) on Monday February 25, 2013 @12:13PM (#43003765)
    If a drunk thug in a bar says he want to shoot Bill Gates, do you put you send the SWAT team when he buys lead at a fishing shop ?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 25, 2013 @12:20PM (#43003847)

    In the end, it's all just posturing for more respect from other nations. Iran isn't reckless enough to actually do anything that would end in the entire Western world declaring war on them in response.

    That would be all well and good if certain movers and shakers within the west weren't agitating significantly with a view to starting a war. Frankly these people and their pawns should be incarcerated and their assets seized. If a drunk teenager can be arrested for suggesting on facebook a riot that doesn't even happen then how is it that those in the media pushing for wars that will result in tens of thousands dead can walk away scott free?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 25, 2013 @12:21PM (#43003863)

    ... because they're different from us, have no way of credibly causing us major damage, and because we NEED an enemy to justify the billions which are being spent on kickbacks and slush funds in the weapons industry.

    Some of those billions actually get through to the factory floor and turn into weapons, so we need to test them as well...

  • by msauve (701917) on Monday February 25, 2013 @12:28PM (#43003951)
    And just what do you claim those "clear intentions" to be? Even if they're trying to weaponize nuclear material (a separate argument), look at a map - they're exactly between Iraq and Afghanistan. Surely, the most effective defense against the popular "shock and awe" offensive warfare practiced by the US is the ability to respond with a "shock and awe" defense. Those in the "nuclear club" have been saying for 50 years that nukes are well suited as weapons of deterrence.

    We all know where the Iraqi WMDs which were used to justify an attack on them were - in someone's imagination. And, the obvious outcome aside, if some radical group residing in the US flew a plane into a foreign building, arguing that the US could then be legitimately attacked in "defense" would be considered ludicrous.

    Interestingly, Iran is a signatory to the NPT (although said to be in non-compliance, it does cooperate with the IAEA at some level), while Israel (which is believed to have hundreds of nuclear warheads) isn't , and has openly declared that they will not cooperate with the IAEA.
  • by bitt3n (941736) on Monday February 25, 2013 @12:29PM (#43003961)
    how is this flapdoodle getting modded informative? he says

    It seems that the IAEA has in all their reports strong indications that the nuclear program is peaceful.

    and yet the IAEA has indeed issued a report owning to strong suspicions the program is not peaceful. From The Economist [economist.com]

    The UN's nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), published a damning report detailing its concerns over the “possible military dimensions” of Iran's nuclear programme ... The IAEA's November report also indicated that Iran had probably already tested a sophisticated detonation system for an explosive device suitable for use as a ballistic-missile warhead (albeit the tests are likely to have taken place before 2004, when the weaponisation side of the programme was pursued more energetically than it is today). Informed by the IAEA's work and intelligence sources, estimates of Iran's potential timeline to nuclear weapons—if the country were to quit the NPT and throw everything into its programme—vary between just a couple of months for a single crude device and more than two years for an arsenal of three or four nuclear-tipped, solid-fuelled ballistic missiles.

  • by Xest (935314) on Monday February 25, 2013 @12:34PM (#43004035)

    Might I suggest you go read the actual IAEA reports direct from the horses mouth?

    They say no such thing, and the IAEA have been very clear in their consecutive reports for about a year now that they have concerns and some degree of evidence that Iran may well be trying to create a nuclear weapon.

    I don't know why people keep spreading myths about what the IAEA has or hasn't said, it's very clear what they've said and it's publicly available on their website for all to see.

    Who cares what some news organisation or blogger has said, what the IAEA has said is that they've seen enough to be rather concerned. Also, your speculation about what the NPT does and doesn't allow is false too - again, something that can be trivially confirmed by reading the masses of publicly available official documentation on the subject.

