Bolton was Contradicted by Bush on Iran’s Bushehr Reactor

Former US ambassador and perennial angry old crank John Bolton is so upset about the possibility that Iran’s Bushehr nuclear reactor will soon go live that he says Israel has a window of only 8 days to attack it and destroy it. (After a reactor is already working, bombing it would turn it into a dirty bomb and harm large numbers of civilians, which even Bolton isn’t yet in favor of).

But Bolton’s former boss, George W. Bush, endorsed the Russian reactor deal with Iran in 2007:

Bush noted Russia’s announcement that it would ship nuclear fuel to Iran’s first atomic power station, the unfinished Bushehr plant, and said such deliveries further reduced Tehran’s need to enrich uranium.

“If that’s the case, if the Russians are willing to do that — which I support — then the Iranians do not need to learn how to enrich. If the Iranians accept that uranium for a civilian nuclear power plant, then there’s no need for them to learn how to enrich,” he said.

Bush supported the deal because many safeguards had been built in to prevent the reactors being used to create weapons. And because those safeguards were entirely practical, undermining the Iranian arguments for their need to enrich uranium themselves to fuel such reactors.

Moreover, the reactor is being actively inspected by the International Atomic Energy Agency, which continues to certify that no nuclear fuel is being diverted by Iran to weapons purposes.

And the Russians, who have been working on this reactor since the mid-1990s, have put in safeguards to prevent it from being used to produce a nuclear weapon. First, they have insisted on a light water reactor.

One of the ways to create a nuclear warhead is to take the spent fuel from a nuclear reactor and reprocess it into plutonium of weapons quality. But it is much harder to do this with light water reactors than with heavy water ones, as Daniel Engber of Slate explains:

Light-water reactors are designed for commercial use and can run for years at a time on a single batch of fuel. (“Light water” refers to ordinary H2O; “heavy water” has a higher percentage of deuterium atoms, i.e. hydrogen atoms with an extra neutron.) That long burn fills out the plutonium by-product with other isotopes that make it less useful for nuclear weapons. If you shut down a light-water reactor early—after a few months, for example—you’d waste a huge amount of money. . . Furthermore, it would be very easy to tell when the Iranians or North Koreans shut down their light-water reactors. To extract the fuel rods, you have to lift off a giant lid at the top of the reactor and take them out all at once. Weapons inspectors love this feature because it requires a large-scale operation that’s almost impossible to conceal.

So the reactor is being regularly inspected by the UN, and is a light water reactor which is very difficult if not impossible to use for the production of weapons grade plutonium. But there is more. Russia is providing the nuclear fuel for these reactors and then taking back the spent fuel, so that Iran will not even have the ruined light-water-reactor-produced plutonium, which even if they did have it could not be used to make a bomb.

People going ballistic over the Bushehr reactor are perhaps remembering the 1981 Israeli attack on the French-made OSIRAK reactor in Baghdad. But that was a piece of counter-productive theater anyway. The French had insisted on constructing a light water reactor, and on putting in safeguards against its being used for weapons construction. The Israeli attack therefore did not forestall a weapons program; the reactor would have been almost impossible to use for that purpose. After the Israeli attack, though, Saddam Hussein launched a crash program to enrich uranium through magnetatrons, an effort that appears to have failed or to have been a very long-term proposition. It was the Israeli strike that convinced the Baath regime to carry out a crash program of nuclear weapons advances that only Baghdad’s defeat in the Gulf War revealed. The Israelis would have been better off leaving the innocuous OSIRAK alone; as it was they provoked an Iraqi crash nuclear weapons program that might have ultimately borne fruit had it not been for Saddam’s rash and brutal invasion of Kuwait.

So, there is no point in attacking Bushehr and the attack on OSIRAK backfired big time. Bolton and others on the American Right are playing on people’s ignorance in this warmongering.

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30 Responses

  1. Professor Cole, you never cease to amaze me at the level of research you put into your Blog posts. I am a regular reader here.

