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The · Psychohistorian


Iran has "halted" its nuclear weapons program ...

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... but it's still enriching uranium.

Um, with enriched uranium, a nuclear weapon can be made in a basement machine shop. It's the uranium enrichment that's the hard part.

So just what did Iran "halt" again?

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On December 5th, 2007 03:09 am (UTC), greyautumnrain commented:
There was the BBC article I read last night that quoted some Democrat as saying that instead of being hostile to Iran that we should engage them the way Reagan engaged the Russians. That was the one that had me gasping in disbelief. The way I remember it Reagan "engaged" with the Russians by starting an arms race that ruined the soviet economy, then scared the living daylights out of them with talk of missile defense, and only then sat down and talked with them. It would seem to me that with the current situation with Iran we are if anything on the wrong end of that situation (if on a smaller scale), and that is not a good thing. We are currently involved in two active situations that require our troupes, and as you point out, they have all they need to actually make a bomb. A bomb that North Korea seems to already have. Not good.
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On December 5th, 2007 06:04 am (UTC), psychohist commented:
To be fair, Reagan offered to share the benefits of his missile defense program with the Soviets ... if they paid for half the development costs. That was of course way beyond their means; the offer mostly served to rub in the fact that their economic system couldn't compete with a free market.

Of course what really got the point across was when he invited Gorbachev and a bunch of Soviet politicos to an ordinary American grocery store. You know, the kind where anyone can just walk in and buy as much meat as they want ... and it isn't even kept in supervised locked cases to prevent theft.

With respect to Iran, I don't think the situation is all that bad yet. While I don't think their "bring it on" responses to us are bluffs, I think they currently contain an element of bravado. In another 20 years, though, when our domestic oil supplies are nearing exhaustion? They'll be holding all the cards by then.
On December 7th, 2007 02:20 am (UTC), treptoplax replied:
I'm dubious that the Iranian economy will be all that in twenty years; they're having economic issues now, and this with oil at $90/barrel. A good part of that problem is that Ahamedinajad (?) has zero grasp of economics. He's certainly no Gorbachev, but I don't think it's complete crazy talk to think his successor might be... Iranian politics is much more complex than North Korea or Saddam-era Iraq.
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On December 7th, 2007 04:49 am (UTC), psychohist replied:
I agree about Ahmandinejad - and it's also to be kept in mind that he's a figurehead, and the real leader is Khamenei. On the other hand, the regime isn't that popular in some Iranian circles, and seems to be largely ignored in others.

My military training, though, got me in the habit of assessing threats in terms of capabilities rather than intentions. Transforming the Iranian economy into a powerhouse could easily happen in 20 years. They could start out by building refineries so they didn't have to import gasoline.

More importantly, I'm not that sanguine about our own economy in 20 years, or at least in 30-40 years. Hubbert's peak is looming, and our economy is still dependent on fossil fuels for everything from necessities like food to luxuries like computers.

As a nuclear engineer by education, I should be advocating transitioning to something other than fossil fuels, but my experience in psychohistorical modeling doesn't make me optimistic about that transition.
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On December 5th, 2007 04:17 pm (UTC), kirisutogomen commented:
You make a good point, but I think you're overstating it. The enrichment is usually the bottleneck, and with enough fissionable material I suppose you might be able to put together a weapon in a machine shop. It would be pretty crude and 1945ish. Building a modern array of warheads that could be placed in intermediate and long range ballistic missiles, for both ground and air bursts, takes some sophistication.

Not to mention the ballistic missile technology itself, which while not strictly nuclear weapons technology per se, is often lumped in with it by the media.
On December 5th, 2007 07:29 pm (UTC), (Anonymous) replied:
A "crude and 1945ish" weapon was enough to destroy an entire city in 1945. Uranium fission bombs are pretty inherently small and compact, which is why the Hiroshima bomb was called "little boy". Crude as they are, they can easily be placed in missiles instead of bombs.

Plutonium weapons require a bit more sophistication, and fusion weapons require a lot more sophistication, but that's not what we're talking about here. For uranium bombs, the sophistication is all in the enrichment process.

I do agree that the ballistic missile technology, if that is how they would be delivered, is also a tough problem. In this case, however, the ballistic missile technology is another of the things Iran is continuing to work on - another detail the headlines are ignoring.
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On December 6th, 2007 04:13 pm (UTC), psychohist replied:
That was my comment; I forgot to log in.
On December 7th, 2007 02:13 am (UTC), treptoplax replied:
I think the key about enrichment isn't that it's the most technically difficult step, but that it's the step that requires vast industrial scale, huge power supply, etc. and is relatively easy to detect. (And, obviously, Iran has no practical use for uranium enrichment other than to shorten the path to nukes.)

If the CIA/IAEA/IKEA says that Iran isn't enriching uranium, I'm pretty well inclined to believe them. If they say they aren't developing a warhead, I'm much less convinced; it's much harder to verify.

(It's probably true the other steps are more challenging technically, but that may be negated to a large extent if you can just import the know-how from, e.g., North Korea.)
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On December 7th, 2007 04:41 am (UTC), kirisutogomen replied:
Actually, one of the remarkable things is that internally, people at the IAEA are actually saying that the US is giving Iran too much credit. Anyway, everyone agrees that Iran is continuing to enrich uranium.

I found John Bolton's editorial in the Washington Post to be a fairly cogent analysis.
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