    I'm not saying whether Iran does or doesn't actually have a bomb or if they are or aren't trying to get one, but I am saying that people trying to defend Iran need to quit it with the lies and myths. They keep making stuff up that simply doesn't tally with official commentary and documentation on the issue, that complete lack of credibility alone does more to damage their cause than anything else. The other side of the debate are far from perfect, but at least whether they intentionally checked them or coincidentally are just on the right side of the argument in this regard, they at least have facts on their side over issues such as Iran's breach of it's obligations, and the IAEA's concerns on the issue.

  • by guanxi (216397) on Monday February 25, 2013 @12:43PM (#43004145)

    The statement you quote "no evidence of diversion of material and nuclear activities towards military purposes," just means that Iran currently isn't diverting that material to military purposes.

    It means that the IAEA has no information it can publicly reveal on the subject. "No evidence" is much different than "it's not happening".

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 25, 2013 @01:14PM (#43004517)

    Ask yourself a silly question. Why would a country that is awash in oil go to these lengths, including being the subject of sanctions, merely to build a few nuclear power plants? It makes no sense. The only answer reason that a country would go through all this is to obtain a nuclear weapon, because that changes everything. Come on folks, are you all really that naive?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 25, 2013 @01:19PM (#43004579)

    You're absolutely right. There's also absolutely no evidence that the invisible pink unicorn behind you isn't going to stab you to death some time in the future

  • by Charliemopps (1157495) on Monday February 25, 2013 @01:21PM (#43004607)

    Lets have some common sense here. Iran wants nukes... as well they should. If anything is going to prevent a US invasion, it's nukes.

    Secondly, Iran has no use for peaceful nuclear power. They have an abundance of oil. Energy is basically free for them. Do you think they suddenly started caring about their CO2 emissions? I really doubt it.

    Thirdly, Iran is under horrible sanctions because of their nuclear development. Some countries have even offered to build nuclear power plants for them, that would remain in foreign control but give Iran all of the power for free... and Iran refuses. Why is that?

    The fact is, Iran wants Nuclear weapons. They are almost assuredly trying to develop them under the guise of a peaceful program. But, there's nothing we can really do about it. They WILL get nuclear weapons eventually. Short of a full invasion, there's very little we can do. It may be a year from now, or 50, but one day Iran will test their first bomb and then we'll know for sure.

  • by femtobyte (710429) on Monday February 25, 2013 @01:25PM (#43004673)

    A guy has just seen a gang of bandits break into his neighbors' house to rape, murder, and rob them. Now, I think this guy is an awfully crummy fellow --- he beats his wife, and molests his children. I hope he gets kicked out of his house to die miserable and alone. However, having seen what the bandits have done to a bunch of other homes, I know his wife and children will be even worse off if the bandits get to them. I'm in a bit of a moral quandary, but I'm not going to condemn this guy for arming up to lay some whoop-ass on the bandits if they show up at his door --- it's not the best of situations, but better than giving the bandits free rein.

    If you're going to talk about "thugs on the street," please remember that the street where the violence happens isn't in your home town --- the U.S. is the real knife-wielding thug who's shown up on Baghdad Street, and is swaggering towards Tehran Avenue. If you're capable of a little self-reflection, your argument above justifies Iran arming up.

  • by runeghost (2509522) on Monday February 25, 2013 @01:33PM (#43004795)

    'Israel' has been claiming that Iran is going to have a nuclear weapon "in under 36 months" or some other value of foo months, for over a decade. They've completely discredited themselves on this front, as has the United States.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 25, 2013 @02:14PM (#43005351)

    They didn't use them because THEY DIDN'T HAVE THEM.

  • by Comrade Ogilvy (1719488) on Monday February 25, 2013 @02:15PM (#43005365)

    Exactly how do you think having a couple of nuclear weapons would deter the U.S. from invading?

    The deterrence is not to the physical safety of the US. The deterrence is the threat to US allies, who will not look kindly on paying the price for a brutish US policy.

