Busting Empty Bunkers

On April 12, Bloomberg News reported,

"Iran, defying United Nations Security Council demands to halt its nuclear program, may be capable of making a nuclear bomb within 16 days, a U.S. State Department official said.

"Iran will move to ‘industrial scale’ uranium enrichment involving 54,000 centrifuges at its Natanz plant, the Associated Press quoted deputy nuclear chief Mohammad Saeedi as telling state-run television today.

"’Using those 50,000 centrifuges they could produce enough highly enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon in 16 days,’ Stephen Rademaker, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for International Security and Nonproliferation, told reporters today in Moscow."

Well, the Security Council made no such demand, and the "sense" of what neo-crazy Rademaker said has deliberately been misrepresented to you.

Rademaker did not say that Iran would be "capable" of "making" a nuclear bomb within 16 days after installing and getting to operate satisfactorily uranium-enrichment cascades, involving more than 50,000 gas-centrifuges.

The "sense" of what Rademaker said is that when and if the Iranians have manufactured an additional 50,000 or so gas-centrifuges, installed them in cascades in the underground "bunker" at Natanz, and gotten the cascades to operate satisfactorily – all done under the watchful sensors of inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Safeguards and Physical Security regime – they could then withdraw from the Treaty on Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons, could then throw out the IAEA, could then perhaps reconfigure their gas-centrifuge cascades so as to produce several hundred pounds of bomb-grade (almost pure U-235) enriched uranium, rather than the tons of reactor-grade enriched uranium the cascades were designed, built, and operated to produce.

It takes about 120 pounds to make a simple gun-type nuke like the one we dropped on Hiroshima. It takes maybe 40 or 50 pounds of bomb-grade enriched uranium to make an implosion-type nuke.

Of course, virtually every implosion-type nuke that has ever been made – including the one we dropped on Nagasaki – used almost pure Pu-239, not almost pure U-235. (It is not possible to make a simple gun-type nuke with plutonium.)

Furthermore, making an implosion nuke is not easy. If it was, then there would be no doubt whatsoever that North Korea (DPRK) now has a dozen or so Pu-239 implosion-type nukes. And if they do, it is President Bush’s fault.

When Bush became president, all DPRK nuclear materials, reactors, and associated facilities were "frozen," under IAEA lock and key, subject to the U.S.-IAEA-DPRK Agreed Framework of 1994. But shortly after the White House Iraq Group was set up to manage the Operation Iraqi Freedom prewar propaganda campaign, Bush unilaterally abrogated the Agreed Framework.

The Koreans responded by withdrawing from the NPT – which made the DPRK-IAEA Safeguards Agreement null and void – restarting their weapons-grade plutonium-producing reactor and chemically separating out the weapons-grade plutonium they had already produced.

By neo-crazy logic, the North Koreans now have at least a dozen plutonium implosion-type nukes. And if they do, it is without any question Bush’s "bad."

Bush claimed he abrogated the Agreed Framework because he had intelligence that the Koreans had a secret nuke-oriented uranium-enrichment program, unknown and undetected by the IAEA.

No evidence has ever been found for such a program.

You may recall that the principal rationale Bush gave for launching a preemptive war – neither authorized by Congress nor sanctioned by the UN Security Council – against Iraq in 2003 was that he had intelligence that the Iraqis had a secret nuke-oriented uranium-enrichment program, unknown and undetected by the IAEA.

No evidence has ever been found for such a program.

Now comes Seymour Hersh’s stunning article, “The Iran Plans," in The New Yorker magazine – plus interviews of Hersh on Wolf Blitzer’s show and by Amy Goodman on Democracy Now! – about Bush plans to preemptively "take out" the Iranian secret nuke-oriented uranium enrichment program, unknown and undetected by the IAEA.

According to Hersh, one of the options that the White House adamantly refuses to take "off the table" – despite the pleading of Pentagon military planners and our allies – is the use of bunker-busting nukes.

It seems military planners told the White House that if they wanted to be sure and destroy the underground uranium-enrichment bunker at Natanz – which is to eventually hold those 50,000 gas-centrifuges, but is now empty – they’d have to nuke it.

According to Hersh, plans to destroy all Iranian nuclear facilities, combat aircraft, anti-aircraft batteries, and command-control centers are in the early stages of implementation.

No one in the Bush-Cheney administration is denying that.

Even the option to nuke an empty bunker.

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.