Posts tagged with Iran

War with Iran? Revisiting the Potentially Staggering Costs to the Global Economy

The Senate passage of Resolution 65 on May 22, 2013, some argue, draws the United States closer to military action against Iran. In October 2012, amid concerns that surprisingly little research addressed the potential broad outcomes of possible U.S.-led actions against Iran, researchers at the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) assembled nine renowned subject matter experts (SMEs) to investigate one underexplored question that now, eight months later, looms larger than ever: What are the potential effects on the global economy of U.S. actions against Iran? Collectively representing expertise in national security, economics, energy markets, and finance, the SMEs gathered for a one-day elicitation workshop to consider the global economic impacts of six hypothetical scenarios involving U.S.-led actions.

The elicitation revealed the rough effects of U.S. action against Iran on the global economy – measured only in the first three months of actualization – to range from total losses of approximately $60 billion on one end of the scale to more than $2 trillion to the world economy on the other end.

The results of the elicitation were compiled into the FAS report written by Charles P. Blair and Mark Jansson, “Sanctions, Military Strikes, and Other Potential Actions Against Iran.”

Summarized below are three of the six scenarios along with the associated estimated range of costs to the world economy in the first three months of U.S. action alone.

Scenario: Comprehensive Bombing Campaign (upper bounds of estimated costs to global economy: $1.7 trillion)

The president, not wanting to leave the job half-done and fearing that a more limited strike may not achieve all of its objectives or at too high a price should Iran retaliate, opts for a more thorough mission. The United States leads an ambitious air campaign that targets not only the nuclear facilities of concern but also seeks to limit Iran’s ability to retaliate by targeting its other military assets, including its air defenses, radar and aerial command and control facilities, and much of Iran’s direct retaliatory capabilities. These would include its main military bases, the main facilities of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), and the Iranian Navy, Army, and Air Force. The United States seeks to ensure that the Strait of Hormuz remains open by targeting Iranian capabilities that may threaten it.

Scenario 4 Comprehensive Bombing Campaign

Scenario: Isolation and Persian Gulf Blockade – no military action (upper bounds of estimated costs to global economy: $550 billion)

Iran’s economy is reeling yet diplomatic agreement remains elusive. The United States, concerned that the Iranian regime has gone into survival mode, enacts what can be referred to as a “total cutoff” policy. The United States moves to curtail any exports of refined oil products, natural gas, energy equipment, and services. Investments in Iran’s energy sector are banned worldwide. Official trade credit guarantees are banned, as is international lending to Iran and investment in Iranian bonds. Insurance and reinsurance for all shipping going to and from Iran is prohibited. Substantial U.S. military assets are deployed to the Persian Gulf to block unauthorized shipments to and from Iran as well as to protect shipments of oil and other products through the Strait of Hormuz.

Scenario 2 Isolation and Persian Gulf Blockade

Scenario: Full-Scale Invasion (upper bounds of estimated costs to global economy: $2.8 trillion)

The United States resolves to invade, occupy, and disarm Iran. It carries out all of the above missions and goes “all in” to impose a more permanent solution by disarming the regime. Although the purpose of the mission is not explicitly regime change, the United States determines that the threat posed by Iran to Israel, neighboring states, and to freedom of shipping in the Strait of Hormuz cannot be tolerated any longer. It imposes a naval blockade and a no-fly zone as it systematically takes down Iran’s military bases and destroys its installations one by one. Large numbers of ground troops will be committed to the mission to get the job done.

Scenario 5 Full-Scale Invasion

Note: All opinions expressed here and in the report, as well as its findings, are those of the authors alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Federation of American Scientists or any of the participants in the elicitation that served as the centerpiece of this study.

Missile Watch – November 2010


Missile Watch

A publication of the FAS Arms Sales Monitoring Project
Vol. 3, Issue 3
November 2010
Editor: Matt Schroeder

Contents:

Editor’s Note: Wikileaks and arms trafficking, Missile Watch sponsorship program
Global News: UN Arms Register: Venezuela was the largest importer of MANPADS in 2009
Global News: Extradition of Viktor Bout could reveal much about the illicit arms trade
Afghanistan: No evidence of Iranian MANPADS training, claims NATO official
Egypt: Another Massive Missile Cache Discovered in the Sinai
Somalia: Photos of missile confirms claims in UN report, but questions remain
United States: FAS obtains key counter-MANPADS report
Additional News & Resources
About the Authors
About Missile Watch

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Editor’s Note
The surprise extradition of notorious arms trafficker Viktor Bout to the United States tops the list of developments covered in this edition of Missile Watch. The former Russian intelligence officer is widely considered to be one of the most prolific arms traffickers of the last twenty years, and his trial is likely to yield important new insights into the illicit arms trade. Also noteworthy is the release of the Department of Homeland Security’s final report on its counter-MANPADS program. The report confirms that two anti-missile systems evaluated during the program are capable of protecting planes from MANPADS, but the $43 billion price tag may preclude their installation on more than a small number of airliners.