    I have had a number of years some time ago in the Nuclear Industry in the States, both Commercial Nuclear Power and DOE. I like your reference to Iraq’s post Israeli attack on the OSIRAK reactor (I worked shortly with someone who was there at the time of the attack, no fuel in the core btw). They did indeed attempted to use the Calutron for enrichment of U-235, but I believe they had difficulty in sourcing the monstrous magnets for the task that was very time consuming and difficult.

    I would like to point out something; producing a Uranium 235 weapon is really not that difficult as long as you have the 80% plus material. But it is extremely difficult to make something small and light enough to fit in the tip of a ballistic missile. On the other-hand a Pu-239 based device can be made much smaller and boosted to produce great yield. Only as you point out while using a light water reactor the purity of the Plutonium Isotopes interfere with reliability, such as premature detonation, etc. The North Korean’s have had this problem, and this is while using a Heavy Water Reactor…

  2. Bolton and his ilk are traitors. They want Israel to do things that will drag Washington into attacking Iran in order to defend Israel. It would be all right if Bolton were a lone wolf, but his hysteria finds congenial ground in Congress.

    This is one instance, though, where the growing clout of Israel’s Russian immigrants may restrain those who want an attack against Iran. As time goes by, American influence with Israel is waning while Russian influence waxes. Besides, Americans can’t offer Israelis access to the amount of natural resources that Russians can.

    Russian leaders think first about what’s good for Russia. American leaders instead think first about what’s good for Israel, which is a sign of continued American decay.

    • Russian leaders think first about what’s good for Russia. American leaders instead think first about what’s good for Israel, which is a sign of continued American decay.

      Frankly, I don’t think that this is true. For instance the US didn’t invade Iraq in order to defend Israel. The Bush government invaded Iraq for a good geostrategical reason : the US wants to control energy ressources present in the Middle East. Getting the propaganda right for all kinds of opinion groups was a prerequisite. So the argument of the need to defend Israel was there to convince the Israel supporters. The insistence on Saddam’s authoritarianism and dictotorship was there to convince liberal and democrats. The constant remembering of the situation of women in Iran is there once more to convince liberals and feminists that Iran is part of the evil axe. The argument of terrorism (cf the supposed links between Saddam and Al quaida) was there to convince all frightfull middle classes and labour classes. The argument that Iraqi oil would pay for the cost of the war was there for the rightwing welloff people fearing more taxes. etc. etc. But in the end, invading Iraq was in the interest of the energy greedy US and of the huge oil companies, in the interest of the militaro-industrial complexe. Different actors were pursuiing different goals. The ones who wanted it most were able to find convincing arguments in order to gain the support of the others too. The same thing seems to be happening there a second time with Iran.

      It may be good for the US Americans’ ego, to think that they are manipulated by a small lobby, that they are not the guilty ones, the ones wanting to crush ME states out of greed for their oil, for the sake of their corporates’ benefits and because of they are enebriated by their position of first world power; nevertheless it isn’t the true, or rather it is only a part of the truth.

      After WWII, the Germans had to wear that huge guilt for what they had done to other people and other countries, I hope that the realisation of their guilt will come upon the Americans of the US and that they will once realize what they are doing.

      Any way, a great thank to Professor Cole for deconstructing those false arguments.

      • There can be more than one reason for an action. I believe it was Ray McGovern (retired CIA officer and a co-founder of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity or VIPS) who said that the reason(s) for the Iraq war was OIL. O = access to oil, I = Israel’s security and L f= logistics, meaning probably geo-strategic interests. I tend to agree with him.

        By invading, occupying and destroying Iraq America has done Israel a great favor by removing a potentially strong enemy.

        As such I disagree with people who laugh at Bush for having prematurely announced his mission accomplished statement. If you consider the mission to be OIL, as described above, especially with an emphasis on “I” then the mission was indeed accomplished.

