11 February 2010

The Point of "No Return"

Intelligence services world over from CIA and MI5 to Mossad are asking themselves one simple question: when will Iran acquire a capability to attack other countries using nuclear devices?

Here at The Elders we can give you the precise date as long as you promise not to give away our little secret.

Put it this way... You may want to pencil April fool's day into your calendars. This time around it won't be a laughing matter. Here is how we derived the date:

1. Iran already has more than enough U-235. According to the IAEA Iran has over 2 tonnes of UF6 giving us over 1300kg of enriched uranium. At 3.5% enrichment we have almost 50 kilos of U-235.

2. President Ahmadinejad issued an order to enrich his stockpile to 20%. As they are using a starting point of 3.5% enrichment I estimate that assuming they are using all the centrifuges at full blast it will take Iran a couple of months to enriched all they have to 20%.

3. At 20% enrichment (20% U-235 isotope in the total Uranium mix) we have the so-called "HEU" - Highly Enriched Uranium. It's not weapons grade (90%) but you can make a nuclear bomb out of it. In fact you only really need 6% enrichment; it's just that at 6% you need an awful lot of uranium and at 90% you can manufacture modern nuclear weapons combining Pu-239 and U-235 charges. In fact, Uranium used in the Hiroshima bomb wasn't "weapons grade" either.

4. At 20% enrichment you'd need about 25 kg of HEU to make a simple nuclear bomb. You would need a lot less if you have beryllium or other neutron reflectors but let's assume Iran does not have beryllium. That gives them 10 nuclear devices based on the quantity of U-235 they have in the enriched uranium stockpile.

5. Many people assume that once Iran has HEU it would have to build a complex missile warhead with a sophisticated trigger and electronics - something similar to what a US ballistic nuclear missile would have. That is false.

You could make a simple gun joining two halves of a critical mass charge to initiate a nuclear explosion. Or you could have a suicide bomber creating a nuclear charge in his own arms, a little bit like these Canadian and Russian scientists did a few years back.

In both of these cases devices were just over the critical mass point but a larger charge will result in a full-scale nuclear explosion. If properly executed each of these ultra simple improvised nuclear devices could lead to an explosion much larger than what could be achieved by any conventional bomb - not to mention radioactive pollution. Due to fizzle yield problem such devices won't be able to release the full potential energy or even achieve the yield of the Hiroshima bomb without going to a slightly more sophisticated implosion technology but they could still decimate a town like Sderot.

So, what would be so special about April 1st 1010? For the first time ever the world would acquire a nuclear-armed government openly and proudly supporting terrorism and indeed executing terrorist attacks on civilian targets in locations from South America to the Middle East.

Remember those Iranians chanting "death to Italy" just the other night? Now THEY CAN! Florence would probably make a small enough target to be destroyed altogether.

And the US? Much harder to bring in fissile material than it used to be just a few years ago. Much harder and yet it is still really easy and always will be. The improvised device I am talking about would be too inefficient to destroy the whole of New York or even Detroit. Yet it would be more than capable of wiping out Manhattan or central Detroit.

Does it all look very gloomy to you? I agree but even in this dire situation one can always find something positive. Always.

I never really liked the centre of Detroit that much.


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