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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

IAEA notes Iranian nuke weapons program; Saudis to build 16 nuclear reactors

The nuclear arms race in the Middle East is in full swing.

From the NYT last week:

The world’s global nuclear inspection agency, frustrated by Iran’s refusal to answer questions, revealed for the first time on Tuesday that it possesses evidence that Tehran has conducted work on a highly sophisticated nuclear triggering technology that experts said could be used for only one purpose: setting off a nuclear weapon.

The disclosure by the International Atomic Energy Agency was buried inside a nine-page report on the progress of Iran’s nuclear program.

The agency gave some details in Tuesday’s report on work that was apparently done on how to trigger a nuclear device, dating back to late 2003.

“The agency has not described these experiments to this detail before,” said Olli Heinonen, the agency’s former chief inspector.

The disclosure about the atomic trigger centered on a rare material — uranium deuteride, a form of the element made with deuterium, or heavy hydrogen. Nuclear experts say China and Pakistan appear to have used the material as a kind of atomic sparkplug.

The report said it had asked Iran about evidence of “experiments involving the explosive compression of uranium deuteride to produce a short burst of neutrons” — the speeding particles that split atoms in two in a surge of nuclear energy. In a bomb, an initial burst of neutrons is needed to help initiate a rapid chain reaction.

Harold M. Agnew, a former director of the Los Alamos weapons laboratory, said the compression of uranium deuteride suggested work on an atomic trigger.

“I don’t know of any peaceful uses,” he said in an interview.

Tuesday’s report also gave fresh charges on the design of missile warheads. Documentary evidence, it said, suggested that Iran had conducted “studies involving the removal of the conventional high explosive payload from the warhead of the Shahab-3 missile and replace it with a spherical nuclear payload.”

The Shahab-3 is one of Iran’s deadliest weapons, standing 56 feet tall. In parades, Iran has draped them with banners reading, “Wipe Israel off the map.”
Today, Al Arabiya reports that Saudi Arabia si planning to build no less than 16 nuclear reactors by 2030. The estimated cost is $300 billion. The official reason is "energy security" so as not to be dependent on oil...which it controls.

The Saudi move almost certainly reflects the regimes' own nervousness at the potential that Iran will have nuclear weapons.

But the West has sanctions against Iran, so the problem will take care of itself, no doubt.

(The IAEA report also noted that Iran seems to have recovered from Stuxnet.)

(h//t Serious Black)