An article in today’s New York Times spins a speech given today by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at the anniversary of the nation’s revolution anniversary as a “pugnacious” declaration of “capacity to make weapons-grade nuclear fuel,” even though Ahmadinejad never made any such claims in the speech.
The article, entitled “Iran Boasts of Capacity to Make Bomb Fuel,” intersperses a handful of allegations about the Iranian nuclear program with a healthy dose of unrelated claims about protests elsewhere in Tehran today. It centers itself around the translated quote “please pay attention and understand that the people of Iran are brave enough that if it wants to build a bomb it will clearly announce it and build it and not be afraid of you.”
However, it downplayed the rest of that sentence, which was “but we have no intention of making a bomb.” It also glossed over the bulk of the speech’s nuclear content, which was that they told the US and Russia they were ready to buy fuel for the Tehran research reactor, but a shortage of the fuel meant they only had 2-3 months to secure such fuel or would have to attempt to make it themselves. An estimated 850,000 Iranians rely on the reactor’s isotopes for nuclear medicine.
Iran announced their intention to begin 20 percent enrichment last weekend, and began doing so on Tuesday. According to the IAEA, which is on-site, Iran has only converted a very small portion of its enrichment capacity to the production of 20 percent enriched uranium. The rest remains configured at 3.5 percent, the amount needed for its nuclear power plant in Bushehr.
20 percent enriched uranium is useful only for civilian purposes, and though it is perfectly legal under the non-proliferation treaty Iran has repeatedly said it will abandon even this level of enrichment if they can find overseas supplies of fuel for the Tehran reactor.
The hypothetical production of a nuclear weapon would require Iran to enrich the uranium to above 90 percent, but IAEA inspectors have continued to verify that Iran is not diverting any of its uranium to non-civilian purposes and would be able to immediately confirm if Iran attempted to enrich any of its uranium above 20 percent.