Iran's Nukes - Not Ready for Prime Time?
A kind of confusing article in the Times today provides a number of perspectives on Iran's progress with its nuclear program. The general thrust of the article is that Iran has a good deal of work to do, and rapid progress at this point seems unlikely.
Obstacles, the experts say, remain at virtually every step on the atomic road. The most significant, they add, involve the two most technically challenging aspects of the process — converting uranium ore to a toxic gas and, especially, spinning that gas into enriched atomic fuel.The Iranians need to become expert at doing both these since no international help is available. Manufacturing centrifuges to spin out the U235 sounds particularly daunting. They are working off blueprints purchased from the rogue Pakistani nuclear scientist Abdul Khan and having problems:
[W]hen operators shut down an experimental cascade of 164 centrifuges at Natanz, about 50 of them broke or crashed...Iran must replace and repair the broken machines and prepare the cascade for operation. Then comes the really hard part: if all goes well, the Iranians must mass-produce thousands of centrifuges and learn to run them in concert, like a large orchestra.So it sounds like Iran is quite a few years away from being able to threaten anyone. Being a Shiite theocracy with no natural allies among the nations of the world, Iran is unlikely to secure assistance among current nuclear powers to help them along. This should give us a few years to experiment with different policy approaches and stumble on one that works. The Bush administration is pushing for a broad coalition to stop the Iranian program in its tracks, fearing that any early success could lead rapidly to a weapons program. This may or may not be a good strategy, but we clearly have time to find out if it works. In the meantime, even Israel should find solace in knowing that even Iran knows that using a nuclear weapon would mean no more Iran.