Continue Reading →

New Fuel Deal with Iran: Getting Back to Basics

by Ivanka Barzashka

After a year-long stalemate, Iran and the P5+1 seem to have agreed on a day for holding political talks – December 2. Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman confirmed last week that the meeting “will not include discussions on fuel swap” – the deal with France, Russia and United States, also known as the Vienna Group, to refuel the Tehran Research Reactor (TRR).

In principle, both Washington and Tehran agree that the fuel deal is still on the table, but the Iranians have been critical of the delay in setting a date for talks, which they interpret could be a lack of “willingness to enter peaceful nuclear cooperation.”

A successful fuel deal is a necessary condition for further engagement. However, circumstances have changed since October 2009, when the Vienna Group first made the fuel offer. Now, the State Department maintains that “any engagement [should be] in the context of that changed reality.” (Most of the Vienna Group’s outstanding concerns were listed in a confidential document to the IAEA, published by Reuters on June 9.)

However, the alleged terms of Washington’s new proposal seem to be muddled and will not have the claimed threat-reduction benefits (for a detailed discussion, see this Oct 29 post.) A technically-grounded analysis of what the fuel deal today can, cannot and ought to achieve is available in “New fuel deal with Iran: Debunking common myths,” published on Nov 2 in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Some highlights of these two assessments are provided below. Continue Reading →

Iran’s New Dual Track: A Challenge to Negotiations?

by Ivanka Barzashka and Thomas M. Rickers

Coaxed by Turkey and Brazil, Iran seems to be actively pursuing fuel talks. France, Russia and the U.S. (also known as the Vienna Group) claim that they, too, are interested in a deal, even as the U.S. and EU passed their own tougher sanctions against the Islamic Republic as part of a dual-track approach. Now Tehran may even be willing to address what was once the major hindrance to a deal: its 20 percent enrichment. Yesterday, Ali Akbar Salehi, Iran’s atomic energy head, said his country “will not need to enrich to 20 percent if [their] needs are met.”  And yet on July 18, the Majlis passed a law requiring the government to continue 20 percent enrichment and manufacture own fuel, which is an apparent contradiction to negotiations for foreign fuel supply. Clearly, Iran is sending mixed messages. But does this mean there is an internal disagreement about nuclear policy? Or is Iran not serious about a fuel deal? Continue Reading →

Missile Watch – June 2010


Missile Watch

A publication of the FAS Arms Sales Monitoring Project
Vol. 3, Issue 2
June 2010
Editor: Matt Schroeder
Contributing Author: Scoville Fellow Matt Buongiorno

Contents:

Global News: Survey of black market prices for shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles reveals large differences in missile prices
Afghanistan: No shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles in seized Afghan arms caches, confirms ISAF spokesperson
Egypt: Shoulder-fired missiles found in the Sinai were old, “in very bad condition,” says Egyptian official
Iraq: Shoulder-fired missile in video of insurgent attack could be Iranian
Iraq: Missile seized in 2008 was a 30-year-old Russian Strela-2M MANPADS, documents reveal
Iraq: At least 27 shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles seized from arms caches in Iraq since February
Lebanon: Israeli claim about Igla-S delivery to Hezbollah raises many questions
Peru: U.S. government concerned over reported missile diversion in Peru, but praises investigation
Somalia: Shoulder-fired missile attack at Mogadishu airport foiled by peace-keepers, according to UN report

Additional News & Resources

About Missile Watch

About the Authors

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The Revelation of Fordow+10: What Does It Mean?

by Ivanka Barzashka

According to a recent article by the New York Times, Western intelligence agencies and international inspectors now “suspect that Tehran is preparing to build more [enrichment] sites”. This revelation, according to the newspaper, comes at a “crucial moment in the White House’s attempts to impose tough new sanctions against Iran.”

