US: Iran's Nuclear Plant 'Safe,' But Weapon Could be a Year Away
Iran reiterated Saturday that an attack against its Busheher nuclear plant would be considered an “international crime,” now that it has become operational. Iran celebrated the loading of enriched uranium into the reactor for the first time Saturday.
President Obama’s top adviser on nuclear issues said 'We think that they have roughly a year dash time. A year is a very long period of time.'
Meanwhile, the United States sought to reassure Israel and other Middle Eastern countries, saying that it posed “no threat” to anyone's security. "We recognize that the Bushehr reactor is designed to provide civilian nuclear power and do not view it as a proliferation risk,” Darby Holladay of the U.S. State Department told news agencies. And in fact, he said, the U.S. welcomed Russia's involvement in Iran's nuclear program. Iran's reactor, he said, “is under IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) safeguards and Russia is providing the needed fuel and taking back the spent nuclear fuel, which would be the principal source of proliferation concerns.”
However, while the threat is not immediate, Israel was not out of the woods – with Obama administration officials saying that Iran could, if it wanted to, develop nuclear weapons in about 12 months, perhaps a bit more.
The Bushehr plant is supposed to produce electricity from the uranium being supplied by Russia, and Iranian officials said that the power produced by the plant will be integrated into the country's fuel supply within several months. The Bushehr fuel is enriched to approximately 3.5%, while weapons-grade fuel is enriched to over 90%. However, it is possible to take some of the fuel and enrich it further at another location, giving rise to fears that international supervision is needed for a country whose leader has expressed plans to destroy Israel.
Gary Samore, President Obama’s top adviser on nuclear issues, was quoted in the New York Times Friday as saying that “we think that they have roughly a year dash time,” referring to the minimum amount of time it would take to convert the fuel to weapons-grade uranium. “A year is a very long period of time.” The Times said that the U.S. and Israel would be able to detect within weeks of when this process began, “leaving a considerable amount of time for the United States and Israel to consider military strikes,” the Times report said.
Israel did not comment on the opening of the Bushehr plant Saturday, but Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had plenty to say about Israel's concerns over the plant. If attacked, he said, Iran would strike back. “Our possibilities would be limitless and would encompass the whole world,” Ahmadinejad said. He realized Israel would like to destroy the plant, but would not dare, because it realized that Iran “is a fortress that cannot be destroyed.” And besides, he added, “I don’t believe their American masters would let them attack.”