Casus Belli: High-Pitched Whine

Well, there they go again. The neo-crazy media sycophants are quoting unnamed “Western diplomats” to the effect that Syria is secretly developing nukes.


Well, it seems someone’s “experimental” sensors may have picked up what may be the acoustic or electronic signature of a high-speed gas-centrifuge.

That’s it?

We’re going to war with Syria because of a high-pitched whine?

Well, no. It seems that metallurgist A.Q. Khan – who developed Pakistan’s high-speed gas-centrifuges – gave several lectures on “nuclear materials” in late 1997 and early 1998 in Damascus.

And, there’s more.

According to the unnamed “Western diplomats,” beginning in 2001, Khan and several Pakistani colleagues had other “clandestine” meetings in Iran with Syrian “nuclear officials.”

How much more evidence do you need?

What is a “nuclear material?” Well, uranium hexafluoride – which is a solid at room temperature – is a nuclear material.

If you hook a thousand or so high-speed gas-centrifuges together in cascade and input ordinary gaseous uranium hexafluoride, you get enriched uranium hexafluoride as output.

Nowadays, virtually all enriched uranium is used as fuel for nuclear power plants. Nowadays, most enriched uranium is produced by gas-centrifuge cascades sited in Western Europe, China, Russia or Pakistan.

The United States still depends upon the WWII gaseous-diffusion process, but Iran’s modern gas-centrifuge cascade under construction could be operational in a year or so. The gas-centrifuges in the Iranian facility – which has already been visited by International Atomic Energy Agency officials and will be subject to an IAEA Safeguards Agreement, when completed – appear to be very similar to those in a Pakistani cascade that is also subject to an IAEA Safeguards Agreement.

The U-238 isotope – which is not fissile, but accounts for about 99.3% of natural uranium – is “cast out” by the centrifuges, thereby “enriching” the concentration of the fissile U-235 isotope in the remaining gas.

Typically, when low enriched uranium – reactor grade – is produced, the output volume is about an order of magnitude less than the input volume.

Typically, if highly enriched uranium is desired – to make a nuke, for example – the LEU output is then used as input to a separate smaller cascade, employing hundreds – not thousands – of high-speed centrifuges.

The neo-crazies want you believe that Iran’s having thousands of gas-centrifuges in a cascade is tantamount to having the capability to produce nukes.

However, Syria and Iran are NPT signatories. Therefore, any uranium-enrichment facility – as well as any LEU produced – would be subject to IAEA Safeguards. As NPT-signatories, neither Syria nor Iran would be permitted to have a HEU producing facility. In any event, the LEU they would need for input to a secret HEU-producing facility would be under IAEA lock and seal.

The neo-crazies would have you believe that the IAEA inspectors are so dumb, so incompetent, that they would never notice the Syrians and/or Iranians stealing the literally tons of LEU needed for input to their secret HEU-producing cascade.

The evidence is to the contrary. In the 1980s, South Africa had not yet become an NPT signatory. Hence their uranium-enrichment facility – which made fuel for their nuclear power plants – was not subject to IAEA Safeguards. Nor was the enriched uranium it produced.

Hence, there would have been no reason for them to hide what they were doing. No reason for them to not openly make HEU in their uranium-enrichment facility.

Nevertheless, the South Africans had a separate – nearby, on site, but secret – facility for producing HEU for nukes, using LEU they secretly diverted.

When South Africa decided to sign the NPT, they first had to get rid of the half-dozen gun-type nukes they had produced. They “blended down” the weapons-grade HEU into LEU. They also completely dismantled and decontaminated the secret HEU facility before allowing in the IAEA inspectors. Nevertheless, the IAEA inspectors soon figured out what the South Africans had been doing, secretly, and confronted them.

So why are the Iranians and the Syrians so concerned about charges by the neo-crazies that they have secret nuke programs the IAEA can’t find?

Well, according to the Israeli independent newspaper, Ha’aretz, a month before the US invaded Iraq, Under-Secretary of State Bolton met with Israeli officials. Everyone knew the Iraqis didn’t have nukes, but the Israelis suspected the Iranians might.

Bolton told them he had "no doubt" that “America will attack Iraq” and that "it will be necessary to deal with threats from Syria, Iran and North Korea, afterwards."

Moral? The IAEA can’t save you. Hence that high-pitched whine in Syria?

Author: Gordon Prather

Physicist James Gordon Prather has served as a policy implementing official for national security-related technical matters in the Federal Energy Agency, the Energy Research and Development Administration, the Department of Energy, the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the Department of the Army. Dr. Prather also served as legislative assistant for national security affairs to U.S. Sen. Henry Bellmon, R-Okla. -- ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee and member of the Senate Energy Committee and Appropriations Committee. Dr. Prather had earlier worked as a nuclear weapons physicist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California and Sandia National Laboratory in New Mexico.