However, these “suspicions” come months after Iran publicly disclosed such intentions. Tehran declared  plans to build 10 additional sites on 29 November 2009, a couple of days after an IAEA Board of Governors resolution called on Tehran to confirm that it had “not taken a decision to construct, or authorize construction of, any other nuclear facility” and suspend enrichment in accordance with UN Security Council resolutions.

At the time, the Iran’s decision to construct more enrichment sites was widely dismissed in the West as an act of defiance and unlikely more than mere bravado. On 30 November 2009 the New York Times wrote that “it [was] doubtful Iran could execute that plan for years, maybe decades”. The same article referred to a high-ranking Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) official claiming that taking the declaration seriously was “akin to believing in the tooth fairy” and that this effort would likely produce “‘one small plant somewhere that they’re not going to tell us about’ and be military in nature.”

In fact, a week before Iran’s original announcement, Ivan Oelrich and I argued in an article at the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists that Fordow is likely one of many similar sites. A technical analysis of the facility’s planned capacity showed that, alone, it was not well-suited for either a commercial or a military function. The facility’s low capacity also undermined other strategic roles suggested by official and quasi-official Iranian sources – that Fordow is a contingency plant in case Natanz were attacked or that Fordow was even meant to deter an attack on Natanz. Continue Reading →

Response to Critiques Against Fordow Analysis

Our article “A Technical Evaluation of the Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant” published in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists on November 23 and its technical appendix, an Issue Brief, “Calculating the Capacity of Fordow”, published on the FAS website, have sparked quite a discussion among the small community that follows the technical details of Iran’s program, most prominently by Joshua Pollack and friends on armscontrolwonk.com and by David Albright and Paul Brannan at ISIS, who have dedicated two online reports (from November 30 and December 4) to critiquing our work.
Before addressing the arguments and exposing the fallacies in ISIS’s critique directly, we strongly encourage interested parties to read our Issue Brief, in which we have presented our reasoning, calculations, and assumptions in a clear and straight-forward way that we believe anyone with some arithmetic skills and a pocket calculator can follow and reproduce. We published a quick first version of our Issue Brief on 1 December. The 4 December ISIS rebuttal was based on the first Issue Brief. We published an expanded version of the Issue Brief on 7 December.  The second version adds to the first version, but everything in the first brief is also in the second version.  The second version includes additional examples and further details on how we carried out our calculations (as well as cleaning up some formatting, for example, all the tables in the first version were in different formats, the revision at least looks much prettier).  References to equations and page numbers below pertain to the second revision.
In our Bulletin piece, we concluded that Fordow is ill-suited for either a commercial or military program and we speculated that it would make most sense if it were one of several facilities planned. The latter conclusion has been de facto supported by Iran’s recent declaration of 10 additional planned enrichment sites. Although ISIS explicitly states that our assessment of Fordow is unrealistic, the authors are not clear what their broader argument is. They seem to imply that Fordow alone is sufficient for a viable breakout option, which in the context of our Bulletin article would make Iranian intentions clear-cut but would, however, undermine the need for additional facilities.
Albright and Brannan state that we “appear to assume” that Fordow would perform worse than Natanz.  Quite the contrary, we state clearly in our Issue Brief that “We use well- documented, publicly available data from official IAEA reports and one assertion: The best estimate of the near term capacity of the Fordow facility is the most recent capacity of the Nantanz facility, scaled by size.”    In the December 4 ISIS report, this statement is corrected to say we “significantly underestimate the performance of the Natanz facility.”  The basis of their argument is that our calculation of the effective IR-1’s separative capacity of about 0.44 kg-SWU/yr, lower by a factor of three, four, or more than previously published estimates (see Table 1 of the Issue Brief), is not characteristic of and seriously underestimates Iran’s capabilities.  We argue that previous speculations on the separative capacity of the IR-1 simply cannot explain IAEA data on the actual performance of IR-1 cascades at Natanz, which we consider to be the only credible open-source information available.
Argument #1:  Adopting Ad Hoc Values
