Bringing Nuclear Disarmament “Home” & Iran’s Over-hyped Nuclear Program

April 25th, 2006 - by admin

Jackie Cabasso / Disarmament Activist & Michael Spies / DA – 2006-04-25 08:50:11

Bringing Nuclear Disarmament “Home” to the Peace and Justice Movement
Jackie Cabasso / Disarmament Activist

(April 24, 2006) — Readers of this blog have been privy to in-depth information and analysis about the Iranian crisis and what it really means, by my colleagues, Andrew Lichterman, John Burroughs, and Michael Spies. You might wonder about the name of our blog, “” We believe that education and critical thinking are essential building blocks of effective activism.

Plans for Action
But at the same time, while we’ve been delving into the facts and putting them into context, we’ve also been working with our colleagues on plans for action. (Obviously much more needs to be done!)

• The initial results can be found on the new United for Peace and Justice No War on Iran! No Nukes! campaign pages. There you can sign and send letters to members of Congress and the UN Security Council calling on them to oppose military action against Iran, uphold the law, support diplomatic solutions, and put an end to US nuclear hypocrisy. You can also sign a petition to Bush and Cheney, and find links to additional educational materials and action items.

• On April 29, under the banner No Nukes! No Wars! we’ll be marching for Peace, Justice and Democracy in New York City, and hosting an interactive No War on Iran! No Nukes! tent in the Peace and Justice Festival.

• Join our Nuclear Abolition contingent at 20th Street, east of Broadway, starting at 11:00 am (enter from Park Avenue South)!

This recent activity is the result of a steady, patient, behind-the-scenes campaign. Since late 2002, during the runup to the Iraq war, we’ve been working with US member groups of the Abolition 2000 Global Network to Eliminate Nuclear Weapons to bring nuclear disarmament “home” to the peace and justice movement.

In the run-up to the US attack on Iraq, premised in part on the wholly unsubstantiated claim that Iraq had an active nuclear weapons program, a new anti-war movement began to coalesce, with a heightened sensitivity to the domestic impacts of the “war on terror,” including attacks on immigrants, and drastic cuts to social services for the poorest members of our population.

The first National Assembly of United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ), held in Chicago in June 2003, seemed like a good opportunity to reclaim nuclear disarmament as a peace and justice issue, and to reintegrate it into the broader anti-war movement.

A proposal from Abolition 2000 groups to make nuclear disarmament a UFPJ priority was adopted, with little discussion or controversy. It was striking, however, that several delegates voiced objections to the effect that “nuclear disarmament is the Bush agenda!” This turned out to be the tip of an iceberg, exposing a vast lack of awareness in the new anti-war movement – reflecting the general lack of public awareness – about the realities of US nuclear weapons and their central role in our “national security” policy.

And it marked the beginning of a continuing internal education process in UFPJ, the largest anti-war coalition in the country, with over 1,300 member groups.

The Nuclear Disarmament/Redefining Security Working Group of UFPJ, which I convene, has been working steadily to raise awareness about the historically unbroken U.S. nuclear threat in the context of an increasingly aggressive, unbelievably arrogant and unilateral administration in Washington.

Now it seems that like it or not, the threatened use of nuclear weapons by the United States against Iran, reported by Seymour Hersh in the April 17 New Yorker, is forcing the still-somewhat-reluctant anti-Iraq-war movement to come to grips with the prospect of nuclear war.

With the risk of use of nuclear weapons climbing towards levels not reached since the darkest days of the Cold War, where is the public outcry? What happened to the massive anti-nuclear movement of the 1980s? Why has the anti-war movement been so quiet about nuclear weapons?

I explored this question in a presentation I made at the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation’s 2006 International Law Symposium in February. In my talk, Still Standing on the Nuclear Precipice After All These Years: Why? A Critical Look Back at the 1990s, I described how following the unanticipated collapse of the Soviet Union and the Cold War rationale for “nuclear deterrence,” nuclear weapons – especially US nuclear weapons – fell off the public’s radar screen.

As the Dr. Strangeloves at the nuclear weapons labs got back in the saddle, questions of nuclear arms control, nonproliferation and disarmament became increasingly isolated from issues of concern to most ordinary people – including issues of war and peace – and increasingly relegated to elite policy circles inside the beltway.

