A couple of months ago, Mars and Venus were closely aligned – indeed, almost indistinguishable to the naked eye. On the issue of nuclear power plants in Iran, warhawks and peaceniks are similarly aligned.
How did that come about?
First, recall that you need more than a few pounds of fissile material – for example, plutonium-239 – to make a nuke. A material that is merely fissionable – for example, plutonium-240 – won’t do.
Pu-239 is produced in reactors specifically designed and operated for that purpose.
But, some plutonium is inevitably produced – including Pu-239 and Pu-240 – when uranium fuel is burned in a light-water nuclear power plant. After 3 years in a typical “high-burnup” plant, a ton of uranium fuel – originally containing 66 pounds of U-235 – contains about 16 pounds of unburned U-235 and about 18 pounds of “commercial-grade” plutonium.
The uranium and plutonium – especially the fissile material – remaining in the spent fuel is usually recovered and recycled. Peacenik groups, such as Greenpeace, keep trying to prevent everyone from recycling unburned uranium and plutonium.
Why? Greenpeace and the peaceniks claim that it would be easy for a nation-state to make nukes from the recovered commercial-grade plutonium. Furthermore, they claim that some nation-states would then give nukes to terrorists.
No way, Jose!
Greenpeace to the contrary, it is not easy to make a nuke from modern commercial-grade plutonium. Contrary to what Hazel O’Leary claims, the U.S. did not construct and successfully test such a nuke back in 1962. How could we have? Commercial power plants were not operated in a high “burn-up” mode back then, as they are today. The plutonium recovered from that fuel would have been nearer weapons-grade than commercial-grade.
And, so far as we know, no nation-state has ever given nukes to anyone. The U.S. hasn’t. The Russians haven’t. Even the Pakistanis haven’t – so far.
In fact, in hearings held this week by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the impending invasion of Iraq, there was widespread – and somewhat surprising – agreement by the “experts” on Islamic states that if Saddam were ever able to somehow acquire a nuke or two, he would jealously guard them. He wouldn’t give them to anybody. Might even keep them in his basement.
Several experts even went so far as to say that if the Iraqis, themselves, had a chance to acquire nukes – with or without Saddam in power – they would take it. That is, it isn’t just Saddam that wants nukes. Iraq, itself, is a nuke-state wannabe.
The Israelis are convinced that Iran is, too.
Iran is – as is Iraq – a nuke have-not signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. In return for promising on a stack of Korans to forego acquiring nukes, Iran is perfectly entitled to acquire anything nuclear that is not nuke-enabling. The Shah contracted to have nuclear power plants built in Iran. Why? With oil coming out of various orifices, the Shah certainly didn’t need the energy. It was apparently a prestige thing.
With the fall of the Shah, construction ceased. The Mullahs have made several attempts to get Western companies to resume construction, but the U.S. has managed to prevent it. But now, the Russians have contracted to not only finish that construction, but to build a total of six light-water nuclear power plants in Iran.
The Russians will build the plants and lease Russian fuel elements to the Iranians, to be returned to Russia after a few years for storage and eventual recycling. Hence, the Iranians will never have an opportunity to chemically reprocess the spent fuel and recover the commercial-grade plutonium.
No matter. It’s enough for the Israelis that the Iranians even want to be a nuke-power. The Israelis – who preemptively destroyed the French-built Osiraq reactor in Iraq back in 1981, killing at least one Frenchman – are reportedly planning to preemptively destroy the Russian-built Bushehr power plant. This will, of course, infuriate the Russians and maybe even kill a few of them.
That’s apparently fine with our warhawks, who typically endorse anything the Israelis want to do. So the warhawks have adopted the Greenpeace battle cry: “The Bushehr power plant has to be destroyed – otherwise the Iranians will make nukes and give them to terrorists!”
It’s ridiculous, of course, but that’s their story and they’re sticking to it.