Iran comes clean with the IAEA… sort of
SAMUEL KUBANI/AFP/Getty Images In the next few days, the International Atomic Energy Agency plans to release its “eagerly-awaited” report on Iran’s disputed nuclear activities. If the agency finds that Iran has not been sufficiently forthcoming about its nuclear program, the report could spur a drive toward further sanctions at the U.N. Security Council. Earlier this ...
SAMUEL KUBANI/AFP/Getty Images
In the next few days, the International Atomic Energy Agency plans to release its “eagerly-awaited” report on Iran’s disputed nuclear activities. If the agency finds that Iran has not been sufficiently forthcoming about its nuclear program, the report could spur a drive toward further sanctions at the U.N. Security Council.
Earlier this week, Iran released documents that the IAEA has been demanding for two years: blueprints showing how to machine uranium metal into spherical shapes appropriate for the core of a nuclear weapon. When asked why it would have information that has “no value outside of a nuclear weapons program,” Iran responded that it received them inadvertently while purchasing its nuclear equipment on the black market decades ago.
On the surface, this claim is plausible. The A.Q. Khan network (and presumably, any other extant illicit networks supplying nuclear material) dealt in all types of dangerous materials and information, and the nature of a black market lends itself to disorganization and mistakes like the one Iran claims occurred.
Even if Iran did not actively seek out information that could only be used in nuclear weapons, though, the real question is why the country’s leaders would wait two years to comply with the IAEA’s request to relinquish the documents. At best, the Iranians were holding the blueprints in reserve for situations like today’s, as a bargaining chip. At worst, they were holding them to eventually use them in a weapons program. Either way, Iran was not cooperating fully with the IAEA in its attempts to ascertain the true nature of the country’s nuclear program—not a good sign.
Fortunately, though, these documents apparently did not contain blueprints for an entire nuclear weapons core. Machining enriched uranium (or plutonium) metal into a perfect sphere is merely one of many engineering challenges posed by an implosion nuclear weapon—an explosives array must be carefully designed to compress the metal effectively, for instance, and as we’ve seen with Iran, the enrichment process itself is very difficult to perfect without help. Hopefully the IAEA report will show Iran has benign intentions or, at least, that it has not progressed further towards building a nuclear weapon. But we’ll have to wait and see.
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