    Likewise North Korea could be starved down to size with no risk to US soil. But South Korea is not keen on the idea of 10000 conventional missile and 100,000 artillery shells raining down on their capital. Thus we tread lightly, out of deference to of our ally -- escalating would not be doing our friend a favor.

  • by whitroth (9367) <whitrothNO@SPAM5-cent.us> on Monday February 25, 2013 @02:44PM (#43005737) Homepage

    And after we illegally and immorally invaded, found out that Hussein was talking about them most heavily to influence Iran, with whom they'd fought a truly bloody war that lasted years, to prevent further attacks?

    I'd expect them to be using 90+% of their effort for nuclear power, and a tiny bit elsewise for PR purposes, and aren't really interested in them.

    Why do I think that (since this is slashdot in 2013, not 2001, I have to say that)? Simple: what would they target? Israel? Where? They can't target Jerusalem, where most of Israel's government is, because the city is sacred to Muslims, as well, and doing so would bring the entire Muslim world down on them, as well as a good part of their own people.

    Anywhere else in Israel is almost as bad, since (after the ignorant idiots here look at a map of Israel and the scale) Israel is actually about the size of New Jersey, and the fallout would do almost the *entire* country, Israelis and Palestinians alike.

    Oh, yes, and the winds would blow fallout towards Iran.

    So the *only* purpose they'd have to build one is for MAD (not the magazine, kiddies) with Israel, and it costs a *lot* less to pretend to be doing it.

                    mark

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 25, 2013 @04:00PM (#43006949)

    Iran is only one year away from building the bomb...
    and so it was 1998, 1999, 2000, 2004, 2005, 2010 and 2011...

    see http://http//www.salon.com/2010/12/05/israeli_predictions_iranian_nukes/ [http]

  • by mbkennel (97636) on Monday February 25, 2013 @05:38PM (#43008223)

    It just takes logic.

    In this case, Iran has a uranium enrichment program that they are dead set on keeping to power hypothetical nuclear reactors that they promise to build sometime later, and haven't really even started. The one that the Russians built is being fueled with externally purchased fuel, and other nations have also been willing to sell lots of reactor grade fuel. Iran has refused to take this deal.

    So Iran is spending lots of money, and incurring major economic distress to continue with enriching uranium. If it were truly for nuclear power reactors, an economic development issue, it makes no sense for them to pursue this path. Besides, they have lots of natural gas, and gas is not cheaply or easily transported (unlike petroleum), and it makes much more sense for them to use natural gas for electrical power generation and export as much petroleum as they can, just like every other Persian Gulf state.

    There is also intelligence that they received information from A.Q. Khan's proliferation network.

    Simple logic shows that the empirical evidence around Iranian government's policies and actions is most compatible with a nuclear weapons program and not a nuclear power only program.

  • Re:The 'talk' (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Ian Alexander (997430) on Monday February 25, 2013 @07:42PM (#43009657)
    This ignores the fact that Iran was a key U.S. ally under the Shah and when the Islamic Revolution happened the United States immediately did an about-face and has been extremely hostile to Iran ever since. We supported the Axis of Evil Dictator Saddam Hussein (oops, that was more than 20 years ago, I'm not supposed to mention it because it never ever happened) against Iran in the Iran-Iraq war because we wanted Khomeini out.

    Come on, has everybody already forgotten that we invaded Iraq because of "bulletproof evidence" that Saddam had an advanced WMD program? And then that justification for invading sort of just... fell off to the wayside when we occupied the country and picked apart the guts of his regime, and it turned out there weren't any WMD's, and the intelligence turned out to be fake?

    The United States wants regime change, they're just putting pressure on Iran. The Islamic Republic came into power on a wave of anti-Western (well, more like anti-Western-imperialism) sentiment and has distinguished itself to its people by not bowing to Western pressure, even under sanction. It is entirely plausible that they're committed to pursuing nuclear energy in the face of American pressure simply because they don't want to be seen to buckle to American demands.

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