The Iran Threat

Heavy Water, and Why It Matters in Iran

Yet another violation of a provision in the Iran deal that was already a serious American concession.

BY CounterJihad · @CounterjihadUS | November 10, 2016

Omri Ceren, a managing director at The Israel Project, in a factsheet distributed to journalists and others, points out that a clear violation of the terms of the Iran Nuclear Deal got lost in the coverage over the US election.  It is clear enough that even the United Nations‘ monitoring agency, the IAEA, can see that it is definitely a violation.  Ceren’s remarks deserve to be quoted:

The nuclear deal allows the Iranians to produce heavy water but forbids them from stockpiling more than 130 tonnes at any given time, for over a decade. Obama administration officials had originally told Congress that any nuclear deal would prohibit Iran from heavy water work  – the U.N. Security Council had made it illegal for Iran – but the Iranians demanded that the deal actually legalize those activities, first on a limited basis and then with no caps. The Obama administration conceded.

In February the Iranians violated the nuclear deal by going over the 130 tonne cap.

The Obama administration bought the excess material for roughly $10 million to “safeguard its landmark nuclear agreement,” according to the WSJ. The move was criticized because: 1st, it was the U.S. funding a part of Iran’s nuclear program that shouldn’t even exist, since it’s weaponization infrastructure, 2nd, it incentivized Iran to keep pushing the envelope on deal violations, since the Americans responded by playing Iran’s lawyer, 3rd it incentivized Iran to keep overproducing heavy water to sell, since that raised capital and, 4th, it mainstreamed Iran as a nuclear supplier even though Iran remains a global proliferation pariah in violation of a range of missile and arms embargos.

Iran has been engaged in open displays of defiance of the so-called “spirit” of the deal at their heavy water facilities from the beginning.  That should tell you both that the heavy water facilities are central to Iran’s vision of its nuclear program, and that it has no real intention of living up to the ideal of not developing nuclear weapons.  Readers may not know what “heavy water” is, or just why it matters.  Here is a brief explanation.

First, some general physics.  Water, as everyone knows, is H2O — that is, every molecule of water is made up of two atoms of hydrogen, joined with one atom of oxygen.  Hydrogen and Oxygen are elements, that is, different basic building blocks of matter that have different atomic structures.  All atoms have a nucleus, made up of protons and/or neutrons, surrounded by a “shell” composed of much-lighter electrons.

It is the number of protons in the nucleus that determines what element a given atom is.  However, except for mass, most of the properties the element has actually come from the electron shell and not the nucleus.  This is because the electron shell is the only part that interacts with the rest of the world — the nucleus is usually contained within the shell.  The ‘shape’ of this shell is determined by the number of electrons in the atom, which in return is determined by the number of protons.  This is because the protons and electrons have opposite electrical charges, and the atom is thus only stable when there are equal numbers of the two kinds.  When there are not enough electrons in the shell, the atom will find other electrons outside itself, as for example by sharing electrons with other atoms.  The way you get water is when hydrogen atoms share electrons with oxygen atoms.

“Heavy water” is, just as its name would suggest, water that is heavier than usual.  It is water because it is H2O.  It is heavier than usual because the hydrogen atoms each have a neutron in their nucleus in addition to the single proton that defines the atom as hydrogen.  The extra weight of the atoms has a number of effects, but one that is relevant here is that heavy water functions much more effectively to cool the kind of nuclear plants that produce plutonium.

Heavy water occurs in nature, but only in tiny quantities.  Producing it industrially takes work, but it has immense benefits to a nuclear weapons program.  Plutonium production is one of two “paths” to building a nuclear bomb.  The deal mostly focused on the other path, enriched uranium, but plutonium works very well.

With plutonium, the most important isotope is Plutonium-239.  Weapons’ grade plutonium is 97% pure Plutonium-239.  Reactor grade is less, often much less. But most of the physical qualities are the same, including the most important one for our purposes:  the ability to achieve a fusion bomb!  The difference is that reactor grade plutonium has more Plutonium-240, which emits more neutrons over time.  This means that people trying to shape it into nuclear weapons are exposed to more radiation, which increases the difficulty and expense of building a bomb. In no way does it prevent a bomb from being built.

Plutonium also is useful in building very nasty dirty bombs.

Iran’s refusal to abide by the limits on its heavy water, then, is clear evidence of evil intent.  The Iranian regime should never have been allowed to retain a plutonium capacity at all.  This is a violation of the deal that ought to be of great concern, as it is a violation that entails expanding their exploitation of a concession that ought never have been made to them in the first place.

Instead, the Obama State Department is treating this violation as no big deal.  After all, they say, the Iranians aren’t even trying to hide their refusal to obey the terms of the deal.

This is supposed to be a good sign?



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