The Atoms for Peace Program was announced by US President Eisenhower in 1955. Two goals were set for the program: stopping the nuclear race between the US and the USSR, and harnessing nuclear energy for the benefit of mankind – producing electricity, various applications for developing medicine, agriculture and industry, and promoting scientific research.
In retrospect, with more than 60 years having passed since, it should not be doubted that nuclear energy has contributed to the welfare of humanity around the world. However the seed of evil was also planted by it, as a result of the distribution of technologies used for developing nuclear weapons to various countries around the world, including those referred to by US President George W. Bush as “the Axis of Evil” in his January 2002 speech.
One of the countries mentioned was Iran, which has specialized in misleading the world, concealing its military nuclear program under the umbrella of ‘peaceful needs’. Many around the world are tempted to believe, either out of naiveté or due to convenience, that the nuclear program is in fact a legitimate civilian program. Others alternatively believe that the State of Israel and the Jewish people are a disease that must be done away with, and therefore it is a good reason to support Iran.
Otherwise, it is difficult to understand why the nuclear discussions with Iran continue as though nothing has happened, even when it has turned out time and again that Iran is misleading the world. Indeed, Dr. Fereydoon Abbasi, president of the Iranian organization for nuclear energy and former Vice President of Iran, admitted in a September 2012 interview to the London-based newspaper Al Hayat that Iran has presented falsified facts to protect its nuclear program and conceal its technical progress in several fields. According to Abbasi, “We sometimes made it seem as though we were weaker than we actually were, and sometimes projected strength when we actually had nothing.” He added that “many times, we delivered false information (to the IAEA inspectors) in order to protect our nuclear facilities and our accomplishments… we had no choice but to deceive the IAEA and the other spies.” In Islamic Shiite culture, legitimacy for lies has always existed, in certain circumstances.
The term is known in Arabic as Al-Taqiyya, which means “the caution commitment”, or loosely translated, means concealment or deception. The principle of Al-Taqiyya was first expressed during the period of Islamic dichotomy between Sunna and Shia sects. It was intended to conceal the Shiite identity when it was a minority, in order to survive and deal with the persecution of the hostile Sunni rule. Iranian leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, recently demonstrated this personally in speeches that he held in various forums, including in his January 2012 speech before Iran’s top nuclear scientists. Khamenei claimed that Iran was not interested in nuclear armament, due to “reasonable, religious and theocratic reasons, since Iran views the possession of nuclear armament as a grave, unforgivable sin.”
Nuclear Electricity – Legitimate Cover for the Uranium Enrichment Centrifuge Program
When Bush included Iran in the “Axis of Evil”, he referred to its rogue nuclear conduct, among the rest. His words were made clearer in the midst of August 2002, when an Iranian opposition organization held a press conference in Washington DC, revealing for the first time that Iran was covertly establishing a facility for enriching uranium in Natanz as well as a heavy water reactor in Khondab, near Arak. The information was verified via satellite photography.
Despite its commitment according to the Treaty for the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, Iran did not inform the IAEA in advance of the establishment of these nuclear facilities. Even though Iran initially denied the information entirely, the proof presented to it by IAEA director general Mohamed El Baradei brought it to confess it and agree to IAEA personnel inspections in Natanz. The visit of El Baradei and his entourage to Iran took place in February 2003. Raza Aghazadeh, Iran’s vice president and the president of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, presented the Natanz enrichment facility and the Arak reactor as key components in the development of a grandiose nuclear program for ‘peaceful purposes’. According to the program, approximately six power reactors would be constructed by 2020 for the production of electricity, in addition to the Bushehr nuclear power plant.
Both reactors of the Bushehr plant are cooled and moderated via light water (ordinary water with a high level of purity), and their operation requires fueling them with fuel containing uranium enriched to a low level of 3.5%. According to Aghazadeh, this is why Iran constructed the uranium enrichment facility in Natanz. This factory includes two facilities: an industrial facility which was still under construction – planned to include approximately 50,000 centrifuges to enrich uranium for nuclear fuel for the Bushehr reactors and the reactors of Iran’s future nuclear power plants – and a pilot plant for experimental centrifuge operation, which was nearing completion at the time. The display of centrifuges in Natanz was apparently viewed by El Baradei as a “Potemkin village” show (a display intended to impress, despite being virtual).
