The Iranian government admits it’s been secretly building a uranium enrichment plant that can make fuel for nuclear reactors?or for bombs. Experts are questioning why Iran needs nuclear power, since it has plenty of oil. Therefore, it’s assumed they intend to make nuclear bombs. And North Korea continues to build a series of plants that could be used for nuclear power, nuclear weapons, or both.
A year ago, we knew that Russia was helping Iran to rebuild a 1000-megawatt reactor at on the Persian Gulf that was bombed by Iraq between 1984 and ’87. But now Iran says they’re planning to build five more reactors over the next 20 years. At the same time, Russia has refused to support the U.S. war against Iraq, meaning it will probably refuse to support potential action against North Korea and Iran as well. Could the Russians be short-sighted enough, and so in need of money, that they would sell out our future by helping unstable countries develop nuclear weapons?
The Iranian plant will produce uranium in three forms: metal, oxide, and hexafluoride. The metal can be wrapped around the core of a nuclear bomb, holding in the explosion long enough for the chain reaction to be completed. Uranium oxide can be used to fuel reactors, although not the kind Iran is building. David Albright, a former UN weapons inspector, says the oxide could be used in a heavy water reactor, to make plutonium for weapons.
In the uranium enrichment complex Iran is constructing, uranium gas will be spun in centrifuges to separate the uranium-235 isotope (which can be used in bombs) from uranium-238. Uranium-235 makes up only .7% of natural uranium, but if uranium is “enriched” with 235 to 5%, it can be used to fuel reactors. Enriching uranium to 50% or more turns it into a nuclear bomb.
They’ve got the UN International Atomic Energy Agency over a barrel, since the UN wants to encourage nuclear power (which saves oil), while also preventing the spread of nuclear weapons. Albright says, “Why does Iran need a uranium enrichment plant, given that Russia will provide low-enriched fuel to the Bushehr power reactor and any follow-on reactor orders? Why has Iran been building this facility in secret? Why are several of the buildings at Natanz being constructed underground?”
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell says, “Here we suddenly discover that Iran is much further along, with a far more robust nuclear weapons development program than anyone said it had.?
North Korea isn’t even pretending to play by the rules. They have a five-megawatt reactor and a reprocessing plant which they closed in 1994, when they agreed to freeze their weapons program. But in October, 2002, they admitted they have a secret uranium enrichment program. Since then, they’ve announced they’ll restart their reactor and reprocessing plant, and build a new 50-megawatt reactor in one area, and a 200-megawatt reactor in another, which they claim are “needed for electricity production.”
They shutdown their reactor for 70 days in 1989, and the CIA is worried that this was done to allow spent fuel to be removed and reprocessed, in order to separate any plutonium. This could have yielded 8 to 9 kilograms of plutonium, and the CIA says this was used to “one or possibly two” nuclear bombs. If the two larger reactors are completed, the CIA says they could produce 275 kilograms of plutonium per year, enough for 60 warheads.
“The hardening of the U.S. government’s position toward these two countries has strengthened their resolve to develop nuclear weapons on a fast track,” says Edwin Lyman, of the Nuclear Control Institute. “The axis of evil is becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.”
“The U.S. is repeatedly saying that even though it has the most powerful conventional forces on Earth, it might need to use nuclear weapons in Iraq,” says Matt Bunn, former nuclear policy adviser to President Bill Clinton. “If that’s true, 180 or more countries have a better argument as to why they need nuclear weapons.”
Who’s really in charge of what goes on in the world?and what’s their vision of the future?
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