Iran's nuclear future

Thomas C. Reed is a former nuclear weapons designer at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Secretary of the Air Force under presidents Ford and Carter, and Special Assistant to President Reagan for National Security Policy. With Danny Stillman, he has co-authored The Nuclear Express: A Political History of the Bomb and Its Proliferation. He shares his thoughts on Iran's nuclear program, via our friend John B. Dwyer

1) It should come as no surprise that Iran has a second uranium enrichment facility.  The very competent scientists at the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna have suspected as much, while tracking the engineers involved, for over a year.

2) There can be no doubt that Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapon capability.  The Iranian leaders do so by dancing close to the edge - but staying within - the constraints of the Nuclear Nonproliferation treaty.  By doing so, Iran can produce the fissile materials needed for a bomb.  The rest is easy.

3) The Iranians will fire a nuclear device when it is politically appropriate to do so.  Enriched uranium bombs do not need to be tested. 

a) The U.S. did not pre-test the Hiroshima Little Boy bomb.  (The Alamogordo test was of the more complicated plutonium bomb subsequently used at Nagasaki .)

b) South Africa did not need to test her uranium-based A-bomb.  Six were produced during the eighties without any full-scale nuclear test.

4) Iran 's missile launches confirm her interest in a small-diameter uranium-based weapon suitable for missile delivery, not the twenty-kiloton, plutonium-based, spherical Fat Man designs first tested by the U.S. , Soviet Union , U.K. , France and China .

a) America 's Little Boy was only two feet six inches in diameter.  It weighed 8,900 pounds and gave 15 kilotons.

b) South Africa 's Melba, produced forty years later, was a similar two feet in diameter, but it weighed only 2,200 pounds.  It was also estimated to produce 15 kilotons.

c) Proceeding down this learning curve, it is reasonable to assume an Iranian design would also be two feet in diameter, but by now it should weigh well under 2,000 pounds.  Iran 's Shahab-3 missile has a payload capability of 2,000 pounds.  A two-foot warhead diameter would be half the size of the Shahab-3 body - about right.

5) With no scientific need to test, the Iranians may first demonstrate their nuclear capability with an integrated live warhead and missile shot over their desert test range.  They may fire straight up, as the U.S. did at Johnson Island in 1962.  (A 1.4 megaton detonation 248 miles overhead, lofted by a Thor intermediate range missile - lower-tech than Shahab-3.)  Such a detonation would be visible throughout the Arab world - and would seriously disrupt U.S. intelligence-collection satellites.

6) Or they may opt for a suicide attack on Tel Aviv.  That has been Hezbollah's way of doing business.
Thomas C. Reed is a former nuclear weapons designer at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Secretary of the Air Force under presidents Ford and Carter, and Special Assistant to President Reagan for National Security Policy. With Danny Stillman, he has co-authored The Nuclear Express: A Political History of the Bomb and Its Proliferation. He shares his thoughts on Iran's nuclear program, via our friend John B. Dwyer

1) It should come as no surprise that Iran has a second uranium enrichment facility.  The very competent scientists at the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna have suspected as much, while tracking the engineers involved, for over a year.

2) There can be no doubt that Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapon capability.  The Iranian leaders do so by dancing close to the edge - but staying within - the constraints of the Nuclear Nonproliferation treaty.  By doing so, Iran can produce the fissile materials needed for a bomb.  The rest is easy.

3) The Iranians will fire a nuclear device when it is politically appropriate to do so.  Enriched uranium bombs do not need to be tested. 

a) The U.S. did not pre-test the Hiroshima Little Boy bomb.  (The Alamogordo test was of the more complicated plutonium bomb subsequently used at Nagasaki .)

b) South Africa did not need to test her uranium-based A-bomb.  Six were produced during the eighties without any full-scale nuclear test.

4) Iran 's missile launches confirm her interest in a small-diameter uranium-based weapon suitable for missile delivery, not the twenty-kiloton, plutonium-based, spherical Fat Man designs first tested by the U.S. , Soviet Union , U.K. , France and China .

a) America 's Little Boy was only two feet six inches in diameter.  It weighed 8,900 pounds and gave 15 kilotons.

b) South Africa 's Melba, produced forty years later, was a similar two feet in diameter, but it weighed only 2,200 pounds.  It was also estimated to produce 15 kilotons.

c) Proceeding down this learning curve, it is reasonable to assume an Iranian design would also be two feet in diameter, but by now it should weigh well under 2,000 pounds.  Iran 's Shahab-3 missile has a payload capability of 2,000 pounds.  A two-foot warhead diameter would be half the size of the Shahab-3 body - about right.

5) With no scientific need to test, the Iranians may first demonstrate their nuclear capability with an integrated live warhead and missile shot over their desert test range.  They may fire straight up, as the U.S. did at Johnson Island in 1962.  (A 1.4 megaton detonation 248 miles overhead, lofted by a Thor intermediate range missile - lower-tech than Shahab-3.)  Such a detonation would be visible throughout the Arab world - and would seriously disrupt U.S. intelligence-collection satellites.

6) Or they may opt for a suicide attack on Tel Aviv.  That has been Hezbollah's way of doing business.