The heads of the Iranian nuclear program informed him that approximately 100 centrifuges were already installed in Natanz and that they intend to install another 900 by the end of 2003. Furthermore, they said that the design, research and development of the Iranian centrifuge project, which was based on model construction, simulations and centrifuge tests, were conducted independently by scientists of the Amir Khabir University in Tehran and experts from the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran. It should be assessed that in light of the impressive display, El Baradei deduced that the Iranian centrifuge project constituted a fait accompli. In addition, during the visit, he was informed that Iran had decided that it was willing to accept upon itself additional commitments in the framework of its inspection agreement with the IAEA.
Therefore it seems that the IAEA report on Iran published in June 2003 was fairly softened. Of each of the many issues and articles where Iran violated the inspection agreement only one “failure” in following after the commitments of the agreement was defined in the report. It is likely that El Baradei expected a positive attitude on the part of Iran at the time with regards to the nuclear issue, which would allow the IAEA to close the Iranian case.
However, the findings discovered by the IAEA inspectors in Iran in 2004, despite the Iranian regime’s tendency to narrow their steps, proved El Baradei wrong. Traces of enriched uranium which matched the signature of first-generation Pakistani centrifuges were discovered at the Natanz facility and at the Kalaye Electric site in Tehran. This was proof that the Iranian centrifuge project began back in 1987, and that its first-generation centrifuges were created using technologies and components supplied by the network of Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan, the “father” of the Pakistani nuclear bomb. It turned out that he also sold more advanced centrifuge model technology to Iran, even though Iran initially denied it. As a result, the trust in Tehran’s good intentions was broken. However, due to increasing pressures imposed on it to completely reveal the efforts to develop nuclear weapons, Iran went back on its agreement from 2003 to suspend its plans in the fields of producing fissile materials, with emphasis on enriching uranium.
The Heavy Water Reactor and the Plutonium Issue
Iran also sought to have the heavy water reactor it was constructing near Arak ‘approved’ by the IAEA, and relieve the concern of the international community that the reactor was intended, based on its technical characteristics, for the production of weapons-grade plutonium. On May 2003, Aghazadeh presented a position paper to the IAEA staff in Vienna for clarifying his country’s nuclear plan.
According to the document, Iran considered the possibility that some of the reactors that it would construct will be heavy water reactors based on the CANDU model, developed in the past by Canada. He thus sought to justify the need for a large heavy water research reactor, as well as an industrial facility for producing heavy water. As they are cooled and moderated by heavy water, these reactors have an advantage of light water reactors, as they utilize unenriched natural uranium fuel. However, this claim by Aghazadeh contradicted his words in February, when he guided El Baradei during his visit to Natanz, when he presented the uranium enrichment project as the central component in the electricity production power plant program. Furthermore, it was possible to refute his claim with the fact that even prior to 2000, all countries that developed or constructed power plants around the world, including Canada, tended towards abandoning the development of heavy reactors, due to economic reasons.
Iran had no economic rationale for focusing simultaneously on a heavy water power plant in addition to the light water power plants installed in the Bushehr facility. On July 2003, Iran’s claim to the IAEA was modified on July 2003, according to which the heavy water reactor in Arak was intended for producing radioisotopes for medical and industrial applications.
However, the IAEA learned in 2004 of Iranian contacts abroad for the acquisition of manipulators for hot cells. Such cells are intended for handling materials with high levels of radioactivity, and are shielded by cement sides and very thick lead glass windows.
Iran initially claimed that the equipment was not intended for constructing a “hot lab” for separating plutonium, but for hot cells that would be installed in the heavy water facility in Khondab, to produce radioisotopes for medical purposes, for handling nuclear waste and for other civilian applications. However, As discussions with the Iranian regime continued, the IAEA management pointed to discrepancies between the technical layout of the hot cells and Tehran’s claims. Therefore, Iran remove the hot cell plans from the details of the reactor building.
In this context – in 2003, when Iran agreed to allow IAEA inspectors to visit its nuclear facilities, the inspectors found that there was research activity at Tehran’s nuclear center for the production of plutonium. This was evidenced by samples of plutonium which were produced from the Tehran Research Reactor and were found in the reactor building, as well as evidence that the separation and handling of plutonium was done at a Molybdenum-Iodine-Xenon (MIX) facility, and the Jabir ibn Hayyan laboratory at Tehran’s nuclear center. The MIX facility is intended to separate Molybdenum, Iodine and Xenon radioisotopes for medical purposes from uranium samples radiated at the Tehran reactor. Plutonium was also produced as a byproduct of the production of these substances from the uranium. It can therefore be determined that despite Iran’s denial, the Iranian program for producing fissile materials for nuclear weapons also included a track for producing plutonium, in addition to the one for enriched uranium.