Expert guesses on the IR-1 separative capacity vary greatly, as illustrated in Table 1 of our Brief.  For example, since 2006 Albright continuously sites values in the 2 to 3 kg-SWU/yr range, which are either not referenced or are attributed to untraceable sources (e.g. “senior IAEA officials”, “former Urenco official”). The lowest value that Albright has cited was in a footnote on his prepared statement for the Foreign Relations Committee in 2006, which is 1.4 kg-SWU/yr, based on calculations of a 164-machine cascade described in an Iranian official’s interview (this number is consistent with Garwin’s estimate using the same data).  Albright characterizes the 1.4 value as “relatively low output” and this number is never used in breakout scenario estimates.  In the same footnote, he calculates a higher capacity of 2.3 kg SWU/yr based on Aqazadeh’s ballpark figures on the performance of the total planned 48,000 centrifuges.  Since then, the most recent and most widely referenced value for the separative power of an IR-1 that ISIS uses in breakout assessments is 2 kg-SWU/yr.  When given the choice between a higher value attributed to unnamed sources and values he calculates himself, Albright consistently chooses the higher values. This is especially misleading when dealing with weapon production scenarios, which evaluate what Iran can currently achieve.
However, in their critique of our Bulletin article, Albright and Brannan adopt significantly lower values for the separative power: 0.6-0.7 kg SWU/yr (which they say is “undoubtedly too low”) and 1.0-1.5 kg-SWU/yr (which they say is “reasonable for new IR-1 centrifuge cascades”).  They do not explain their reasoning for the latter value, except that the upper boundary is close to “Iran’s stated goal.”  Perhaps, the authors are referring to Albright’s 2006 estimate based on the Aqazadeh statement, but now pick the lower value of 1.4 kg-SWU/yr that Albright had calculated but dismissed.  Although Albright and Brannan do not reveal the data or go through the calculations for their former value, they do allude to their method, which we will discuss below.
The authors arrive at the 0.6-0.7 kg-SWU/yr based on “the average output over nine months in 2009.”  We believe that even this “undoubtedly too low” value has been miscalculated. There are two major sources of difference with the FAS 0.44 kg-SWU/yr value: (1) ISIS uses Iranian logbook data, which does not account for the hold up of material while FAS uses independently calibrated data in the IAEA reports, (2) ISIS does not account for the change in the number of machines in the 9 month period cited (we believe ISIS was referring to 31 January to 30 October 2009).  On the other hand, FAS uses the values of independently recorded data (unfortunately, you have to look for them in the footnotes of the IAEA reports) and accounts for the holdup as described in our Issue Brief.  In addition, we look at data since the last IAEA physical inventory in 2008, from 18 November 2008 to 30 October 2009 (the entire period for which calibrated date is available).
Iranian logbook data have been shown to slightly underestimate the amount of feed and more significantly overestimate the product.  Essentially, Iran is putting more uranium in their machines and less enriched product is coming out than their material accounting algorithm shows, which effectively means that separative power calculated with Iranian logbook data is expected to overestimate the actual effective separative power per machine. This is why indendently calibrated data, if IAEA physical inventory data is not available, provides a more realistic estimate.
Albright and Brannan take an average of enriched product as reported by Iranian logbook estimates from February to October 2009 (an overestimated value), then they simply divide by the number of months to obtain a monthly average, also ignoring the fact that the number of machines varies from month to month. ISIS does not consider the amount of feed that has been reported to enter the cascades under the same set of data, but simply adopt 0.4 percent as the concentration of the waste stream. Although that number is indeed present in a footnote in IAEA reports (GOV/2009/35), it is not the overall concentration of the waste, but shows that particles of depleted uranium “down to 0.4% U-235 enrichment” have been measured. The difference between the ISIS lowest estimate and the FAS estimate is not as significant as the fact that Albright and Brannan dismiss the effective capacity of the IR-1 altogether.
Argument #2: Iran operates fewer machines when the IAEA is not looking
The number of centrifuges in the period is not only a difference between ISIS and FAS’s calculations but is also Albright and Brannan’s basis for dismissal of a smaller number altogether.  The “number of centrifuges used in the derivation is from IAEA safeguards reports and exceeds the quantity of those centrifuges that are actually enriching.”  In personal communication with Scott Kemp (as posted on Pollack’s blog), Albright has also speculated that cascades are not being operated continuously.  This makes little sense.  Do the Iranians wait until inspectors arrive to turn on their machines?  (If this is so, then our problem with Iranian enrichment can be solved quite easily:  just stop inspections and Iran will stop enriching altogether.)  Additional reasons given in a recent Albright and Shire analysis published in Arms Control Today include: Iran is keeping cascades in reserve in case of cascade failures or if it decides to “produce higher enriched uranium” or Iranian experts are focusing on getting Fordow running. All of these arguments seem weak. In the November 30 report, ISIS make yet another conjecture –“a significant fraction of these 4,000 machines are likely also not enriching or are broken.”  As far as we can tell, the ultimate basis for this claim is that otherwise ISIS’ higher per machine capacity does not make sense. However, we discuss the one bit of numerical evidence Albright and Brannan provide for their speculations below.
Based on IAEA reports, changes in the number of machines from 7 November 2008 to 2 November 2009 increases by only 10 percent or so; thus, even if we assume the minimum number of machines for each reporting period, instead of taking averages, the SWUs per machine will increase from 0.44 to 0.47, which of course, has a negligible effect on breakout scenarios.  For the ISIS argument to become important, we have to believe that half or more of the machines reported by the IAEA to be operational in fact are not.
