Russia's nuclear deception

Iran's long march to develop nuclear weapons continues behind the facade of so—called negotiations with the European—3 (France, Britain, and Germany) and with Russia.  How anyone could consider this bunch as having any  ability to restrain the mullahs is beyond comprehension.  After all, the reactor at Bushehr originally was designed and constructed by the Germans, and is now being refurbished by the Russians, a highly lucrative undertaking.  It is absolutely ludicrous that we would expect results from nations that risk losing billions of Euros and Rubles in contracts to develop the very same nuclear capabilities that we are trying to forestall.

The mullahs have a very robust and dispersed nuclear infrastructure, but the commercial power reactor at Bushehr garners most of the world's attention.  The primary area of concern is that the E—3 and Russian agreement with Iran calls for the spent fuel rods to be shipped back to Russia for reprocessing, to keep the plutonium out of the hands of Iranian weapons scientists.

The Bush Administration is rightfully suspicious of this arrangement, especially since the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has been unable or unwilling to conduct proper inspections and report violations to the UN Security Council concerning Iran, and in years past with Iraq and North Korea.  In fact, if recent news reports out of Russia are correct, Iran will not only have the fuel to run the reactor at Bushehr, but through a technical slight of hand will retain the spent fuel rods in the country for many years, despite Russia's claim to the contrary.

On April 1 of this year, Moscow RTR TV broadcast a news segment about the Novosibirsk nuclear fuel fabrication facility in Siberia.  Specifically, the video showed how the plant was producing fuel for Iran's Bushehr nuclear reactor.  The report also notes that under the terms of a contract signed last January, the Novosibirsk plant is ready to ship about 80 tons of nuclear fuel to Iran.  But buried toward the end of the broadcast was a statement that was ostensibly designed to allay US fears about proper control of the spent fuel rods, but in reality raises more questions about the true intentions of Putin and his nuclear scientists:

[Correspondent] However, spent nuclear fuel will not be returned to Russia that soon.  Safety regulations dictate that it must first be kept in a so—called cooling pond for a minimum of 10 years. [emphasis added]

Ten years?  Either someone at the Novosibirsk plant is very confused about nuclear industry procedures, or the true intentions of the Russians concerning the spent fuel rods inadvertently slipped out.  My wager is the latter, because the industry standard for spent fuel to lie in the cooling pool is generally for a minimum of five months, not 10 years.  This minimum cooling period of 150 days is used as the reference point for light water reactors (LWR), which is exactly the type of reactor at Bushehr.

When spent fuel is removed from the reactor, it emits radiation, primarily from the fission fragments and heat.  The spent fuel is loaded into the cooling pool, normally adjacent to the reactor, to allow the radiation levels and the quantity of heat being released to decrease.  The pools are both shields against the radiation and absorbers of the heat released.  The cooling process allows most of the fission products of short half—life to decay, to reduce overall beta and gamma emissions, and, lastly, but most important to the Iranians, to allow the decay of heavy isotopes into elements which can be separated from more important products.

One of these desirable products would be plutonium, which is extracted by a process known as plutonium and uranium recovery by extraction (PUREX).  The plutonium could then be used as a partial replacement for the uranium fuel in the Bushehr reactor, or as the fuel in a fast breeder reactor, such as the one under construction at Arak. Alternatively, of course, the plutonium can also be used in nuclear weapons.

There is no technical reason to keep the spent fuel rods from Bushehr in a cooling pool in Iran for 10 years prior to shipping them back to Russia.  Even if Russian scientists decided to err on the side of safety and doubled the industry minimum standards, it would result in the fuel being stored in the cooling pool for less than one year.  And if the IAEA continues its flawed inspection regimen, look for the spent fuel rods to eventually disappear over the 10 year 'safety' period, even though they were under IAEA 'seal and control.'

We are witnessing a repeat of an old con game that was played to perfection by Saddam Hussein, France, Russia, and the IAEA prior to the Iraq War.  Saddam was allowed to keep hundreds of tons of yellowcake, low—enriched uranium, and other radioactive source material to support two reactors and an enrichment lab that had been destroyed in separate operations by Israel and the US. 

Just as before Operation Iraqi Freedom, the business interests of Russia and the E—3 with Iran trump any concerns about non—proliferation of WMD.  Except now, more people are wise to their lies and deception.

Douglas Hanson is our national security correspondent.

