The quarterly report on Iran’s civilian nuclear program is out, and that means another chance for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to grandstand and make statements totally unsupported by the evidence at hand.
The latest report notes Iran is continuing with its civilian program, something we already knew, and that since they keep using their low-enriched uranium for civilian purposes they are short of Israel’s arbitrary “red line,” which again is something we knew.
But instead of reading the report as “status quo,” Netanyahu went on a tirade about how it proves diplomacy and sanctions will never work against Iran, and then made a bizarre claim that Iran is attempting to “build a plutonium-based bomb.”
The allegation stems from Iran’s work on the IR-40 reactor in Arak, intended to eventually replace the aging US-built Tehran Research Reactor (TRR). The TRR provides materially all of Iran’s medical isotopes for nuclear medicine, but Western nations have prevented them from acquiring fuel for it, and Iran has struggled to create the fuel rods the nearly 50-year-old reactor requires.
The IR-40 uses heavy water (deuterium) and unenriched uranium instead of the 20% enriched uranium fuel rods the TRR uses, which would seem to be a concession on Iran’s past since Israel has been railing on about the 20% enrichment being “dangerous” (despite weapons-grade enrichment being 95%) and demanding Iran ditch enrichment outright.
Instead of taking it for what it is, Israeli officials are drawing a very dubious line around IR-40’s potential “threat.” The spent uranium fuel could theoretically be taken to a separate “reprocessing facility” where plutonium could be extracted. Iran doesn’t have such a facility, and isn’t even known to have the technology to build one even if it wanted to. In spite of this, the purely hypothetical plutonium derived from unenriched uranium is being presented as proof of a plot to build a “bomb.”
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