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Iran's proposed nuclear plant: electricity generation or weapons grade

  1. Nov 27, 2008 #1
    For those familar with Irans current nuclear power plant that is under construction, the Iranians claim is for peaceful electrical generation but Israelis claim it is used to enrich Uranium for the purpose of WMD.

    Any comments on Iranian under construction nuclear plant?
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 27, 2008 #2


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    The problem is not with the nuclear power plant, but with the facility used to enrich Uranium. Enriching it to about 7% U235 (I am not sure of the exact %) makes it reactor grade. Enriching it to 90% makes it weapons grade. Since the same process is used for both, this raises concerns in Israel and the rest of the world.
  4. Nov 27, 2008 #3
    ok thanks. Would UN inspect be able to do this?
  5. Nov 27, 2008 #4


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    The UN's IAEA has the responsibility of inspection, but only if the Iranians allow them to inspect the enrichment facility. The same facility can produce low enrichment or high enrichment.

    LWR plants use up to 5% enrichment.
  6. Nov 27, 2008 #5
    Yes, inspections are sufficient to verify that Iran is not producing nuclear weapons. The problem is that the US and Israel are afraid that Iran will leave the NPT treaty in the future and then use its enrichment facilities to produce highly enriched uranium for nuclear weapons.

    I've read that during the EU-3 negotiations with Iran, the Europeans were willing to consider plans allowing Iran to enrich uranium under extra inspections. But the US found that unacceptable, plans were revised, and Iran was asked to "voluntarily" give up their enrichment or else face punishment ("voluntarily" seems to have the same meaning here as when someone robbing a bank were to ask the bank clerk to "voluntarily" hand over all the money in the bank or else...).

    I think that the approach by the West doesn't make sense, even from the Western point of view. Suppose we want to minimize the risk that Iran will produce nuclear weapons. Then, if we offer Iran an incentives package in exchange for Iran stopping the enrichment activities and Iran were to accept that, then what will happen next? We offered that package because we didn't trust Iran. So, how can we then trust Iran not to enrich uranium at some secret location?

    So, sooner or later, there will be some suspicion that Iran is violating the terms of the agreement and then we would like to do some inspections. But under the deal, Iran just made a huge consession by shutting down the facility at Natanz, so it is difficult to see how we could negotiate the right to inspect everywhere in Iran.

    Another thing is that if Iran wants to make a nuclear weapon and they want to take their time, they could do that with a modest number of centrifuges. Now, Iran says it wants to build a few nuclear powerplants. These plants will use uranium at a certain rate, so the enrichment facilites must be able to produce the enriched uranium at a fast enough rate to be able to supply those plants. So, Iran's refusal to give up uranium enrichment is consistent with peaceful intentions. If Iran wanted to make nuclear weapons, they could accept the incentives deal, shut down Natanz and then run some centrifuges at undisclosed locations.

    So, i.m.o., the current approach by the West is fundamentally flawed. It would be much better to allow Iran to do what every other NPT member is allowed to do. We could negotiate that the IAEA should have extra inspections rights in exchange for some incentives. It would also be easier for Iran to agree on giving information on its past activities if we didn't demand that Iran suspend its enrichment program.

    I've read that Iran is now not far away from achieving its goal of achieving industrial scale enrichment capabilites. So, then the issue becomes moot. Because then Iran could say: "Ok., we are where we want to be, we're ready to suspend enrichment and we'll now build our powerplants."
  7. Nov 27, 2008 #6


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    So your argument is that anyone who appears innocent is suspect as their appearance of innocence suggests they are hiding something, while someone whose activities and evasions give rise, like Iran's, to grave and serious suspicion must be innocent as if they were really up to something nefarious they would hide it and appear innocent? :confused:
    Last edited: Nov 27, 2008
  8. Nov 27, 2008 #7
    My core argument is simply that we in the West are not thinking pragmatically. Even assuming that there are grounds to be suspicious, the current course doesn't make any sense. We need far more inspections than Iran is legally obliged to allow for (if you ask me this is to satisfy our paranoia, but if I'm wrong then we would need those inspections anyway). The last thing we need to do to get Iran to allow for such inspections is by demanding that they shut down their enrichment facility.

    Note that, as explained in my previous posting, Iran suspending enrichment an Natanz is not going to take away our fears of a nuclear Iran (again, whether that suspicion then justified or not does not matter, hypothetically Iran could actually make nuclear weapons after shutting down Natanz). So we really need more inspections in Iran anyway.

