Tag Archives: enrichment

Iran Nuclear Talks: the Khamenei Card

Gas centrifuge cascade. Image from wikipedia

On July 7, 1014 as critical nuclear negotiations got underway in Vienna between Iran, the United States, Europe, Russia and China, Khamenei (Iranian Supreme Leader) started talking hard numbers.  The Supreme Leader’s remarks were unprecedented both because they represented a blatant intervention from his perch in Tehran in the super-sensitive talks in Vienna, and because they relayed confidential technical details that had not been aired publicly before by Iranian officials.

The moment could not be more critical. An agreement is supposed to be reached before July 20, 2014 that will rein in the threat of Iran acquiring nuclear weapons and end or curtail the Western sanctions that have put so much pressure on Tehran. Failure to reach an accord will add yet more potentially apocalyptic uncertainties to the Middle Eastern scene…

The Supreme Leader started talking about SWUs, which it is fair to say few Iranians, or for that matter Americans, Europeans, Russians or Chinese ever have heard of.  In this context the acronym stands for “separative work units,” which relates directly to Iran’s ability to enrich uranium to levels that might feed into nuclear weapons. SWU defines the capability derived from the number of uranium-enriching centrifuges and their efficiency. For example one thousand AR1 centrifuges with the efficiency of 0.9 translates into 900 SWU, whereas 225 AR2 centrifuges with an efficiency of 4 translates into 900 SW…

“They want us to be content with 10,000 SWUs,” he said. That is, he estimates the bottom line the West will accept. “But they have started from 500 and 1000 SWUs,” he added. “Our people say that we need 190,000 SWUs,” he went on. That’s a big spread to try to close.  Khamenei then raised the problem of American and European objections to the more-or-less bomb-proof underground facility Iran has built at Fordo, where much of its enrichment goes on. “They emphasize Fordo because they cannot get to it,” said Khamenei. “They say you must not have a place which we cannot strike. Isn’t this ridiculous?”

Last December [2013] Khamenei said publicly he would not interfere in the negotiations and would leave the details to the diplomats. Now it appears he is playing a more shadowy game, either dictating terms to the Iranian team in Vienna or, perhaps, providing them the cover they need to stand firm.

A source close to the negotiations told IranWire that the numbers Khamenei cited are precisely what American negotiators have put on the table, and constitute one of the confidential topics being discussed over the past few months. Two days before Khamenei spoke, Under Secretary of States for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman, the senior American negotiator, said that Iran must end up with a fraction of the centrifuges it currently runs, but she did not cite any numbers.

The source said that Khamenei’s statements are technically significant, and are in line with the terms of the negotiations, which deal with SWUs rather than the number of centrifuges as such.

According to a European diplomat who is a member of his country’s nuclear negotiating team, the accuracy of the numbers leaked by Khamenei is both astonishing and worrisome, because he is limiting publicly the concessions that might be made by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s team….

It is clear Khamenei wants to leave no doubt about his regime’s red lines in the negotiations…  But Khamenei doesn’t see this crisis only in terms of nukes. For the West, he says, the nuclear issue “is just an excuse” to pressure Iran, he said. “If it is not the nuclear issue they will come up with another excuse—human rights, women’s right, etc.”

Excerpts from Reza HaghighatNejad, Iran Supreme Leader Spills the Nuke Talk Secrets, Daily Beast, July 9, 2014

Nuclear Pro-proliferation Friends? Myanmar

A Republican senator is asking Myanmar’s president for answers over the reported seizure of a ship’s cargo bound for Myanmar with potential nuclear uses.   Japan’s Asahi Shimbun newspaper reported North Korea tried to ship materials suitable for uranium enrichment or missile development to Myanmar via China. It said Japanese authorities seized metal pipes and high-specification aluminum alloy at U.S. request when the ship docked in Tokyo in August.

Sen. Richard Lugar, a leading voice in Congress on nonproliferation, wrote Tuesday to Myanmar’s President Thein Sein, urging him to disclose the intended recipient of the materials and their planned use. The Associated Press obtained a copy of the letter Thursday.  The reported seizure heightens concern over whether Myanmar is making good on promises to sever military ties with North Korea, believed to have assisted Myanmar in ballistic missile technology. Myanmar denies having sought nuclear assistance.

Lugar commended reformist leader Thein Sein for recently agreeing to sign up an international agreement that would allow greater U.N. scrutiny of any nuclear activities.  He said the reported Japanese seizure also provided an opportunity for the Myanmar government to demonstrate transparency.  “Peace and stability within ASEAN are potentially impacted by the intended purpose of the ship’s cargo,” Lugar wrote. ASEAN is Southeast Asia’s regional bloc and Myanmar is a member.  Thein Sein has ushered in democratic reforms after decades of direct military rule, helping end the nation’s international isolation. Earlier this month, Barack Obama became the first U.S. president to visit the country, also known as Burma.

