The Iran Breakthrough TV News is Ignoring: Uranium Stockpile falls below amount Needed for Bomb

(By Juan Cole)

US television newscasters have often slipped up and spoken of an Iranian nuclear “weapons program,” even though no UN inspectors have found firm evidence of any such thing and Iran maintains that its program is for peaceful purposes.

Now that there is positive evidence of thorough Iranian cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency, US television news is ignoring a clear sign that Iran is hewing to the breakthrough agreement of last November. I’m saying this should be a headline on tv news but it is not:

Reuters reports that the International Atomic Energy Agency has confirmed that Iran is abiding by the commitments it made last November to mothball its enrichment of uranium to 19.25 percent for its medical reactor, to produce isotopes for treating cancer. Iran committed to ceasing enrichment to that level, sticking to enriching to 5 percent, the level needed for fuel for Iran’s three Bushehr nuclear reactors.

“Its report said Iran’s most sensitive nuclear stockpile – uranium refined to a fissile concentration of 20 percent . . . had declined significantly for the first time in four years and was now well below the amount needed for one bomb, if processed to a high degree.

Since halting this enrichment under last year’s deal, Iran has diluted some of the material to lower-level uranium and converted some into a less proliferation-sensitive oxide form.”

Western powers, including Israel, were worried that with gas centrifuge enrichment technology, it is slightly easier to enrich uranium already at 19.25% to the 95% level of enrichment needed for an atomic bomb than it would be to bring 5% enriched uranium all the way up to bomb grade. That Iran’s stockpile of low enriched uranium at the 19.25% level has fallen for the first time in the past few years, and is now below the amount that would be needed for a bomb if it were enriched to 95% should be a major advance in allaying Western fears.

In fact, Iran lacks the capacity to take the 19.25% enriched uranium up to bomb grade, and there is no evidence that it has solved the many thorny technical problems involved in bomb-making.

Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has repeatedly ruled that producing, stockpiling and using nuclear weapons is contrary to Islamic law and has forbidden weaponization of Iran’s enrichment program. As a religious leader, Khamenei would suffer severe loss of credibility if he gave these rulings and then secretly tried to make a bomb. Western journalists are mostly secular in outlook and do not understand Shiite Islam, and so they tend to dismiss Khamenei’s rulings as unimportant or dishonest. Israeli hawks and their American fellow travelers have also tried to muddy the waters on this issue.

The IAEA said last week that “Iran has taken the initial practical measures that were foreseen” in the November agreement on six practical measures Iran was to take to reassure the West of the peaceful character of its civilian nuclear enrichment program:

On 8 and 9 February 2014, the Agency and the Islamic Republic of Iran (Iran) held constructive technical meetings within the Framework for Cooperation that was agreed between the parties last November.

During the meetings, the two sides reviewed progress on the implementation of the six initial practical measures that were agreed three months ago. Iran has taken the initial practical measures that were foreseen.

Iran and the Agency reached agreement on seven practical measures to be implemented by Iran by 15 May 2014.

The agreed measures are:

Providing mutually agreed relevant information and managed access to the Saghand mine in Yazd;
Providing mutually agreed relevant information and managed access to the Ardakan concentration plant;
Submission of an updated Design Information Questionnaire (DIQ) for the IR-40 Reactor;
Taking steps to agree with the Agency on the conclusion of a Safeguards Approach for the IR-40 Reactor;
Providing mutually agreed relevant information and arranging for a technical visit to Lashkar Ab’ad Laser Centre;
Providing information on source material, which has not reached the composition and purity suitable for fuel fabrication or for being isotopically enriched, including imports of such material and on Iran’s extraction of uranium from phosphates; and
Providing information and explanations for the Agency to assess Iran’s stated need or application for the development of Exploding Bridge Wire detonators.

There has been a rash of articles about how difficult the negotiations of the UN Security Council permanent members plus Germany are and how unlikely they are to succeed.

But these pieces are burying the lede. The IAEA, which has been hostile to Iran under the leadership of Yukiya Amano, is saying that Iran is fulfilling its side of the bargain so far and that a key source of anxiety, the stockpile of 19.25% LEU, is no longer worrisome.

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17 Responses

  1. This doesn’t surprise me one bit: US media, especially cable news, often ignores stories that don’t fit the preconceived notion of what is “important” – or, more often, fit the Inside the Beltway narrative, especially when it comes to the Middle East.

  2. We know what the USA would do if Iran was involved in the first use a nuclear weapon. Iran also knows. Do we have thoughts if Israel unilaterally was involved in the first use of a nuclear weapon? This is hypothetical but we all assume the former but the latter is greater than zero and seems to put us in a box where we left the box cutters outside.

  3. Has there ever been any evidence that Iran is trying to produce nuclear weapons? No, there hasn’t. So what do articles about a hoped for Iranian “breakthrough” really mean?

    How can there be a “breakthrough” since the term is left undefined? “Breakthrough” to what exactly?

    Does no “breakthrough” mean war?

    If Obama won’t play ball with those who want war with Iran, they’ll just wait for POTUS Hillary. By then, Iran might have dropped it’s uranium enrichment down to 4.25%, but I doubt that ‘lil fact will make a difference.

    4.25% won’t be a “breakthrough” either.

    • Breakout capacity: the ability to produce a bomb in short order if they decide to do so.

      The breakthrough is Iran’s agreement not to achieve breakout capacity.

      • The breakout capacity cannot be avoided with gas centrifuge technology.

