Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Countering the Iranian Nuclear Threat? Or Blowing Smoke?

The Bush administration is signing an agreement to assist Saudi Arabia to build nuclear power plants. Never mind that they are sitting on some of the most plentiful deposits of oil and gas on the planet and have access to thousands of square miles of sun parched desert to put in solar power. No, we must give then nukes too. The officially unstated but clearly implied purpose is to counter Iran's nuclear ambitions. The Saudis claim that that they will not pursue uranium enrichment or fuel reprocessing, so fears of it becoming weaponized are purportedly eliminated. But that then begs the question, if there is no weaponization, then why bother? A nuclear reactor, in of itself, is not in any way shape or form, a threat to Iran. So why build a PWR or BWR reactor? It is not as if they have a problem with energy availability or global warming. Hell they live in a freakin desert! It's not as if it can get much hotter OR drier there. This is by the way the very argument that undermines Iran's purported "peaceful" nuclear program too.

So let's cut the bullcrap shall we? You know, and I know, and Iran knows that they WILL, AT A MINIMUM be reprocessing fuel, they will probably be enriching uranium as well. It's not as if a U235 bomb is all that hard to build. With the enrichment technology available today, you could set one off by simply dropping one subcritical mass of very highly enriched Uranium (HEU) onto the other, no gun-type warhead design is really required. This is all in the open literature too, it is not as if this is really even all that secret. It is just math after all. The equations and data are in the open literature. Anyone with an engineering background could do it. The problem has always been getting access to the enriched material, and we are about to give them some. Building a plutonium device is a bit more difficult from an engineering point of view, but not grossly so, again the basic design of the Trinity type device and some 1950's era improvements has been in the open literature for dang near 50 years. And obtaining the material is that much easier if we give them a nuclear reactor because all you have to do to get plutonium 239 or 240 is to put some depleted uranium 238 in the neutron flux of a reactor and then chemically separate it after it comes back out. Since mildly enriched uranium (which is still over 95% U238) is the basis for the fuel rods, then the spent fuel is absolutely lousy with plutonium when it comes back out. Instant nuke warhead, just add shaped charges and shake!

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