Moreover, remember that the basis of our argument is that recent performance at Natanz is the best predictor of near-term performance at Fordow.  ISIS not only rejects our calculation of Natanz performance but rejects our assertion about it being the best predictor of Fordow.  The implication of the ISIS critique is that, while there might be severe problems at Natanz, these will not be repeated at Fordow.  This may or may not be true.  Perhaps the centrifuges at Natanz perform poorly and are very unreliable and Iran has figured out all those problems and will only install 2.0 kg-SWU machines at Fordow (although we have no hard evidence that IR-1s of that capacity exist).  Alternatively, perhaps there are systematic problems with centrifuge production and cascade operation and this is the best the Iranians can do in the near-term.  Our assertion hinges on Iranian improvements being incremental and evolutionary and on not seeing dramatic, revolutionary improvements at Fordow.  If this is not true, then our assertion for Fordow is wrong, but our estimates of Natanz’s capacity would still be correct.
The ISIS paper presents an additional argument to show that per machine capacity was increasing:  daily average enrichment stayed constant at 2.75 kg of low enriched UF6, while the number of centrifuges dropped from 4920 to 3936.  (There is the problem that we will set aside for the moment:  Either the IAEA data are suspect or they are not, but one should not dismiss them in one case and base arguments on them in another.)  We are back to estimating average number of machines per given period. We have three data points: 31 May – 4920 machines operating, 12 August – 4592, and 2 November – 3936.  We agree with ISIS here: From 31 May to 12 August the average daily enrichment is about 2.8 kg UF6 (according to Iranian logbook data, not calibrated measurements) and similarly about 2.8 kg UF6 from August to November.
However, there are several problems with this argument.  First and foremost, it depends on Iranian logbook data, which has been demonstrated to be inaccurate (plus, of course, IAEA inspection data that ISIS tells us is unreliable).  Taking averages for the number of machines operating in each period and a concentration for the product of 3.49% (as the 2008 PIV), we get a slight decrease from 0.51 kg-SWU/yr (18 November 2008 to 31 May 2009) to 0.46 kg-SWU/yr (31 May to 31 July), followed by a jump to 1.0 kg SWU/yr per machine (31 July to 30 October), that is, a sudden doubling, according to Iranian logbook data. However, if we look at the independently calibrated measurements, the increase is only from 0.43 (18 November 2008 to 2 August 2009) to 0.49 kg SWU/yr (2 August to 30 October 2009).  Also, note a negative holdup for August-November 2009; this could mean that the Iranians have started feeding the leaked material back into the cascades and are salvaging some of the lost separative work.  Interestingly, if you look at the feed data, the feed went up slightly (from 30.4 kg UF6 per day to 31.05 kg UF6 per day, based on Iranian logbooks) as the number of machines went down, suggesting that the limiting factor is the amount of feed material.  Finally, we do not know the enrichment concentrations definitively for those short periods.  For example, a shift in enrichment from 3.5% to just 3.8 % would, by itself, account for all of the difference in separative work. Therefore, the ISIS numerical example is not indicative an increased per machine capacity.
We believe the lesson here is that short term logbook data are not reliable.  Over time, an overestimate during one period will balance an underestimate in another and we will get closer to actual values but on short time scales we need to be wary of Iranian self-reporting.  We concede, whenever we are given the choice, we rely on measurements conducted by IAEA on-site inspectors rather than Iranian logbook entries.
Argument #3: Misrepresenting the FAS Calculation
Albright and Brannan have succinctly expressed the basis of their critique: “We were unable to understand the problems in the FAS calculation.”  On this point, we agree wholeheartedly.
Here is their argument according to the second paragraph of their 4 December posting: (1) They use our separative work number of 0.44 kg-SWU/yr to calculate what we would predict to be the output of Natanz;  (2) This number turns out to be about half of what Natanz is actually producing; (3) QED, our separative work number must be wrong.
But part of their input data is that “[t]he authors also assert that the tails assay at Fordow should be 0.25 percent” when we never say any such thing (we do show example calculations using low, that is to say, global industry standard, tails assay).  In fact, we calculate the tails assay at Natanz as 0.46%.  Indeed, in the very next paragraph, they say that “FAS appears to have forced a U-235 mass balance by adjusting the tails assay in Table 2 in their assessment to 0.46 percent as a way to get the masses to match.  But the situation at Natanz is quite complex.”  On this point, we admit we are guilty as charged.  When they say we “forced” the tails assay, what they mean is that we used the mass balance equation.  And if the laws of conservation of mass do not apply in Natanz, then we concede that the situation there is quite complex indeed.  (And, moreover, no calculation that anyone could make would be useful even in theory.)
