Fueling an Iranian bomb?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

David Ignatius's Oct. 16 op-ed column on the Iran nuclear enrichment deal ["A Hitch in Iran's Nuclear Plans?"] ignored how it could backfire by facilitating a bomb program.

Under the proposal, Iran reportedly would export 1.2 metric tons of 3.5 percent-enriched uranium, which after further enrichment and processing in Russia and France, would return to Iran as 200 kilograms of 20 percent-enriched uranium, fabricated into fuel elements for a reactor that produces medical isotopes.

But Iran's reactor consumes less than seven kilograms of such fuel annually, based on its record of the past two decades. Thus, the deal would provide Iran with a gross 30-year oversupply of uranium, enriched nearer to weapons-grade, which virtually invites diversion of some of the material to a bomb program.

Since uranium cannot be "denatured" to prevent diversion for weapons, the only solution would be for France or Russia to hold on to most of the Iranian uranium for decades, until it was needed to fuel the reactor. Unless Iran agreed to that, and to curtail its ongoing enrichment program, the proposed deal would more likely foster than prevent nuclear proliferation.

Alan J. Kuperman, Austin

The writer is director of the Nuclear Proliferation Prevention Program at the University of Texas.

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