        • Re OIL mnemonic:
          Republican banker Alan Greenspan wrote:
          “I am saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil,”

          The Iraq invasion also served a political motive, in avoiding accountability for 2001. Team Bush executives were asleep at the wheel in the Summer and Fall of 2001, ignoring the high level of CIA concern about a domestic AQ hijacking/terrorism, on the heels of the 2000 suicide bombing of USS Cole.

      • Thanks Christiane, for this clear and distinct analysis. I’m a german and I know what you are talking about.

        D. Reimers

  3. Thank you again for injecting rational thinking and facts into the debate. Bolton is a loathesome, immoral man, who has been accorded magical powers, I think due mainly to his moustache. He, Jeffrey Goldberg and a bunch of other wingnuts are still living in the PNAC dream world, where Liberty and Democracy triumph over the evil Caliphate. Please, let’s just stop attributing any weight to the pronouncements of these insane people. Keep up the good work, Professor.

  4. Yet another terrific display of rationality. However…..

    I keep thinking of the remarks made to Ron Suskind by whomever it was in the 2nd Bush administration, about creating a reality by action, while others studied and analyzed to no effect. Creating their own reality, was how the fellow put it.

    The reality (?!) is that the Israeli attack on Osirak is accepted (?!) as a successful intervention: the eventual political fallout impact you noted becomes just another tenuous argument and irrelevant at this point. As Suskind’s interlocutor said, by the time “you rationalists” get around to figuring out what may have happened, they will have moved on to create new realities. (Kind of like building settlements, now that I think about it).

    Ultimately we’re on the better side of things the closer we stick to the rational truth of things and try to learn from history, but this whole business with Iran is disquieting.

    Rationally, there appears to have been simply a lot of posturing for domestic consumption on all sides. But the reality is Israel feels a….special need and entitlement….for regional hegemony, that is beyond the pale. They also have a well-founded belief in their influence over the US, and an even more heightened sense of the need to pro-actively dominate events, as shown by their history, chapter and verse.

    Sure, Goldberg’s article in The Atlantic comes off as alarmist, but there was a certain smugness to it as well. Reread the final parts, where JFK spoke with Ben Gurion about what the US could do after the election he thought the Jewish vote delivered to him (let’s stipulate this exchange happened). The underlying message was what was good for Israel was good for America. This unbridled sense of righteousness constitutes a danger that completely swamps mere rationality.

  5. Actually, that Russia is providing fuel to Iran’s Bushehr reactor does not undermine their argument that they need to have a domestic capability to make the fuel. Iran is going to build 22 reactors, and it was Dick Cheney himself who accused Russia of playing energy blackmail.

  6. What WOULD have undermined the Iranian claim that they need to make their own reactor fuel is if the US had agreed to allow Iran to purchase the fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor on the open market, as usual. Instead we prevented them from doing so — in violation of the NPT — and have since imposed other forms of energy sanctions on them, which only bolsters their claim that they can’t rely on mere promises of fuel delivery.

  7. This blog is one of the few well-informed sources of news on the Middle East I can find. It’s fantastic and I recommend it to all my friend.s

  8. Prof. Cole, thx for “…bombing it would turn it into a dirty bomb and harm large numbers of civilians, which even Bolton isn’t yet in favor of.”

    Same goes for loose talk of bombing Iran’s enrichment facilities and stocks, which use pressurized U-hexaflouride gas. By design, such an attack would breach containment and scatter tons of toxic and highly radioactive uranium across the Persian countryside, water and people. We regard even the threat of such an attack on us or our allies as terrorism. The act itself would (and should) be condemned as a WMD attack.

    No friend of Israel could logically want them to be the first country ever to engage in radiological warfare. Such an attack would in itself be a landmark and fearfully groundbreaking proliferation event; one that can’t be undone, but might be repeated.