    You can compare this to Iraqs alleged WMDs. That was driven by a lot of suspicions. Regardless of whether those suspicions were justified otr not, the issue could only be resolved peacefully by inspections. But it was clear that the US and Britain were only in it for a guilty verdict. When it seemed unlikely that they would get official backing from the Security Council for that, they went ahead with the war.
  9. Nov 27, 2008 #8


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    Why don't we just let them build the bomb?
    They are surrounded by countries that have nuclear weapons.

    In a couple of years, they'll probably buy a few from China anyways.

    I am still baffled as to the reason we are so paranoid of Iran.
  10. Nov 27, 2008 #9
    Is the Iranian current design capable of civilian electrical energy production?
  11. Nov 28, 2008 #10


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    Haha, that would be funny: they've forgotten to install some turbines and generators :biggrin:
  12. Nov 28, 2008 #11


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    The Bushehr plants are VVER-1000/446 and they are designed to produce electricity (similar to Russian NPP's Novovoronezh II, Zaparozhe, Kalinin, S. Ukraine, and Koodankulam (India)). There are also concerns that they could be used to produce Pu for weapons, but that would require reprocessing of the spent fuel.



    The US, EU and Russia maintain that Iran can simply purchase fuel from Russia or EU, and that there is no need for Iran to enrich U and make their own fuel. The spent fuel could be returned to Russia or EU. Of course, Iran sees any restriction on enrichment or fuel manufacturing as an infringement on its sovereignty, which of course it is.
  13. Nov 28, 2008 #12
    just checking :)
  14. Nov 28, 2008 #13
    Ok thanks for the info -- It's reassuring to know that the Iranian nuclear plants under development are capable of energy production
  15. Nov 28, 2008 #14


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    Count Iblis,

    You are 100% WRONG when you say "...more inspections than Iran is legally obligated to allow..."

    The NPT states that Iran has to allow WHATEVER the IAEA wants in terms of inspections. There's
    no "minimum level" that Iran required to allow; and above that it is gratis.

    NO - the NPT does not have a concept of "innocent until proven guilty" - it has precisely the opposite.

    The NPT signatory has to transparent and, in essence; has to PROVE to the IAEA that its activities
    are NOT for producing weapons. In order to do so; they have to prove whatever level of access the
    IAEA requires.

    Iran has NOT been providing the acess. That is one of the reasons that the IAEA reported Iran to the
    United Nations Security Council as being in VIOLATION of the NPT.

    Additionally; on an inspection of Natanz - the IAEA found that the equipment had already been in
    operation; and had also found traces of HEU - Highly Enriched Uranium - i.e. weapons grade Uranium.

    This is a VIOLATION by Iran. First Iran was NOT supposed to opperate those centrifuges before they
    were inspected by the IAEA. Additionally, there is NO EXCUSE for the IAEA finding traces of
    weapons grade Uranium in those centrifuges.

    THAT is why Iran is in "hot water" with the United Nations Security Council.

    Dr. Gregory Greenman
  16. Nov 28, 2008 #15


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    Whats the penalty for violating the NPT?
  17. Nov 28, 2008 #16


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    One of the problems is that Iran could SMUGGLE a nuclear weapon into the USA and destroy
    a US city. Given Iran's behavior in the past; I don't think we or the rest of the world would
    trust them with that capability.

    By SMUGGLING a bomb in - your "fingerprints" may not be on the bomb. If a nation were to launch
    a nuclear-armed missile at a US city and destroyed it - we sure know who to retailiate against - we
    would have the radar track of the missile. If you smuggle a bomb in - you don't have that information.

    Iran may feel that it can smuggle a bomb into the USA, destroy a US city, and escape retaliation
    because the USA won't have the proof needed to retailiate against them.

    Former UCLA Chancellor and former Professor of Nuclear Engineering Dr. Albert Carnesale talked
    about nuclear terrorism in his February 2002 speech "Rethiniking Natioal Security":


    From page 13:

    We must also address the security of our borders. For example, the cargo containers that come into our
    country every day -- by ship, by rail, and by truck -- are large enough to hold many nuclear weapons. A
    nuclear weapon could fit in the trunk of your Toyota

    On page 10, Dr. Carnesale stated back in 2002 that if the Iraqis refused the inspectors, their facilities
    should be destroyed:

    If Iraq continues to deny access to UN inspectors, the United States and others, in my view should seek
    to destroy Iraqi facilities related to weapons of mass destruction.

