Israel, Channel 10
By Nadav Eyal and Tal Rimon
On the Iranian motivation to reach nuclear capability, the complex history between the Islamic Republic and the State of Israel, and what the Iranians are going to do with the bomb – if and when they get it... In a new series of four parts, Israeli Channel 10 foreign news editor Nadav Eyal explains what stands behind Iran’s nuclear threat.
Translated by Viktoria LymarEdited by Steven Stenzler
Part 2: What nuclear capabilities do the Iranians have at the moment?
This series will endeavor to deal with the reasons, with the effects that lead Iran to the nuclear weapons; not only with the nuclear program, the threat of an Israeli attack – the things we hear every day in the news – but also with the motives behind these phenomena which at the moment dictate the happenings not only in Israel, but in the whole world.
What do the Iranians have from the nuclear standpoint? Iran basically holds an operational nuclear program that has civilian dimensions – and military ones, according to the Western estimates. The most prominent civilian dimensions are, of course, the reactor in Bushehr – there’s a [nuclear] reactor there established with Russian planning and with Iranian funding; and this reactor already produces electricity, which is a part of the Iranian electricity system. And it should be said in this respect that this is a strange thing, on the one hand, that the Iranians, who are sitting on oil reserves that are among the largest in the world, want a nuclear reactor for supplying electricity, but on the other hand, it is not so strange because they have a tremendous problem for decades – with refining the oil. The point in oil production is not only in drawing it from under the ground but also in refining it to different forms, for example, for gasoline for cars, and so on and so forth. This technology is an expensive one; the Iranians don’t have enough of it, and thus their ability to sustain a nuclear reactor – not a very big one, that in Bushehr – it’s an ability that has to do as well with prestige; but also, maybe they’ll want to develop their energy network further on.
The reactor in Bushehr does not interest us so much, and the chance of this reactor to be attacked is pretty low, whether by the United States, or by Israel, – among other things, because it’s an active reactor; and attacking it could lead to a wide-scale environmental disaster. The things that worry the world much more are various centrifuge facilities. There are several ways to enrich uranium required to produce nuclear weapons, and the way of centrifuges is somewhat cumbersome, long – but it has one outstanding advantage: the centrifuges are running, and you can put them in any place you want. You can set up batteries of centrifuges, and you can take them to pieces, and spread them throughout the country. And this is exactly what the Iranians have been doing for very many years.
So there is this large centrifuge facility in Natanz – there are a lot more than hundreds of working centrifuges there – we call this centrifuge cascades, or batteries of centrifuges [‘centrifuge battery’], and they are working in order to enrich uranium. Essentially, this is a relatively sophisticated device – the new centrifuges are connected to a computer, you’re more or less pressing the keys on the computer: ‘enrichment to the level of 20 percent’, and the uranium – which is a basic, fundamental material that is mined – is being taken and after a certain process, put into centrifuges, and begins to be enriched. It could be enriched to the level of, let’s say, 4 percent, and it could be enriched to the level of 20 percent which is quite a high grade. If you have a technical ability to enrich uranium by means of centrifuges to 20 percent, you can also enrich it to 90 percent; if you can enrich it to 90 percent – this means you can manufacture a nuclear bomb, or at least, in principle, you can when you have enough fissionable material, meaning, uranium enriched enough to produce a bomb.
So the Iranians have this site in Natanz, and now they are building another site which they in fact completed, near the city of Qom; this facility in Fordo is located under a mountain in a way that will make it very hard on one who’ll try to strike it and destroy the centrifuges inside it, and they start dividing the centrifuges between Natanz and Fordo. Now, in Natanz, there is supervision of the IAEA, there are cameras of the IAEA (people just don’t know that so much), there are seals of the IAEA. The aim of all these security measures is that the representatives of all the countries that have signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty will sit in Vienna and be able to see in real time everything occurring in Natanz. And also, there are naturally inspectors who will come to make sure that no one has switched the cameras and so on. In Bushehr, too, there is IAEA monitoring; in Qom – there is none. There isn’t really true oversight in Fordo of what’s going on there.
And there’s also another site which is an important one – and this is a facility in Parchin. Parchin is a military installation, [they] don’t develop nuclear weapons there, that’s quite sure, – but what [they] are doing there is no less dangerous: in all likelihood, they are conducting there experiments which are testing nuclear detonators. Nuclear detonators are complex mechanisms whose purpose is to ignite a chain reaction that would lead to a nuclear explosion. That is, in other words: one should take the uranium fissile material and bring it to the critical mass in which there is a nuclear explosion. This something is sometimes a controlled explosion that compresses the uranium core in the heart of the bomb – causes it such a compression at once through a series of explosions: 'tak-tak-tak' around it. Now, these kinds of explosions have to be accurate to the level of an atomic clock, and therefore, one needs quite far-reaching technology, almost no less complicated than uranium enrichment, perhaps, even more complicated, in order to take this enriched uranium and turn it into a bomb. This facility in Parchin concerns the world very much – but the Iranians are by no means whatsoever ready to let the world inside it.
Original Hebrew video article:
Video/image credit: Channel 10; GeoEye satellite imagery via Bloomberg - image of the Parchin military base
The series ‘Why Iran Needs Nuke?’ has been originally created for cellular phones and Channel 10 application in the end of September 2012
See also: The Iranian Threat - Part 1