        The breakthrough is Iran accepting a longer period to breakout.

        • It’s like a koan: how long does “a longer period to break out” have to be for it to no longer count as breakout capacity?

        • Long enough for the US to be able to invade first. On Iraq analogy, roughly 9 months. Iran will be faster than that

        • If we use that definition, then Iran has given up breakout capacity, because they won’t be anywhere near 9 months away from a bomb under this deal.

  4. The American media is also ignoring the accomplishment of the destruction in Syria’s chemical weapons.

    If it bleeds, it leads. “Deal working out as planned” just isn’t a story in the American media.

  5. Matthew de Lellis

    Juan,….bothering the Press with those nagging FACTS again. They don’t want to report the TRUTH;….it doesn’t support the agenda. The goal is WAR with Iran,…one way or another. Can’t let FACTS get in the way, now can they?

  6. There is nothing new with the corporate media not reporting Iran’s compliance with the terms of the Geneva agreement. This has been the case at least since 2003 when Iran negotiated with the European Troika, signed the Additional Protocol and even suspended enrichment for over two years. It should be pointed out that most of the demands of the P5+1 have nothing to do with the NPT, but go way beyond the requirements of the Additional Protocol. Their demands, which Iran has already agreed as part of the interim Geneva Agreement, include capping enrichment at five per cent, turning the stockpile of 19.5 per cent enriched uranium to fuel rods that cannot be used for any military purposes, closing the heavy water reactor in Arak or modifying it to a light water reactor, reducing the stockpile of uranium enriched to five per cent, cutting the number of centrifuges, etc.

    According to the NPT, all that a member country is required to do is not to manufacture nuclear weapons. In return, nuclear countries have given an undertaking to get rid of their weapons, something that they have failed to do. If Iran ratifies the Additional Protocol and provides greater transparency, according to the NPT she is allowed to engage in any peaceful nuclear activity that she desires. In short, what the West is demanding of Iran has nothing to do with the NPT, but is based on bullying and blackmail, while Israel that is the only country in the Middle East that possesses nuclear weapons is totally ignored.

    It is important to bear in mind that if for any reason the talks fail Iran will be blamed for the failure, and the neocons will again ask for military action. Yousaf Butt, a prominent nuclear physicist and a non-proliferation expert, in an important article entitled “No Iran Deal? No Problem” argues that even if the nuclear talks fall apart, all is not lost, because the IAEA still continues to inspect Iran’s nuclear facilities link to nationalinterest.org

  7. This should not surprise us…Saddam Hussein insisted he did not have WMD’s and it turned out to be right. We have spent trillions, killed hundreds of thousands, lost thousands of our troops, and left chaos and an ongoing civil war raging there.
    The media usually likes to go with the war monger’s narrative, and keep ignoring the real story, like the truth about yellow cake from Niger, for which a CIA agent was outed, because her diplomatic husband found out before the war, it was a huge hoax. For the saber rattlers to keep pushing for war, and want the Iranian people to suffer the consequences of it, they have to keep feeding the media with the lies, or make them ignore what could bring more balance into the coverage. It seems the US media never learns from past mistakes. They do indeed seem controlled, afraid to criticize, or highlight the truth.

  8. I suggest that Iran’s cooperation on the nukes issue is based on its knowledge that it is not working on nuclear weapons and thus it’s impossible for the US to find credible evidence to the contrary. Of course, remembering that Iraq was right and the US wrong about its WMD, the facts may not matter.

  9. After what happened in Hiroshima and Nagasaki the world reached an unspoken consensus to not use nuclear weapons. The loss of innocent life, risks, and stakes and the world reaction are just not worth it. The US’s problem with Iran is not nuclear weapons, the US will not be satisfied with anything short of regime change in Iran.

  10. “On the heels of last year’s humiliating third failure of the premier U.S. missile defense system during what was billed as a fairly simple flight trial, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is doubling down on the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) program by adding more than $4.5 billion to the Missile Defense Agency’s coffers from fiscal 2015-2019, according to Riki Ellison, chairman of the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance.

    Thus far, the Pentagon has spent more than $157 billion developing various missile defenses, a portion of it on GMD technologies.

    In the Pentagon’s forthcoming budget request, which is slated for delivery next month to Congress, Hagel is planning to specifically request higher funding for GMD, according to defense sources. The goal is to turn the tide in what some say has become an atrophied focus on testing and evolving technology for the program, and hopefully score an intercept this spring.

    Additionally, he will propose at least $1.5 billion across the plan to develop a new radar to spot missiles from North Korea, while potentially shifting the massive, floating Space-Based X-Band system to the East Coast to monitor for attacks from an increasingly bellicose Iran.” – AW&ST

    • Of course it’s hardly just one idiotic retail Rube Goldberg weapon system that is supposed to “counter one particular threat,” with one all-consuming model of a counter-threat with all the ways that it can be “improved in development” or “fixed in procurement,” in a failed institution that does nothing for “our security.” It’s wholesale, and they don’t even try to cover it up much any more: “Behind the Pentagon’s doctored ledgers, a running tally of epic waste” link to reuters.com This is part 2 of a 3 part article. The diagnosis is obvious, but given the systemic infection and metastasis, there’s probably no chance of a cure, or even much of a prognosis for the patient, because “weapon systems and attendant management expand to engulf available wealth…” AW&ST and other trade pubs for the MIC (LOVE those acronyms!) are just full of other examples…

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