Albright and Brannan are more specific:  “For example, calculating the mass balance on the uranium 235 (uranium 235 in the feed should equal the uranium 235 in the product and tails) is not possible based on the available information.  This requires assigning values in a formula that are impossible to substantiate.”  Going to equation 5 on p. 8 of the Issue Brief and following the references, the reader can see that all of the values on the right hand side of the equation appear in IAEA reports.  (And presumably as an alternative to “assigning values in a formula that are impossible to substantiate,” we would do better to accept values credited to “senior IAEA officials.”) If one uses our actual tails assay rather than the incorrectly asserted tails assay and the proper number of centrifuges and the difference between Iranian logbook data and actual IAEA measurements, all of the differences disappear.  (As they have to, since we calculated the 0.44 kg-SWU/yr value in the first place based on these same numbers.)
In the end, an important scientific principle has been demonstrated here:  if one takes several variables from one of our examples and several more variables from a separate example and combines them randomly, nonsense results.
Argument #4: ISIS Is Right Because the White House Says So
The most compelling support for the ISIS estimate that “using 3,000 IR-1 centrifuges, and starting with natural uranium, Iran could produce enough weapons-grade uranium for one bomb in roughly one year” that the authors give is that it is similar to the White House September 25 briefing statement that Fordow is capable of producing HEU for one to two bombs a year.  First, this is a classic example of argumentum ad verecundiam – we are not about to accept White House numbers without checking their math.  Moreover, it must be clarified that the US government’s statement is fairly vague and does not give details on this assumed breakout scenario (whether HEU is enriched from LEU or natural uranium and whether a crude or sophisticated weapon is assumed).  What the government said was:
“[..] if you want to use the facility in order to produce a small amount of weapons-grade uranium, enough for a bomb or two a year, it’s the right size.  And our information is that the Iranians began this facility with the intent that it be secret, and therefore giving them an option of producing weapons-grade uranium without the international community knowing about it.”
Let’s focus on paragraphs 6 and 7 from the November 30 ISIS report. In paragraph 8, the authors state that the White House scenario is unlikely to assume a breakout scenario using low-enriched uranium, since such a diversion would be likely discovered because LEU would have to be sneaked out of Natanz, which is under IAEA safeguards. They interpret the White House statement that weapons grade uranium would be enriched “without the international community knowing” means that this scenario would necessarily involve enrichment of natural uranium to HEU levels. But it must be noted that such a scenario would require a secret conversion facility as well, since the conversion plant at Esfahan is also under safeguards.
In paragraph 7, Albright and Brannan critique our assessment for “appearing to assume” that breakout scenarios considered depend on “activities not being discovered”, in apparent contradiction to their assumption in paragraph 6, that emphasized the importance of the clandestine function of Fordow.  ISIS further argue that if Iran was “breaking out,” Fordow would likely sustain military attack better than Natanz.  Our Bulletin argument was this: if Iran’s HEU production was likely to be discovered (such as if a diversion from Natanz were detected), speed is of the essence. They may be better off kicking out inspectors and going full-speed ahead at a facility such as Natanz with a large capacity, rather than proceeding with an option would take a year or more at Fordow.  If Fordow’s capacity was significantly increased or if there were other similar facilities, this judgment may change.
Conclusion
As we have shown ISIS’ critiques of our Bulletin analysis and its underlying technical assessment are completely unsubstantiated. First, their track record of using higher vaguely referenced values and dismissing values based on physical data and their own calculations, just because they are inconsistent with their previous assessments, is troubling. Second, they greatly misportray FAS’ technical argument, which is clearly described in our Issue Brief. Third, Albright and Brannan seem to pick and chose assumptions to suit their argument at hand: on one hand they assert that IAEA data do not provide a good account of what is going on at Natanz to advance one point, but at the same time site these data to support other points.
Overall, it is hard to see the bigger argument that ISIS is making by attacking our premise regarding Natanz’s capacity (and consequently Fordow’s), but not specifically our conclusions on Iranian intentions vis-à-vis Fordow. It seems Albright and Brannan are interested only in defending their use of a higher separative capacity by attempting to undermine our argument. They do not discuss how our Bulletin conclusions would change if their shorter time estimates were correct, but simply dismiss our analysis altogether.
Ultimately, the reason we engage in discussions over these numbers is because we believe that overestimating Iran’s enrichment potential will provide us with a skewed perception of Tehran’s intent and strategic planning. It is indeed important to be able to make a realistic assessment of Iran’s current capacity and future potential. However, this is best done using neither Poisson statistics nor arguments of authority, but a good look at readily available hard data.