Iran's long march to develop nuclear weapons continues behind the facade of so—called negotiations with the European—3 (France, Britain, and Germany) and with Russia.  How anyone could consider this bunch as having any  ability to restrain the mullahs is beyond comprehension.  After all, the reactor at Bushehr originally was designed and constructed by the Germans, and is now being refurbished by the Russians, a highly lucrative undertaking.  It is absolutely ludicrous that we would expect results from nations that risk losing billions of Euros and Rubles in contracts to develop the very same nuclear capabilities that we are trying to forestall.

The mullahs have a very robust and dispersed nuclear infrastructure, but the commercial power reactor at Bushehr garners most of the world's attention.  The primary area of concern is that the E—3 and Russian agreement with Iran calls for the spent fuel rods to be shipped back to Russia for reprocessing, to keep the plutonium out of the hands of Iranian weapons scientists.

The Bush Administration is rightfully suspicious of this arrangement, especially since the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has been unable or unwilling to conduct proper inspections and report violations to the UN Security Council concerning Iran, and in years past with Iraq and North Korea.  In fact, if recent news reports out of Russia are correct, Iran will not only have the fuel to run the reactor at Bushehr, but through a technical slight of hand will retain the spent fuel rods in the country for many years, despite Russia's claim to the contrary.

On April 1 of this year, Moscow RTR TV broadcast a news segment about the Novosibirsk nuclear fuel fabrication facility in Siberia.  Specifically, the video showed how the plant was producing fuel for Iran's Bushehr nuclear reactor.  The report also notes that under the terms of a contract signed last January, the Novosibirsk plant is ready to ship about 80 tons of nuclear fuel to Iran.  But buried toward the end of the broadcast was a statement that was ostensibly designed to allay US fears about proper control of the spent fuel rods, but in reality raises more questions about the true intentions of Putin and his nuclear scientists:

[Correspondent] However, spent nuclear fuel will not be returned to Russia that soon.  Safety regulations dictate that it must first be kept in a so—called cooling pond for a minimum of 10 years. [emphasis added]

Ten years?  Either someone at the Novosibirsk plant is very confused about nuclear industry procedures, or the true intentions of the Russians concerning the spent fuel rods inadvertently slipped out.  My wager is the latter, because the industry standard for spent fuel to lie in the cooling pool is generally for a minimum of five months, not 10 years.  This minimum cooling period of 150 days is used as the reference point for light water reactors (LWR), which is exactly the type of reactor at Bushehr.

When spent fuel is removed from the reactor, it emits radiation, primarily from the fission fragments and heat.  The spent fuel is loaded into the cooling pool, normally adjacent to the reactor, to allow the radiation levels and the quantity of heat being released to decrease.  The pools are both shields against the radiation and absorbers of the heat released.  The cooling process allows most of the fission products of short half—life to decay, to reduce overall beta and gamma emissions, and, lastly, but most important to the Iranians, to allow the decay of heavy isotopes into elements which can be separated from more important products.

One of these desirable products would be plutonium, which is extracted by a process known as plutonium and uranium recovery by extraction (PUREX).  The plutonium could then be used as a partial replacement for the uranium fuel in the Bushehr reactor, or as the fuel in a fast breeder reactor, such as the one under construction at Arak. Alternatively, of course, the plutonium can also be used in nuclear weapons.

There is no technical reason to keep the spent fuel rods from Bushehr in a cooling pool in Iran for 10 years prior to shipping them back to Russia.  Even if Russian scientists decided to err on the side of safety and doubled the industry minimum standards, it would result in the fuel being stored in the cooling pool for less than one year.  And if the IAEA continues its flawed inspection regimen, look for the spent fuel rods to eventually disappear over the 10 year 'safety' period, even though they were under IAEA 'seal and control.'

We are witnessing a repeat of an old con game that was played to perfection by Saddam Hussein, France, Russia, and the IAEA prior to the Iraq War.  Saddam was allowed to keep hundreds of tons of yellowcake, low—enriched uranium, and other radioactive source material to support two reactors and an enrichment lab that had been destroyed in separate operations by Israel and the US. 

Just as before Operation Iraqi Freedom, the business interests of Russia and the E—3 with Iran trump any concerns about non—proliferation of WMD.  Except now, more people are wise to their lies and deception.

Douglas Hanson is our national security correspondent.