    That same logic applies equally to Iran.

    Dr. Gregory Greenman
  18. Nov 28, 2008 #17


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    Unfortunately, unlike criminal laws, Treaties don't specify penalties. Treaties are supposed
    to be "self-enforcing" if they are written properly. I'll do something that you want - if you do
    something that I want in return.

    The arms treaties between the USA and Russia are examples. Both sides decide that they will limit
    their arsenals to "X" weapons. If one side starts building more; the other side will build more; and
    building more by the first party is self-defeating.

    The problem with the NPT is that it does lack explicit "teeth". However, if a nation is found to be
    in violation of the NPT - the United Nations Security Council can sanction that nation - which the SC
    has done to Iran.

    If the nation still refuses - as Iran has done - then the Security Council can ratchet up the punishments.
    Where it goes is determined by what the Security Council is willing to mete out.

    When Iraq didnt't comply with UN resolutions in 1990 / 1991 to get out of Kuwait - they were threatened
    with "severe consequences". Those "severe consequences" turned out to be an attack by the USA and its allies.

    Dr. Gregory Greenman
    Last edited: Nov 28, 2008
  19. Nov 28, 2008 #18


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    Count Iblis,

    The NPT is NOT "symmetric" - it does NOT define equal rights for all members. Some members - the
    "nuclear five" are allowed to have nuclear weapons and enrich Uranium to high levels. The USA is one
    of the "nuclear five". Iran is NOT!!!

    Iran knew the NPT was not symmetric when it signed it - and it VOLUNTARILY signed.

    Iran is being treated NO DIFFERENTLY than any other non-nuclear weapon state is being treated in
    similar circumstances.

    If you are a law abiding citizen - the police leave you alone. If you give the police "probably cause"
    to believe that you are committing a crime - then they can get a search warrant and search your home.

    In such a case; you are NOT being "singled out" or being persecuted - you GAVE the police the
    "probable cause" and they would do the same to any citizen.

    By VIOLATING the NPT - by not being transparent; by operating the centrifuges before the IAEA
    inspected them; by making trace amounts of HEU - highly enriched uranium - Iran has provided
    the "probable cause" that triggers greater attention by the IAEA and the United Nations.

    IRAN is AT FAULT for its current predicament - NOT the USA and the Europeans.

    Dr. Gregory Greenman
  20. Nov 28, 2008 #19


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    So whats the consequences of simply dropping out of the NPT?
    The NPT is not-symetric, but in return for agreeing not to build weapons the non-weapon states are supposed to receive nuclear power technology assistance from the weapons states.
    In addition the weapons states are supposed to not pass on weapons to third parties and are supposed to reduce their own stockpiles.
    Since they haven't done this it's not clear what the benefits of the NPT are to a non-weapons state.

    Iran could also argue that the treaty was signed by the Shah on the orders of his western backers and so it is invalid - France wouldn't be bound by a treaty signed by Pétain whille under Nazi occupation.
  21. Nov 28, 2008 #20


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    Oh but they HAVE received the access and technology that they were promised. For example,
    the Iranians got access for their students to US universities to study nuclear technology.

    When I was in graduate school, there was a special program under President Carter that afforded
    Iranian students access to the nuclear technology graduate program that I studied in.

    I don't think Iran can make that argument. It would be like President Obama claiming he was not
    bound by the Moscow Treaty of 2002 because it was negotiated and signed by President Bush.

    That argument DOESN'T work. In 2002, the President of the USA was George W. Bush - and as
    President, he can sign Treaties on behalf of the USA; and the USA is bound by them if the Treaty
    is agreed to by the Senate - as provided in the Constitution.

    President Obama can't back out of the Moscow Treaty of 2002 just because it was signed by Bush.

    At the time of Iran's entry into the NPT - the Shah was the ruler of Iran. Just because they got new
    rulers doesn't mean that they don't have obligations under the Treaty. After all; when the Shah was
    deposed - the Iranians did NOT GIVE BACK all the "goodies" they got under the NPT.

    Since they kept the "goodies' - data, educated students..... I could make the argument that they
    ACCEPTED the NPT at that point.

    You don't get to "pick and choose" what Treaty provisions you are bound by and which you aren't
    bound by. You can't accept the "goodies" you got under a Treaty; and then say, "Oh, I'm a different
    ruler - I didn't sign that Treaty - therefore I don't have obligations - even though I accepted the goodies".

    Dr. Gregory Greenman
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