The heavy water reactor built near Arak, as well as the ‘hot lab’ for separating the plutonium from the reactor’s radiated nuclear fuel – once its construction is made possible – will constitute the main components of Iran’s plutogenic track.
Developing the Nuclear Explosive Device
While Tehran found civilian justifications for the construction of the nuclear facilities, it faced difficulties in explaining the information presented to it by the IAEA that clearly point to efforts in developing a nuclear explosive device. However, Iran came up with several ways of dealing with the incriminating facts. Iran claimed that facts were inconclusive, such as the Polonium-210 discovered by IAEA inspectors at the Tehran Research Reactor, an isotope that Iran claimed was intended for civilian use in producing thermo-electric devices, and not for developing a neutron trigger for a nuclear weapons. Another way was by destroying evidence, including the total destruction of part of the Lavizan-Shian suburb in Tehran, including disposing of vast quantities of soil from the area, in order to conceal the existence of the PHRC facility that operated there earlier, and served the military nuclear program. Iran additionally denied the facts, claiming that they were fabricated and based on forged documents, and lastly, hiding behind the claim that the IAEA’s findings pertain to fields that deal with Iran’s security and are state secrets that have no nuclear aspect, such as the issue of the Parchin facility for testing explosives.
Iran’s methods of dealing with the nuclear weapons issue were described in the IAEA reports as of 2003. An issue that is always sensitive from Iran’s perspective was recently included as a chapter in the IAEA’s quarterly reports. Its title was phrased in a softened language, “Allegedly Military Dimensions,” in order to provide Iran a respectful way out and allow a continued dialogue with the country.
The Nuclear Fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor – A ‘Cover Story’
The recent example for the false Iranian stories is from the end of December 2012. The New York Times quoted US and other Western officials who were under the impression that Iran had moderated its uranium enrichment program, in order to signal to the six large powers (P5+1) that it wishes to avoid a future confrontation over the Iranian issue. Therefore, they believe that Iran will be willing to reach a deal of some form with the west on this issue. During the last summer, evidence was received for this impression when Iran diverted a significant quantity of its 20% enriched uranium for the production of nuclear fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor. At any rate, according to the assessment of a US official, the purpose of Iran’s steps is to buy more time. In fact, Iran is moving with its nuclear dialogue with the IAEA and the P5+1 powers as though dancing a tango – one step forward and two steps back. The ‘shuffling’ on its part was expressed in talks with the IAEA delegation that arrived to Tehran during January 2013. As was reported by the media, the talks concluded without any results. At the end of January, Iran informed the IAEA that it intends to operate advanced centrifuges at its primary enrichment facility in Natanz, which will make it possible to significantly accelerate the uranium enrichment process.
This clearly points to the fact that Iran does not intend to withdraw its nuclear military program. It can be determined that the Iranian claim that the uranium it is enriching to a level of 20% is intended to produce fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor is clearly false. Its purpose is to serve as a ‘cover story’ for the program to continue enriching uranium to a level of 90% – weapons-grade quality for a nuclear weapon. It is possible that an examination of the issue of nuclear fuel, from a financial cost perspective, will show that it is cheaper to acquire it from abroad.
On one hand, the calculations indicate that as of November 2012, Iran has accumulated approximately 157 kilograms of 20% enriched uranium, which is sufficient for producing nuclear fuel for the reactor in Tehran for the next 25 years.
On the other hand, approximately 300 centrifuges are operated at the Natanz enrichment facility, enriching three kilograms of 20% enriched uranium, and approximately 700 centrifuges at the Fordow enrichment facility, with a monthly yield of 6.7 kilograms of 20% enriched uranium. Nevertheless, the installation of all the centrifuges at the facility, approximately 2,800,was recently completed, and it appears that all of them will be used for enriching uranium to a level of 20%. Once operational, the total monthly yield of enriched uranium at Natanz and Fordow will increase to 30kg of 20% enriched uranium. The obvious conclusion from these figures is that once all the centrifuges at the Fordow facility become operational, Iran will accumulate sufficient amounts of 20% enriched uranium to produce nuclear fuel for more than 40 years (including the amount produced thus far) or sufficient amounts for a nuclear bomb within seven or eight months.
It seems that until 2003, when the IAEA began deciphering the riddle of Iran’s nuclear program, it had yet to face an issue so complicated. Iran’s conduct vis-à-vis the IAEA has seen consistent denials and ‘cover stories’, in order to conceal and camouflage the military characteristics of its nuclear program. In light of this, the IAEA has developed admirable intelligence collection and research capabilities within the effort to reveal Iran’s true intentions.