    • Israel won’t be the first to engage in radiological warfare. Leaving aside the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs, it is American practice, starting in Serbia in 1999 but far more in Iraq and Afghanistan, to fill the country with depleted uranium dust, which does awful things to people when they breathe it in. The cancer rate in Fallujah today is much higher than it weas in Hiroshima. There they used 140 pounds of uranium. In Iraq they’ve used thousands of tons. Who needs an explosion, with all the drama, if you can lay cancer on people forever?

      I thought it was bad enough with Agent Orange in Vietnam, which is still causing death and birth defects. But in so many ways they had to raise it to a higher level, being the indispensable nation, the city on a hill, the light of the world. It seems to be a law that the more self-righteous and bombastic you are about your virtue, the more abominable you become. How many practitioners of genocide have been humble men, with a sober assessment of their own character?

    • “No friend of Israel could logically want them to be the first country ever to engage in radiological warfare. ”

      I believe you mean to say “the first country to engage in radiological warfare since Nagasaki,” a very important distinction.

      • Good points, although they tend to carry the discussion away from the Iran debate, and distract from the severity of the mistake, the radiological war crime being contemplated and even encouraged.

        The domestic (and S. Pacific) bomb tests of the late 50’s and 60’s, part and parcel of the hot phase of the cold war, were horrendously dirty. Sen. John Glenn, after investigating the totality of sloppy fuel processing and downrange fallout mused that ‘it was almost like we were making war on ourselves.’

        But a conventional attack on uranium storage and processing that by design would atomize and scatter as much as possible onto ‘enemy’ territory seems more narrowly a radiological WMD attack, in its output effect. With atomization/conflagration, the danger from inhaling or otherwise internalizing the particles exponentially multiplies. Radioactive inclusion is fundamentally more dangerous than exterior, ‘background’ radiation.

        The tons of super-hard ‘DU’ depleted uranium ammunition used by the US in various wars since 1990 would also be considered a radiological WMD attack, if used against an American city. I presume the Israelis would feel the same way. But so far as I know, the Israeli gov’t isn’t yet guilty of our US dual standard in using DU ammunition.

  9. “Saddam’s rash and brutal invasion of Kuwait.”

    Lest we forget, and if my memory serves, some guy named Tariq Aziz was doing the rounds of foreign policy wonk groups and “power centers” back in the early ’80s, drumming up support for a “return” to the “Greater Iraq” of ancient days. Remember, back when Saddam was Our Friend against the Islamic Students of Iran? And we gave him a shitload of munitions, big bombs and artillery shells, that are now, today, being asymmetrically recycled into a large percentage of the IEDs and EFPs and “roadside bombs” in that part of the world, since our Rumhead “war planners” in their Grand Networked Battlespace Game were too effing stupid to even police up or secure or destroy them during Shock&Aw,Shit? I got to hear Aziz’ pitch at a rump meeting of the Chicago Council of Foreign Relations, as I recall, and it seemed like a nice step forward on the path to Armageddon.

    And do I disremember, or did not a young lady named April Glaspie, speaking ambassadorially on behalf of one George Sr. Bush on April 25, 1990, tell Saddam Hussein for the record that “We [the official US government in charge of everything United States] have no opinion on your Arab – Arab conflicts, such as your dispute with Kuwait. Secretary (of State James) Baker has directed me to emphasize the instruction, first given to Iraq in the 1960’s, that the Kuwait issue is not associated with America. (Saddam smiles)[,having just said that if he could not take all of the Shatt al Arab into “Greater Iraq,” to put it in the geographic shape he thought it ought to have on world maps, well then, he would need to bring the territory and oil inconveniently split off into “Kuwait” back within the elastic Iraqi imperial borders.]” Given that Message From Garcia, what was “rash” about invading Kuwait?

    “At the end of the ride,
    The lady was inside —
    And the smile was on the crocodile!”

    Traitors? My arse. Stupid clot-brain goddam humans. All of us. All around. All the time. But at least there’s lots of material for wry humor…

  10. Now a scientific explanation for Bolton’s comments and his inability as an old man to gain wisdom and learn from the past.
    That huge furry thing on his Boldon head absorbs a lot of heat energy and burns his brain cells!

