I said yesterday that the interim agreement (1) guaranteed Iran would get “the Bomb.” I also wrote that the apparent Iranian concession regarding their underground, fortified research facility at Fordow was possibly a sign that Iran had backup facilities somewhere else, such that they could afford to “sacrifice” the publicly known one.
Turns out I was right about the first, but at least partially wrong (2) about the second. They will get the bomb, but because we’ve allowed them to keep sufficient centrifuges at Fordow to do the job. Via Power Line, blogger Omri Ceren, who’s followed the negotiations closely, explains:
But instead of spinning uranium, the centrifuges would be spinning germanium or similar non-nuclear elements. That’s the administration’s talking point: that there will not be any “enrichment” going on at Fordow. The claim is – bluntly – false. Centrifuges spin isotopes into lighter and heavier elements, thereby “enriching” the material. That’s what they do. In fact that’s all they do. The administration has gone all-in on a talking point can be defeated by a Google search for “centrifuges enrich germanium” (if you’re fastidious you can set the Google search to before the AP scoop, to make sure you’re not getting Fordow-specific articles).
This isn’t a minor point. The concession has the potential to gut the whole deal:
(1) Allows N-generation centrifuge R&D beyond the reach of the West – since the process is the exact same process, Iran will have a hardened facility where it will be able to research and develop N-generation centrifuges. Zarif bragged from the stage in Lausanne that Iranian R&D on centrifuges will continue on IR-4s, IR-5s, IR-6s, and IR-8s, and that the pace of research will be tied to Iranian scientific progress. The development of advanced centrifuges would give the Iranians a leg up if they decide to break out, and will put them instantly within a screw’s turn of a nuke when the deal expires.
(2) Leaves Iranian nuclear infrastructure running beyond the reach of the West – if the Iranians kick out inspectors and dare the world to respond, the West will have zero way to intervene. The Iranians will have a head start on enrichment, and a place to do it beyond the reach of Western weapons. The administration’s early pushback has been that the breakout time will still be a year, so they could in theory reimpose sanctions, but it takes more than a year for sanctions to take an economic toll. So: zero options to stop a breakout.
In other words, we’re allowing them to develop better and better centrifuges that would require a trivial effort to switch to uranium enrichment, all in a hard to attack facility.
But do they have enough centrifuges? The agreement allows them 6,000, far fewer than what they’re running now, roughly 20,000. But, according to former CIA deputy director Michael Morrell, that’s all they need:
“If you are going to have a nuclear weapons program, 5,000 is pretty much the number you need,” Morell, now a CBS analyst, said on Charlie Rose. “If you have a power program, you need a lot more. By limiting them to a small number of centrifuges, we are limiting them to the number you need for a weapon.”
Morell told PunditFact he said 5,000 because that was lowest number he had heard was in play. The number of centrifuges in place today is a hair over 20,000, and a likely goal is to cut that to about 5,000.
They decided to check his claim:
The consensus among the experts we reached is that Morell is on the money. Matthew Kroenig at Georgetown University told PunditFact the Morell is “is absolutely correct.” Ditto for Daryl Kimball of the Arms Control Association and David Albright of the Institute for Science and International Security.
Matthew Bunn at Harvard agreed with his colleagues.
“People think surely you must need a bigger enrichment system to make 90 percent enriched material for bombs than to make 4-5 percent enriched material for power reactors,” Bunn said. “But exactly the opposite is true.”
Bunn said there are two reasons. First, you need tens of tons of material to fuel a power reactor for a year, but just tens of kilograms to make a bomb. According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, the threshold amount for a bomb is about 25 kilograms of the most highly enriched U-235.
And while yes, it’s harder to make 90 percent enriched uranium (bomb) than 4-5 percent enriched uranium (power), it’s not that much harder, Bunn said.
So, while the administration is trying to sell the Fordow portion of the agreement as proof that they’re stopping Iran from getting a bomb because no uranium will be enriched there under the agreement, it turns out that is irrelevant; they will have all the technology they need when (not if) they decide to “break out.”
This just gets better and better.
(1) Turns out this is a rough agreement on the way to a final one, the deadline for which is in June. The difference is minimal, though; today’s agreement sets the parameters for the final agreement. They can only get worse from here.
(2) It’s of course possible Iran has a parallel facility in North Korea — I would, if I were them. But they’re obviously not sacrificing Fordow.