Why does John Bolton get into the press when he has repeatedly been shown to distort the truth and fear monger in order to try to back the Administration (first Bush now Obama) into a corner politically? Wait, I guess that’s the answer.
His latest drummed up controversy about the Bushehr reactor again takes advantage of the profound societal ignorance (and refusal of the media to critically inform) of nuclear technology in order to create a demon where there is none. In the past I have pointed out that the idea that Iran can literally wipe Israel off the map is absurd, and the distortion about Bushehr is just as bad. I thought of writing up a post explaining the difference between uranium/plutonium and light/heavy water reactors, but I’ll just summarize: basically, everything about the light water Bushehr makes it impossible to create a bomb from the material if used properly, and if they try to pull anything we will know instantly:
Furthermore, it would be very easy to tell when the Iranians or North Koreans shut down their light-water reactors. To extract the fuel rods, you have to lift off a giant lid at the top of the reactor and take them out all at once. Weapons inspectors love this feature because it requires a large-scale operation that’s almost impossible to conceal. So-called “research reactors” tend to be both harder to inspect and more efficient at producing weapons-usable plutonium than the light-water variety. The North Koreans say they’ve already pulled some plutonium from their gas-cooled research reactor at Yongbyon. You can run a gas-cooled reactor for a few months at a time and then pull out the fuel rods for reprocessing without making a big deal of it.
Now in order to run a light water reactor you need to have enriched uranium, which is ostensibly the reason for Iran’s centrifugal enrichment facilities. However they haven’t created enough fuel themselves and the fuel for this is being supplied by the Russians and then the spent rods will be taken back, meaning that they can run the plant without needing to accelerate their enrichment program. Again, if they broke this arrangement we’d know instantly.
So, the running of Bushehr has nothing to do with creating weapons directly nor can it without setting off many red lights. As the JPost says:
Iran expert Ilan Berman of the American Foreign Policy Council said that the uranium enrichment plants are the real backbone of Iranian efforts and expenditures to get a nuclear weapons capability, and he suspected that they, rather than Bushehr, would be Israel’s primary targets in any attack.
He suggested that Bolton was setting up a “straw man” by focusing on the fuel delivery to the Bushehr reactor.
“It’s not at all clear that Bushehr would be a high value target because it’s only tangentially related to any conceivable Iranian nuclear weapons program,” he said. “My suspicion is this isn’t a game changer. This isn’t going to give Iran enough fissile material for a bomb overnight.”
Bolton’s comments about Bushehr are clearly meant to stir up panic and paranoia in order to put political pressure on the US to eventually support an attack on the enrichment facilities, the parts that could be possibly used to make bombs (although at a very slow rate) which they appear to be threatening to expand. We should actually welcome the inauguration of Bushehr as Iran’s actions will now be much harder to justify if they stray off a peaceful path.