US senator writes Myanmar leader over reported seizure of suspect North Korean cargo, Associated Press, Nov. 30, 2012

Iran’s Nuclear Program: the sequel

The U.N. nuclear agency said Friday [Sept. 2, 2011] it is “increasingly concerned” about a stream of intelligence suggesting that Iran continues to work secretly on developing a nuclear payload for a missile and other components of a nuclear weapons program.  In its report, the International Atomic Energy Agency said “many member states” are providing evidence for that assessment, describing the information it is receiving as credible, “extensive and comprehensive.”…The phrase “increasingly concerned” has not appeared in previous reports discussing Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons work and reflects the frustration felt by IAEA chief Yukiya Amano over the lack of progress in his investigations.

Other findings include:

— Confirmation of reports by diplomats to the AP that Iran has started setting up uranium enriching centrifuges at Fordow, a fortified facility dug into a mountain near the holy city of Qom. Iran intends to use Fordow to triple its 20-percent enrichment of uranium — a concern because that level is easier to turn into weapons grade uranium quickly than its main stockpile of low enriched uranium at 3.5 percent.

— Further accumulation of both low-enriched and higher enriched or 20 percent uranium. The report said Iran had now accumulated more than four tons of low enriched uranium and over 70 kilograms — more than 150 pounds — of higher enriched material. Those two stockpiles give it enough enriched uranium to make up to six nuclear warheads, should it choose to do so.

The report praised Iran for its decision earlier this month to allow IAEA Deputy Director General Herman Nackaerts to tour a facility where it is developing more efficient centrifuges, saying Iran “provided extensive information” on its development of such machines.

It, however was generally critical of Iran’s record of secrecy and lack of cooperation, noting that without increased openness on the part of the Islamic Republic the IAEA is unable to “conclude that all nuclear material in Iran is in peaceful activities.”

Excerpts, UN nuke agency ‘increasingly concerned’ about Iran, says evidence credible of nuke arms work, Associated Press, Sept. 2, 2011

IAEA Report

ISIS Report

When Sanctions Start

Iran and the IAEA

Unable to Control its Virtual Borders

Nuclear Deals: India and the Nuclear Suppliers Group

Confident in the large market it offers to the world’s nuclear suppliers, India has decided to shrug off new restrictions by a 46-nation cartel on the transfer of uranium enrichment and reprocessing technologies that potentially have military applications.

India, which has refused to sign the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) on the grounds that it is discriminatory, pulled off a diplomatic coup in 2008 by securing a special waiver from the 46-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG).  Following a plenary in Noordwijk, the Netherlands, the NSG announced on Jun. 24 that it would “strengthen its guidelines on the transfer of sensitive enrichment and reprocessing (ENR) technologies,” diluting the clean waiver granted to India and exempting it from full-scope international safeguards.  Nuclear energy experts in India told IPS that the NSG’s move may be prompted by commercial concerns and an attempt to squeeze India into buying nuclear equipment in a market rapidly narrowing down in the wake of the Fukushima disaster.

“Given the present climate for nuclear energy, countries like France, Russia and the United States, which have already signed major nuclear commerce deals with India, are unlikely to back off”….India has ambitious plans to raise its nuclear power generation from the current 4.7 gigawatts to over 20 Gw by 2020. Besides Areva, Russia’s Rosatom and General Electric from the U.S. are among corporations negotiating for deals worth more than 100 billion dollars.

In an apparent warning to the NSG, India’s foreign secretary Nirupama Rao told television interviewers on Sunday that there are “leverages” that could be applies to countries unwilling to enter into nuclear commerce with India.  Rao said the U.S., Russia and France had, since the NSG announced its new policy, made known that they would stand by their commitments to India.  French ambassador to India Jerome Bonnafont confirmed in a Jul. 1 press statement that “this NSG decision in no way undermines the parameters of our bilateral cooperation,” and that France remained “committed to the full implementation of our cooperation agreement on the development of peaceful uses of nuclear energy signed on Sep. 30, 2008.”Coming after the decision of exemption from the full-scope safeguards clause, adopted in favour of India in September 2008, it (NSG decision) does not undermine the principles of this exemption,” the statement said.

Excerpt, Ranjit Devraj, INDIA: Unfazed by Nuclear Suppliers’ New Rules, Inter Press Service, July 6, 2011



Iran and the IAEA: hackers, spies and worms

The following is reported by the Associated Press

The U.N. nuclear agency is investigating reports from its experts that their cellphones and laptops may have been hacked into by Iranian officials looking for confidential information while the equipment was left unattended during inspection tours in the Islamic Republic, diplomats have told The Associated Press.  One of the diplomats said the International Atomic Energy Agency is examining “a range of events, ranging from those where it is certain something has happened to suppositions,” all in the first quarter of this year. He said the Vienna-based nuclear watchdog agency was alerted by inspectors reporting “unusual events,” suggesting that outsiders had tampered with their electronic equipment.  Two other diplomats in senior positions confirmed the essence of the report but said they had no further information… An agency official, who also spoke on condition that he not be identified, said strict security measures included inspectors’ placing their cellphones into seamless paper envelopes, then sealing these and writing across the seal and the envelope to spot any unauthorized opening while they were away.  He said inspectors are not allowed to take their cellphones with them while touring Iran’s uranium enrichment facilities and other venues. Laptops, he said, are either locked in bags or sealed the same way as cellphones when they are left temporarily unattended by inspectors. The computers also are sometimes left unattended in hotel rooms at the end of a work day, he said.  But the diplomat who spoke at greatest length about the reported breach said the Iranians had found ways to overcome the security measures.