Meanwhile, independent grassroots groups monitoring their local nuclear weapons facilities were documenting and trying to put the brakes on US plans to replace full-scale underground nuclear tests with a new generation of high-tech experimental laboratory facilities and supercomputers, and proposals for new weapons production processes and capabilities.

For the most part, this information was kept out of Washington, DC discourse by arms control lobbyists protecting their access to Clinton era policy and decision makers. As viewed from the corridors of power, apparently, it was desirable to dismiss the fact that nuclear weapons research and development was going forward, while overlooking evolving counterproliferation policies reliant on “credible” US nuclear threats.

To make matters worse, as the decade wore on, funding for NGOs working for arms control and disarmament began to dry up, and those funders still in the field, increasingly withdrew support for independent grassroots groups advocating for the abolition of, rather than US control of, nuclear weapons. Now, the anti-war movement finds itself playing catch up, as a new generation is shocked to discover that we are still living in the shadow of the mushroom cloud.

Nuclear weapons have delivered themselves back to the anti-war movement. Our challenge and our promise now is grow from anti-Iraq war movement into a mature, truly anti-war movement, which demands in no uncertain terms the global elimination of nuclear weapons and a new concept of global (not “national”) security based on human needs and ecological values.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 License.2006

Iran’s Overhyped Nuclear Progress
Michael Spies / Disarmament Activist

(April 20, 2006) — There is renewed buzz and fear-mongering relating to Iranian president Mahmoud Amadinejad’s latest nuclear boasts. According to the New York Times, days after Amadinejad announced Iran has succeeded in enriching uranium to a level suitable for a reactor, he casually dropped that Iran has begun work on the more advanced P2 centrifuge design.

To the NYT, reminiscent of the role it played in the lead up to the Iraq war, these statements mean Iran “is pursuing a far more sophisticated way of making atomic fuel that American officials and inspectors say could speed Iran’s path to developing a nuclear weapon.” Taking their cue, US officials expressed the usual scripted shock and dismay meant to convey the sense of hysterical urgency that the Bush Administration associates with every step the Iranians take in their fledgling nuclear development program.

While the P2 program serves as the central plotline in Iran’s ongoing drama with the IAEA inspectors exploring Iran’s past concealment, it is a stretch to see how the announcement to pursue work on the design changes the bigger picture in any meaningful way.

After more than 18 years of work to develop the P1, Iran has only recently succeeded in reportedly producing a minute amount of reactor grade plutonium in a 164 machine cascade. This is far short of the 3000 machines Iran would need to operate continuously for a full year in order to produce sufficient material for a single weapon, and shorter still from the 50,000 Iran needs to fuel its present nuclear energy program.

The announcement is notable in light of the fact that the largest remaining issue in the IAEA’s investigation into Iran’s past nuclear program involves the major gap in the history of its work on the P2 design. While the Iranians acquired the design from the Khan network in 1995, they claim they had not worked on them in the period leading up to the revelation of the Natanz facility in 2002.

Naturally, this raised suspicion with the IAEA, which has been insistently pressing Iran for documentary evidence to prove it did not work on the designs during that time. Iran claims it lacked the resources to carry out R&D on both designs, so it stuck to the easier model.

The IAEA recently confronted Iran with documents related to work allegedly carried out by a contracting company between 2002 and 2003, and the import of centrifuges components. The IAEA inquired about the alleged import to a contracting company of 900 magnets from a foreign entity in mid-2003. Iran replied that only a limited number of magnets were delivered.

It should be noted that Iran is not required to report the import of such components under either its Safeguards Agreement (INFCIRC/214) or the Additional Protocol, but it is obligated under the Additional Protocol to provide the IAEA with such information upon the request of the Agency (see: INFCIRC/540, Article 2.a.ix.b; and IAEA, Report on the Implementation of Safeguards in the Islamic Republic of Iran, para. 19, February 2006).

Without knowing more about the extent and nature of Iran’s P2 work, it’s impossible to say what impact it will have on the timeline of its nuclear development. Unfortunately this question falls squarely in the gray area of the IAEA’s authority. IAEA safeguards, as mandated by the NPT, are tailored to follow nuclear material; thus work on various components and equipment can happen entirely out of sight. This is especially true for states not implementing the Additional Protocol.

