Say that three times fast.
And, yes that is a picture of Iran’s 164 centrifuge cascade.
Reuters’ Mark Heinrich reports that Iran has completed a second 164 centrigue cascade at the Natanz pilot fuel enrichment plant—but that the Iranians are conducting only “dry runs” without any uranium:
“The second cascade was brought on line earlier this month but they appear to be just running it empty. That is, vacuum-testing to assess durability,” said the diplomat, close to the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency.
George Jahn with AP had a similar story, but his nearly 800 word article was hacked to death by a number of newspapers. (The link I posted has everything, I think). ElBaradei confirmed the second cascade during his visit to the US (see stories by WaPo’s Linzer and NYT’s Sanger), adding that Iran was ready to introduce uranium into the new cascade.
Hard to say whether the Iranians are deliberately going slow or having technical trouble. David Ignatius had a long story in September, reporting that Iran’s “centrifuges are overheating when uranium gas is injected.”
“The Iranians are unable to control higher temperatures, and after a short period they must stop because of higher temperatures. So far they haven’t been able to solve this,” says one Western intelligence official who has been briefed on the IAEA findings. In addition, this official said, some centrifuges “are simply crashing—10 or so have broken down and must be replaced.”
Paul recently summarized
all the intel dope that we have through October.
Placing Iran’s Enrichment Activities in Standby
I give you all of this to renew an old debate that began with a paper my colleague, Matthew Bunn, wrote entitled, Placing Iran’s Enrichment Activities in Standby. In that monograph Bunn argued that placing the centrifuges at Natanz in one of two “standby” modes offered a way out of the current stand-off over suspension:
One option for Iran to suspend enrichment activities without compromising its future ability to resume enrichment is to place the 164 centrifuge cascade at Natanz in a standby mode. The United States considered “warm standby” and “cold standby” options for its Portsmouth enrichment plant several years ago. Despite the vast technical differences between a large gaseous diffusion plant and a small centrifuge facility, these approaches may provide analogies that the parties could draw on to forge an approach acceptable to all sides. An acceptable approach would have to assure the United States and Europe that the standby activities would not significantly increase Iran’s capacity to manufacture nuclear weapons material; by the same token, accepting such an approach would require Iran to make a strategic decision not to pursue an option for rapid production of such material.
David Albright and Jackie Shire disagreed, calling warm standby a “bad idea” and citing an IAEA report that warned Iran would learn information about “the life expectancy and durability of key mechanical components, the failure of materials, the effects of vibrations, electric power requirements…a detailed understanding of the different ways that centrifuges can fail, and information needed for the development of more advanced centrifuge systems.”
Policy disagreements are good for our community. Jackie and I even still did BloggingHeads together.
And, David and Jackie had a point: they were right that Matt (and me, too) didn’t emphasize that zero centrifuges would be the best option. But—as the recent news points out—our choice is probably not between zero and 164, it’s between 164 (or 328 now) and something worse—an Iranian nuclear weapon, maybe, or a war … or both.
The IAEA hasn’t released the report (hello, friends! it’s called e-mail!) but one of the areas where actually running UF6 through the centrifuges could improve’s understanding of centrifuge operations turns out to be … the relationship between UF6 gas flow, temperature and stress corrosion.
So, it would seem to me—given the problems that Ignatius claims Iran has experienced—we do have an interest in keeping the hex out of the centrifuges, something that placing the centrifuges in standby—either warm or cold—accomplishes.
Of course, that means we don’t get to send in assault teams to blow up nuclear facilities near Natanz and Esfahan—which you know, is kind of a bummer.
Fortunately, we have virtual reality. Kuma\War—a free online war game—makes first person shooter games based on “real-war events from the news.”
And, oh yes, that is a CGI centrifuge cascade at Natanz (right, above).
Mission 58: Assault on Iran
is a little wet work to stop the Iranian bomb, a chance—in the words of the trailer—to “destroy the materials … destroy the knowledge … leave no trace ….”
And, hell yes, “destroy the knowledge” means you get to mow down Iranian nuclear weapons scientists at their desks (left).
I don’t know, did that guy look like he tried to surrender?
Anyway, makes for great virtual fun, even if it would also make for lousy real-life policy.