Iran has been under IAEA inspections for nearly a decade after revelations that it was running a secret uranium enrichment program and has been hit with four rounds of U.N. Security Council sanctions over its refusal to halt the activity…

Olli Heinonen, who stepped down last year as the IAEA’s deputy director general in charge of investigating Iran’s nuclear program, said information on the laptops is encrypted — and therefore difficult to decipher. Anybody gaining access to information on cellphones would find little sensitive material, he said.  Heinonen speculated that any attempt to access such equipment might have been meant to plant spyware designed to infect the IAEA computer network once the cellphones or laptops are connected and siphon off information.  “It’s possible if there is tampering that something is planted in the computer and when you work with sensitive data it transmits it or it contaminates other computers with sensitive information — like Stuxnet,” he said.

IAEA officials attribute a temporary breakdown of Iran’s enrichment program late last year to the Stuxnet computer worm, and Tehran has acknowledged that Stuxnet affected a limited number of centrifuges — a key component in uranium enrichment — at its main uranium enrichment facility in the central city of Natanz. Tehran blames the United States and Israel for creating and planting the malware.

Excerpts from George Jahn, AP Exclusive: Diplomats: IAEA fears Iran hackers, Associated Press, May 19, 2011

Kazakhstan’s Nuclear Ambitions and the International Nuclear Fuel Bank

Kazakhstan has every chance to become a repository country for the International Nuclear Fuel Bank. Very soon, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Secretariat will start the selection of possible International Nuclear Fuel Bank (INFB) repositories. Committed to nuclear non-proliferation, Kazakhstan proposed its territory as early as in the beginning of 2010. Clearly, this fact could not but stir public interest in Kazakhstan. Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs, Kairat Umarov, talked to New Europe about what Kazakhstan could get if the Secretariat decided in its favor and whether an INFB repository was safe.

For years, diplomats from many countries have been working to develop a mechanism of a guaranteed access for the user-states to nuclear fuels on a non-discrimination and stable basis. That’s how the idea of creating an international nuclear fuel bank was born. The bank would store some guaranteed reserve of low enriched uranium (LEU) for fuel units of nuclear power stations and would be located in a nuclear weapons – free country completely open for IAEA inspectors.

In the spring of 2010, Kazakhstan’s’ President, Nursultan Nazarbaev, said that should a nuclear fuel bank be created, Kazakhstan would consider offering its territory for a repository.  Asked why Kazakhstan decided to stand as a candidate for an International Nuclear Fuel Bank repository, Umarov told New Europe that it is not a secret that Kazakhstan and its President Nursultan Nazarbayev have contributed in nuclear non-proliferation. “We, fully aware of how our people have suffered from the Semipalatinsk nuclear testing ground, clearly recognize the dangers of an uncontrolled use of such sensitive technologies,” he said.

“During the entire year of 2010, our ministry was working on the details of establishing of an INFB repository in Kazakhstan. At the Washington nuclear security summit in April 2010, Kazakhstan and USA signed a joint statement, in which the American president Barak Obama supported our proposal to establish an International Nuclear Fuel Bank repository in our country,” he said.

Asked about the chances of the Kazakhstan initiative being supported, Umarov told new Europe that there are many arguments in favor of Kazakhstan. The Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) and IAEA experts consider our country an ideal candidate for an INFB repository.  “Judge for yourself, our country is known as a leading uranium producer. We have established friendly relations with all the countries in the world, and we enjoy a serious credit of trust for objective and impartial approach to international issues. But most importantly, Kazakhstan has a clear and well-tested legal framework of control over the exports of nuclear and dual-use materials,” Umarov said. “Besides, we have a necessary infrastructure for the bank – we could use the existing infrastructure of the former Semipalatinsk nuclear testing ground or the Ulba Metallurgical Plant in Ust-Kamenogork. All these facilities meet the requirements of long-term storage of nuclear materials and their physical protection, and they are under the IAEA guarantees. And what is also very important is that we have a good number of highly qualified specialists in nuclear industry,” he added.

Apart from all the pluses as a possible repository, Kazakhstan itself could gain from an INFB repository in its territory. “First of all, receiving a right to host an international fuel bank repository will give a new impetus to the development of nuclear energy in this country and to the improvement of research and technology in this area. This will also facilitate the implementation of advanced technologies and the sharing of experience with the developed countries,” Umarov said.  “The possible establishment of an INFB repository in Kazakhstan will further improve its international image as an active supporter of nuclear non-proliferation. In addition, it will help strengthen the cooperation of Kazakhstan with the IAEA and the sponsor-states of the INFB project,” he said.

 Kazakhstan may become a repository country for the INFB, New Europe, Jan. 16, 2010