The IAEA has two legal hooks on this matter though. First, the Agency has repeatedly asked for information on Iran’s work, triggering Iran’s obligation under the Additional Protocol. Second, ElBaradei has stated that, in light of the impossibility of tracing decades old LEU contamination to its original source, he needs to understand the full nature and scope of Iran’s centrifuge development program in order to be in a position to determine the absence of undeclared nuclear activity.

Iran’s enrichment program had previously only utilized a first generation Pakistani design (which in turn was based on a Dutch design) known as the P1. Depending on its configuration the P1 has a capacity between 1-3 SWU/year; Jeffrey Lewis makes the argument for 2. One significant quantity of HEU (25kg enriched to 90%), the amount roughly required for an atomic bomb, requires a capacity of 5000 SWU/yr. The P2 has a capacity of 5 SWU/year, so while the design is definitely an improvement, on paper it doesn’t seem as significant as it is being spun (there may be an unintentional pun in there).

For comparison, URENCO centrifuges have a capacity of 40 SWU/yr. Russia uses centrifuges with a more modest capacity of 10 SWU/yr. US R&D models can reportedly crank out a whopping 300 SWU/yr. (see: Marvin Miller, “The Gas Centrifuge and Nuclear Proliferation“, Appendix 1 in: Victor Gilinsky, Marvin Miller, Harmon Hubbard, A Fresh Examination of the Proliferation Dangers of Light Water Reactors, Nonproliferation Policy Education Center, March 22, 2004.)

Sober facts about Iran’s present capabilities has not stopped the Administration from over-hyping every uncertainty as evidence of Iranian duplicity, thus necessitating the strongest possible response. Regarding Iran’s progress in its enrichment development program, former weapons inspector David Albright recently commented on the U.S. spin on Iran’s nuclear program:

“…anonymous US officials quickly started to distort what the IAEA had said. These officials told journalists on a not for attribution basis that this action by Iran represented a significant acceleration of its enrichment program. US officials called several journalists to tell them that in the briefing IAEA officials were ’shocked,’ ‘astonished,’ ‘blown-away’ by Iran’s progress on gas centrifuges, leading the United States to revise its own timeline for Iran to get the bomb.

In fact, IAEA officials have said they were not surprised by Iran’s actions. Although Iran’s pace is troubling and requires concerted diplomatic effort to reverse, it was also anticipated by other experts, including those at ISIS. A senior IAEA official told the Associated Press that these US statements came ‘from people who are seeking a crisis, not a solution.’”

Albright concludes that:

“Estimates of Iran’s nuclear capabilities, accomplishments, and timelines need far greater public and Congressional scrutiny than they are currently receiving. This scrutiny becomes even more important as those in the Bush Administration who favor confronting Iran and pressing for regime change may be hyping up Iran’s nuclear threat and trying to undermine intelligence assessments that Iran is several years from having nuclear weapons.”

From what is released in the IAEA Board reports, it is certainly difficult to get a full picture on the full scope of the Iranian program, much less their ultimate intentions. Iran could be deliberately hiding its past work on the P2, for unknown reasons, not all of which involve a drive toward acquiring nuclear weapons.

Iran could be mostly telling the truth and an explanation could be that its leadership has conducted very little oversight on various aspects of the nuclear program (the Atomic Energy Agency functions fairly autonomously and has been subject to spotty management).

Coming at it from the other end, if Iran were conducting a clandestine P2 program for the purpose of producing weapons, why didn’t it devote more resources to the design starting in 1995? While it was Western intelligence agencies that gave the IAEA information regarding the import of alleged P2 magnets in 2003, there have been no accusations of P2 imports before that.

Ultimately, it difficult to draw any conclusions from this. ElBaradei has warned that all these uncertainties are dangerous because when some people see these unknowns, their imaginations and their suspicions light up.

Thus far, the Administration is sticking closely to the template set for Iraq. It first turns uncertainty into suspicion and then in into rumor, which, when fanned by the media, becomes an allegation that will be repeated over and over again until it is accepted as unquestionable fact. By the time that happens, this over-hyped dilemma will have mushroomed into a real crisis.

Hopefully for most, once will be more than enough. Congressmen from both sides of the aisle have begun to speak out. As John noted, it is time for the Administration to put down its nuclear sticks and its bullhorn diplomacy and enter into credible negotiations in order to defuse the dilemma before it becomes a real crisis.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 License.2006