A Way Out for Iran?

The Bush-Cheney Pentagon is reportedly putting finishing touches on a plan to preemptively nuke Iran for insisting on its inalienable right – guaranteed by (a) the Treaty on Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons, (b) the Statute of the International Atomic Energy Agency, and (c) their Safeguards Agreement with the IAEA – to enjoy the peaceful uses of nuclear energy.

Meanwhile, the Bush-Cheney Department of Energy just announced plans to form a Global Nuclear Energy Partnership, through which the U.S. “will work with other nations possessing advanced nuclear technologies to develop new proliferation-resistant recycling technologies in order to produce more energy, reduce waste, and minimize proliferation concerns.”

“Additionally, these partner nations will develop a fuel services program to provide nuclear fuel to developing nations, allowing them to enjoy the benefits of abundant sources of clean, safe nuclear energy in a cost-effective manner in exchange for their commitment to forgo enrichment and reprocessing activities, also alleviating proliferation concerns.”

Meanwhile, Bush-Cheney have managed to get the IAEA Board to “request” [.pdf] that Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei report to the UN Security Council that the Board has “required” Iran to – among other outrageous things – “reestablish full and sustained suspension of all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities, including research and development.”

So far, ElBaradei has resisted making such a report, apparently because he feels this egregious overreaching of authority by the Board could result in serious damage to the IAEA as an institution and to the NPT itself.

Now, you might suppose that if Iran quickly signed up for the Bush-Cheney GNEP – as a developing nation, forgoing enrichment and reprocessing activities – Bush-Cheney would be foiled, compelled to postpone nuking Iran indefinitely.


You see, as with Iraq, Bush-Cheney and the neo-crazies are determined to effect regime-change in Iran. For them, any excuse will do. But they know you soccer moms will have to be convinced that the mullahs are developing nukes to give to Islamic terrorists to ship to a U.S. port (run by the United Arab Emirates) for detonation.

Bush-Cheney know perfectly well – because ElBaradei has repeatedly told them – there is no indication that Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapons program. The CIA has told Bush-Cheney that it will take the Iranians at least five years to get an industrial-scale uranium-enrichment facility operational, and another five years to make enough weapons-grade uranium to make a nuke or two.

Is there nothing Iran can do to forestall the Bush-Cheney preemptive attack?

Well, perhaps.

You see, largely because of former President Jimmy Carter and other eco-wackos, the U.S. has ceased to be a supplier of nuclear power plants, first-rate or otherwise. Hence, one of the principle goals of the GNEP is to team with existing suppliers of first-rate nuclear power plants.

Bush-Cheney “would like to develop, in partnership with other nations, advanced reactors that are passively safe, that could have a lifetime of the reactor cores, that are possibly meltdown-proof, that can be built on a modular basis, can perhaps even be factory built, shipped to a country and deployed.”

You bet they would.

But is such an advanced reactor possible?

You bet!

China will actually begin construction of such a revolutionary nuclear reactor this year near Weihai, in eastern China’s Shandong province. The 190-megawatt prototype “pebble-bed” nuclear reactor is expected to be generating electricity in 2010.

A pebble-bed reactor is like a giant, radiation-shielded, self-contained gumball machine, containing hundreds of thousands of billiard-ball-sized fuel elements, together with hundreds of thousands of billiard-ball-sized carbon moderators.

In operation, hundreds of the balls are continually removed (robotically) from the bottom of the gumball machine, checked (robotically) for remaining fissile-material content, logged, and reintroduced (robotically) into the top of the machine.

Once the gumball machine begins operation, it never again needs external refueling throughout its 50-plus-year continuous operating life.

The coolant, helium gas, which is chemically and physically inert, is forced down through the pebble-bed from top to bottom. Exiting through a closed loop, the hot helium gas drives electric generators before being cooled and reintroduced to the top of the machine.

The proliferation-proof, meltdown-proof pebble-bed technology development began in Germany more than 30 years ago and was continued in South Africa, but has apparently now been perfected in China.

If, as planned, similar units are produced modularly in factories in China, by 2020 China will be the world’s only supplier of first-rate nuclear power plants.

So how can Iran forestall an imminent Bush-Cheney attack?

Sign up, before the next IAEA Board meeting, to be China’s first customer.

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.