by Ivanka Barzashka and Ivan Oelrich

Our article “A Technical Evaluation of the Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant” published in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists on November 23 and its technical appendix, an Issue Brief, “Calculating the Capacity of Fordow”, published on the FAS website, have sparked quite a discussion among the small community that follows the technical details of Iran’s program, most prominently by Joshua Pollack and friends on armscontrolwonk.com (on December 1 and December 6) and by David Albright and Paul Brannan at ISIS, who have dedicated two online reports (from November 30 and December 4) to critiquing our work. Continue Reading →

Calculating the Capacity of Fordow – Updated Issue Brief Posted

Issue Brief: Calculating the Capacity of Fordow

by Ivanka Barzashka

We have posted an updated version of our latest Issue Brief “Calculating the Capacity of Fordow” – the technical appendix to our November 23 article “A Technical Evaluation of the Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant” published in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

This is the document summary:

This brief serves as a technical appendix to our November 23 article in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, which premised that Iran’s Fordow enrichment plant is well-sized neither for a commercial nor military program. We concluded that Fordow may be one of several facilities planned. Our estimates of the plant’s capacity are based on current performance of IR-1 centrifuges at Natanz. Underlying our assessment is a calculation of the effective separative capacity per machine of 0.44 kg-SWU/year. This result is based on IAEA data, which we consider as the most credible open-source information on Iran’s nuclear program. Our estimate for the IR-1 performance is significantly lower than values published in the literature, which cannot account for the current performance of Natanz. We argue that, despite Iranian rhetoric, Tehran’s strategic planning for Fordow is based on actual enrichment performance rather than on desired results. Continue Reading →

Questions about Iranian Weapons in Iraq

At an unusual press briefing on Monday, U.S. military officials provided the first physical evidence of Iranian arms shipments to Iraqi extremist groups. The display, which the New York Times called “extraordinary,” consisted of explosively formed penetrators, rocket-propelled grenades, mortars, and a shoulder-fired surface-to-air missile reportedly found in Iraq and bearing Iranian markings. Notably, the officials also claimed to have proof that the operation was being directed by “the highest levels of the Iranian government,” a claim that was rigorously denied by Tehran.

The briefing raised more questions than it answered. Topping the list are questions about the extent of the Iranian government’s involvement in the arms shipments. Defense Department officials reportedly provided little proof for their claims of high-level involvement by the Iranian government, and the next day General Peter Pace, chairman of the joint chief of staff, appeared to contradict them. Commenting on the captured weaponry, Pace conceded that the weapons “[do] not translate to that the Iranian government per se, for sure, is directly involved in doing this.” Yesterday President Bush sided with General Pace, confirming that “we don’t…know whether the head leaders of Iran ordered the Quds force to do what they did.”

The captured weapons themselves are also puzzling. Not only were they reportedly manufactured in Iran, they are also emblazoned with manufacture dates and lot numbers – hardly indicative of a government that wants to maintain “plausible deniability.” Architects of covert aid programs usually go to great lengths to conceal their government’s involvement by purchasing weapons from foreign suppliers and clandestinely shipping them through third countries. The Iranians apparently did neither. Why?
Continue Reading →