Op-Ed: How Iran's Bomb is Being Built While Obama Meets Jay-Z
Mark LangfanThe writer, who specializes in security issues, has created an original...
And while the bomb graphic wasn't perfect, it was damn good, and got people's attention to the fact that, as of now, the world has not any Iranian nuke red line.
In order to understand the Iran nuke red line debate, one must understand a couple of easy-to-understand principles of chemistry and physics upon which the uranium enrichment process is based. Then, one will have a better idea of what Bibi's bomb graphic really meant, and what has to be done next.
Those extra three neutrons in U238 make the uranium atomic nucleus incapable of a chain reaction necessary for a nuclear bomb. So the key to the uranium enrichment process is to isolate the U235 atoms, separate the U235 atoms and concentrate them in an ever higher concentrations. A concentration of 90% of U235 (or 10% U238) is necessary for use in a nuclear bombs. That's why 90% U235 is called "weapons grade" uranium.
One needs about 40-50 kilograms of 90% uranium in metal form for one nuclear gun-type bomb. Metallic uranium is just like any other metal like gold or platinum.
In sum, U238 gas spins out to rim, U235 gas stays in core, U238 gas spins out to rim, and so on.
The higher concentrated U238 UF6 gas in the rim of the centrifuge gets re-fed and cycled back into the enrichment cycle at an earlier stage. Little by little, the cascaded siphoned-off uranium U235 UF6 gas gets a higher and higher concentration of U235 until the enrichment operator hits his concentration goal.
Here's how it progresses:
Since the UF6 gas had 90% of U235, the isolated and metalized uranium from this enriched gas has the same enrichment level of 90% U235 weapons grade uranium.
As of August 30, 2012, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) declared Iran in open disclosed possession of 189.4 kilograms of 20% UF6 gas which was 43.8 kg more than Iran disclosed to the IAEA and published in its May 25, 2912 report.
This rate of 20% UF6 Iran stockpile growth means about 15 kilograms of UF6 20% U235 per month. If this rate is maintained, this growth rate will hit the Heinonen 300 kilogram U235 stock target in 8 months from August 30, 2012 or April 30, 2012.
This, of course, assumes Iran is not hiding any UF6 stock, which a weak assumption. But, with the current disclosed rate of UF6 20% growth, Iran will have enough 20% U235 stock to spin down to "more than" one nuclear bomb worth of 90% U235 by this coming April 2013.
What Netanyahu probably meant was not the percentage of uranium enrichment, but just simply how close the Iranians were to actually building a final nuclear bomb. So, Bibi's meant if the Iranians are only 10 percent away from the bomb, then that's a red line.
Maybe a football analogy would have been a little more accurate. So, if the Iranians are "goal-to-go," then it's time to forcibly stop Iran.
But Netanyahu was the man who stood on the UN podium, faced down the world that thinks “football means “soccer,” and Bibi got everybody's attention with his great bomb graphic, so that is great, in and of itself. Who am I, or anybody, to complain?
For example, in a conventional attack on Fordow which houses thousands of gas centrifuges built into cascading centrifuges, the attacking bombs will (assuming they make it through the concrete) blow up the gas centrifuge containers containing highly pressured UF6 gas. But the uranium UF6 gas will interact with the immediate atmosphere and do two things:
1) at the pressure and temperature of the bombed out building UF6 will turn from UF6 gas phase directly to UF6 solid phase without going through UF6 liquid phase (this is called de-subliming) and ultimately all the UF6 gas will 2) chemically interact with the water vapor contained in the atmosphere, and chemically produce uranyl fluoride UO2F2 which is a bright orange color solid powder which becomes yellow on contact with water.
This uranium powder still will have the relatively high concentration of U235. And this uranyl fluoride solid powder will be easily extracted from the bombed out Iranian nuclear facility debris. So, the Iranians will be able to recollect and recover almost all their highly-enriched U235 uranium from the bombed-out facility. The only thing they have to do is just build a new cascade centrifuge facility.
Therefore, while Bibi's bomb graphic was a great first step towards educating people about the need for a red line for Iran's nuke program, it should be followed up with a clearer definition of what exactly is the level of enrichment of U235 would constitute a "clear, and present danger" to the world.
A good benchmark and starting point would be: how many kilograms of 20% U235 in the hands of Adolf Hitler in 1938 would have represented a "clear and present" danger to Western civilization so as to require military intervention. And, if Adolf Hitler had openly disclosed 189.4 kilograms of 20% UF6 gas in December 1939 would President Roosevelt have rejected an urgently requested meeting with Winston Churchill in favor of a shout-out with Jay-Z?