Iran on Brink of Nuclear Weapon, Warns Watchdog

Daily News Article   —   Posted on September 7, 2010

Note: This article is from the British newspaper The Daily Telegraph.

(by Damien McElroy, Telegraph.co.uk) – Iran has passed a crucial nuclear threshold, [United Nations] weapons inspectors have warned, and could now go on to arm an atomic missile with relative ease.

A report by the [UN’s] International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said Iranian nuclear scientists had made at least 22 kilograms of enriched uranium at least 20 per cent purity, a technical hurdle that is the hardest to overcome on the way to weapons-grade uranium.

Experts estimate that 20 kgs of uranium is the minimum required to arm a warhead. The uranium would still need to have its purity raised to 90 per cent, but that is a relatively easy process.

The agency’s report comes in spite of the recent imposition at the United Nations of a fresh round of sanctions against Iran and will heighten fears of an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear plants. The prospect of an attack had receded only recently with American assurances that Tehran was more than a year away from acquiring a bomb.

The [IAEA] … said Tehran had maintained its absolute defiance of international pressure to curb its program despite the imposition of harsh sanctions in May. The IAEA has grown increasingly alarmed at Iran’s behaviour and the latest report, which will be presented to the agency’s governors at a meeting next week, lambasted Tehran on a series of fronts.

The country’s refusal to answer questions on its attempts to make a nuclear warhead that could be fitted on to its most advanced missiles was denounced as a violation of sanctions.

The agency also rebuked the regime for its repeated failure to co-operate with weapons inspections designed to ensure that material was held securely at Iranian plants.

Iran barred two weapons inspectors from the country in June after [the inspectors] reported undeclared nuclear activity by [Iranian] scientists. It has also systematically objected to other scientists on spurious grounds.

“The agency is … concerned that the repeated objection to the designation of experienced inspectors hampers the inspection process and detracts from the agency’s ability to implement safeguards in Iran,” the report said.

The acquisition of uranium will cause the most alarm however. Until February the Iranians were enriching uranium to levels of no more than 5 per cent at its plant in Natanz.

The [British] government-funded Verification Research, Training and Information Centre [VERTIC], an expert body with … access to the IAEA, has estimated that a weapons expert could make a nuclear device from 20 kgs of 20 per cent enriched material with relatively few further obstacles.

The IAEA under Yukiya Amano, its new Japanese director general, has taken a much tougher line with Iran’s obstruction of international inspections [than it did under previous director general, Mohamed El Baradei of Egypt].  But the agency’s reports demonstrate that while the Iranian economy has suffered from sanctions the nuclear program has not been [blocked or slowed down]. Iran’s stockpile of low-enriched uranium, the feedstock of both civilian and military nuclear programs, has risen by around 15 per cent since May to reach 2.8 tons. However, the number of centrifuges that refine uranium to higher levels of purity has fallen to 3,772 from 3,936.

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Questions

1. What is the minimum amount of uranium needed to arm a nuclear warhead?

2. What is the IAEA?

3. What did IAEA weapons inspectors say in a recent report about Iran’s nuclear program?

4. What do experts say about the purity of the enriched uranium?  (see paragraphs 3 and 11)

5. For what reason did Iran bar two IAEA weapons inspectors from the country in June?

6. Read the “Background” below, then watch the AP News report under “Resources.” What do you think the UN should do about Iran’s nuclear program? Do you think they will do so? Explain your answer.


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Background

ON URANIUM ENRICHMENT:
Enriched uranium is a critical component for both civil nuclear power generation and military nuclear weapons. The International Atomic Energy Agency attempts to monitor and control enriched uranium supplies and processes in its efforts to ensure nuclear power generation safety and curb nuclear weapons proliferation (buildup).

IRAN’S NUCLEAR PROGRAM:

  • Iran’s 20 year secret nuclear program was discovered in 2002. Iran says its program is for fuel purposes only, but it has been working on uranium enrichment which is used to make nuclear bombs.
  • Under the United Nations’ NPT (Non Proliferation Treaty) countries are not allowed to make nuclear weapons (except for the 5 that had nuclear weapons prior to the treaty – the U.S., Russia, China, France, the United Kingdom).
  • Safeguards are used to verify compliance with the Treaty through inspections conducted by the UN’s nuclear watchdog, the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency).
  • The IAEA issued a report on Sept. 15, 2008 that said Iran has repeatedly blocked an investigation into its nuclear program and the probe is now deadlocked.
  • The U.N. Security Council has already imposed three sets of sanctions on Iran over its nuclear defiance. Despite the sanctions, Iran has refused to end its nuclear program.
  • A group of U.S. and Russian scientists said in a report issued in May 2009 that Iran could produce a simple nuclear device in one to three years and a nuclear warhead in another five years after that. The study, published by the nonpartisan EastWest Institute, also said Iran is making advances in rocket technology and could develop a ballistic missile capable of firing a 2,200-pound nuclear warhead up to 1,200 miles “in perhaps six to eight years.”
  • The Iranian government has called for the destruction of Israel on numerous occasions. It is believed that once obtained, Iranian President Ahmadinejad would use nuclear weapons against Israel.

IAEA CENSURES IRAN:

  • The board of the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency censured Iran (Nov. 27, 2009) for its nuclear program, in a motion endorsed by all five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council.
  • Twenty five nations in the 35-member board of the International Atomic Energy Agency voted in favor of the censure motion, which calls on Iran to halt construction of a recently revealed uranium enrichment plant.
  • The measure says the plant violates a United Nations Security Council resolution. The motion also demands that Iran cease enriching uranium.
  • The vote was significant because Russia and China voted in favor of the censure motion, along with the three other permanent members of the U.N. Security Council – the United States, France and Britain – as well as Germany.
  • While the motion may not make a difference in itself, it carries weight in a push for tougher U.N. sanctions against Iran.

Resources

Go to worldatlas.com for a map of Iran and the Middle East.

Watch an AP report on Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s remarks on Isreal: