Friday, April 14, 2006

The nuclear project Ahmadinejad didn't brag about

Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad made a big deal out of Iranian success in low-level uranium enrichment. But before his speech on this subject at a sacred mausoleum in the northern city of Mashhad on April 11, he's reported to have paid a quiet visit to Neyshabour in Khorassan, just to the the southeast.

There, according to the same sources that outed Iran's hidden nukes program 2 1/2 years ago (and they've been accurate so far), he inspected a project that has not been disclosed thus far: a top-secret plant now in an advanced state of construction that's designed to run 155,000 centrifuges, enough to enrich uranium for 3-5 nuclear bombs a year.

This is reportedly a `mirror' project to the enrichment plant open to inspection at Natanz, to minimize the effect of possible American or Israeli attacks on the more well known Natanz plant.

The mullahs in Tehran have always calculated that the Americans or Israelis might eventually bomb Natanz out of existence. So, four years ago, they began constructing an even larger plant at Neyshabour and on a far larger scale – in order to push ahead uninterrupted with Iran's nuclear weapons program.

This plant is due to be completed by October and is scheduled to go on line by the end of 2007. The Neyshabour plant has been built deep under farmland covered with mixed vegetable crops and dubbed Shahid Moradian, for an Iraq/Iran `war martyr'.

The Russians completed the initial plans for the facilty in 2003 and construction apparently began around early 2004. The 155,000 P-1 and P-2 centrifuges came from Belarus and the Ukraine and were transported to Neyshabour.

Another interesting bit of the puzzle concerns 250 missing nuclear warheads that were part of the Soviet era Ukrainian arsenal. As The Jerusalem Post's Carolyn Glick revealed in her column , Russia's Novaya Gazeta newspaper reported that part of Ukraine's Soviet-era nuclear arsenal might very well have ended up in Iran. When the Soviet Union imploded, the Ukrainians agreed to transfer the Soviet nuclear arsenal that remained in Ukraine after it became an independent country back to Russia. According to Novaya Gazeta, some 250 nuclear warheads never made it to Russia, and there is some evidence that they were sent to Iran instead. The report further noted that the warheads will remain operational until 2010!

Responding to the article, Gen. Yuri Baluyevsky, Russia's deputy defense minister and the chief of General Staff, said, "Russia's General Staff has no information about whether Ukraine has given 250 nuclear warheads to Iran or not."

In other words, the mullahs may already have nukes.

Hundreds of Iranian engineers, experts and assistants along with foreign specialists in centrifuge operation are already hard at work at Neyshabour - and the site's being guarded around the clock by the special Revolutionary Guards elite Ansar al-Mahdi unit.

Yesterday, April 13, US assistant secretary of state on arms control Stephen Rademaker calculated that, with 54,000 centrifuges, the Iranians could produce enough enriched uranium for a bomb in 16 days. He got that figure from the statement by Iran’s deputy nuclear chief Mohammed Saeed, who said his government planned to expand its enrichment program to 54,000 centrifuges from the 164 used in the small scale process announced Tuesday.

Do the math: the Neshabour installation, when it's ready to go in three years, will have three times the capacity of Natanz and be able to turn out 9-15 bombs a year.

Neshabour will have 155,000 centrifuges as compares with 60,000 that we know about in Natanz – of which only 40,000 are accessible for inspection..whatever else is there is hidden in closed subterranean chambers.

The Neshabour plant will still need to undergo an experimental `tune up' to work up to full speed. At most though, and assuming those 250 warheads somehow didn't end up in the hands of the mullahs, Iran needs about three years or so to work in secret to achieve its first launch capable nuclear weapon. And it could be less, with some hard work and a little luck on Iran's part.

By deliberately announcing the breakthrough in enrichment, Ahmadinejad had several possible motives.

One, by announcing to the world that Iran had joined the world’s nuclear club, Ahmadinejad attempted to put the world on notice that the Islamic republic was close to getting a nuclear weapon and capable of retaliation to international threats or pressure.Iran’s overblown war games two weeks ago, with announcements of new `wonder weapons' every other day were staged to get the same message out.

Second, the announcement emphasized Iran's claim to leadership of the Great Jihad and the Islamic world, and to recieve the kind of negative reaction and condemnation they got...`proving' to the Iranian public that Iran is surrounded by a hostile, non-Muslim world and that Iran is fully justified to seek nuclear arms to protect their country.

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