  11.  Russian leaders think first about what’s good for Russia. American leaders instead think first about what’s good for Israel, which is a sign of continued American decay.

    Frankly, I don’t think that this is true…

    I think it is more than true.

    President Regan was asked during AIPAC fund raising dinner, “What he will do for Israel”, not NY or America. US has used 79 times veto against Israel resolutions in the United Nations.

  12. You say: “(After a reactor is already working, bombing it would turn it into a dirty bomb and harm large numbers of civilians, which even Bolton isn’t yet in favor of).”

    You should correct it to say: “(After a reactor is already working, bombing it would turn it into a dirty bomb and harm large numbers of civilians, which even Bolton isn’t yet in favor of, yet.)”

  13. Whenever I get repulsed by all the clamor to attack Iran, I tell myself not to be so bothered. The Iranian people are of the same species as the Iraqis, and that species is not made of flesh and bone like us, it is what’s known as an “abstraction species” So when an Iraqi or Iranian “life” is taken, or a”limb” blown off, it’s a passionless event, sort of like a cloud disappearing from the sky.

    All that “war is hell” stuff really doesn’t apply when you bomb a country inhabited by an “abstraction species”. The non-us media may show some grisly scenes of dead and severely wounded babies, blocks of houses destroyed, tattered, hungry and thirsty men, women, and children wandering about in a daze. But those people are not like us. We feel pain and loss – they don’t.

    A useful leaning tool is the Vietnam War. We were responsible for the deaths of several million members of an “abstraction species” during that war, yet, when it was over we felt fine. No brooding guilt, no wish to console the survivors, no need to think about that country and its people at all – except for the 2500 US POW/MIA’s . Unlike the Vietnamese, the POW/MIA were real people (dead or alive) whom we spent years fretting about.

    On the other hand my gut tells me the right thing to do is establish a pact with Iran that states that any non-provoked attack on Iran will be considered an attack on the US, and we will respond with all necessary force. There is a very good precedent for taking this position in the Middle East – Kuwait (maybe no written pact).

  14. […] the Bushehr reactor is a particularly stupid suggestion, as Juan Cole wrote yesterday. The 1,000 megawatt Bushehr reactor should even be considered a confidence-building measure of the […]

  15. Many people assume that the US is serving Israel’s purposes, but Chomsky argues (persuasively, I think) that it is the other way around. I have “always” thought (well, for the past 40 years or so) that this was true from the beginning, and US interests deprived Israel of an opportunity for partnership with its neighbors in a very productive regional economic system. However, Chomsky suggests that the US had no “special” interest in Israel (one of many players in the region) until 1967, when it struck a powerful blow against Arab secular “leftist” development. Israel became increasingly useful to the US not only in the mid-east but also in South Africa and in South America: link to

    • Oh yeah, it’s all our fault. If our US leaders are secretly working to advance the US’s own interests through the Israeli cat’s paw then why do the Israelis have to bribe our government to act in its own interests? Hmm?

    • Israel is to the ME what Rhodesia was to Africa. How for Pete sake such entity could EVER have “an opportunity for partnership with its neighbors in a very productive regional economic system”?

      Anyway, USA could be a foe of Iran, but it is Israel who for 10+ years is insisting on bombing Iran, and asking for USA help and/or approval.

    • Well the US and even Chomsky may believe that Israel is serving US interests but the Israelis believe its the other way round and I’m afraid the evidence is pretty clear.

      “Every time we do something you tell me America will do this and will do
      that . . . I want to tell you something very clear: Don’t worry about American
      pressure on Israel. We, the Jewish people, control America, and the Americans know it.” – Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, October 3, 2001, to Shimon Peres, as reported on Kol Yisrael radio.

      Then let’s discuss Israeli spies on the US who are let free, Congress’s overwhelming support for the Israeli attack on Gaza at the end of 2008. I could go on at length.

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