Monday, August 5, 2013

Alas, Arak: Plutonium, the Press & a New Path to Propaganda

Heavy-water production plant near the central Iranian city of Arak

The following is the 77th update to my comprehensive, ongoing compendium of constant predictions and prognostications regarding the supposed inevitability and imminence of an alleged Iranian nuclear weapon, hysterical allegations that have been made repeatedly for the past three decades.

One of the Wall Street Journal's resident Iran hysterics and consummate warmonger Jay Solomon offers up a lede today that should go down in history as one of the most shameless pieces of propaganda seen in a mainstream newspaper:
Iran could begin producing weapons-grade plutonium by next summer, U.S. and European officials believe, using a different nuclear technology that would be easier for foreign countries to attack.
This single line, from an article with the spooky headline, "Iran Seen Trying New Path to a Bomb," not only implies the Netanyahu-approved shibboleth that Iran is actively (and clandestinely) seeking to develop a nuclear weapon, but also hints at a potential Israeli or American military attack on Iran without ever mentioning that such an action would be - incontrovertibly - a war crime.

Solomon, in his tireless efforts to paint Iran as intransigent and nefarious in order to persuade an ignorant readership that diplomacy is futile and violence the only option, suggests that this alleged, hypothetical and wholly speculative "second path to potentially producing a nuclear weapon could complicate international efforts to negotiate with Iran's new president, Hasan Rouhani, who was sworn in Sunday in Tehran." And, again, only two sentences after he first floated the potential for military action, repeats: "It also heightens the possibility of an Israeli strike, said U.S. and European officials."

And, yet again, just two sentences later, repeats essentially the same exact thing: "Now, the West is increasingly concerned Iran also could use the development of a heavy water nuclear reactor to produce plutonium for a bomb. A heavy-water reactor is an easier target to hit than the underground facilities that house Iran's uranium-enrichment facilities."

Solomon's report constantly cites "U.S. and European officials" as its unnamed sources for these oh-so-alarming revelations, sometimes throwing in the undefined term "U.N. officials" for variety. The tangential and circumstantial reasoning behind this manufactured hype is pathetic. Writes Solomon, "A reactor like the one under construction is capable of using the uranium fuel to produce 40 megawatts of power. Spent fuel from it contains plutonium—which, like enriched uranium, can serve as the raw material for an explosive device. India and Pakistan have built plutonium-based bombs, as has North Korea." Ergo, bombs away!

"The Arak facility, when completed, will be capable of producing two nuclear bombs' worth of plutonium a year," Solomon writes, crediting "U.S. and U.N. officials" for the assessment. Just two months ago, it was said that, in theory, "Arak would potentially be able to produce one bomb's worth of weapons-grade plutonium a year."

In truth, the facility at Arak is years away from becoming operational and no decision has been made (nor is it likely ever to be made) by the Iranian leadership to weaponize its civilian nuclear program, thereby making any such predictions totally irrelevant.

Earlier this year, the Telegraph, Associated Press and Reuters all published nearly identical reports on the potential of the heavy-water plant at Arak becoming a proliferation risk and raising the possibility of an Israeli attack. For instance, an anonymous "Western diplomat in Vienna" told Reuters in early June, "The concern about that plutonium route and the Arak site has got much stronger. I think it is another red line."

Unsurprisingly, none of the reports amounted to anything but hysteria. The Telegraph's report, from February 26, 2013, even admitted (far down towards the end of its report) that Iran "still lacks the technology to reprocess plutonium and use it for a weapon."

It also featured Mark Fitzpatrick - think tank pundit and permanent fixture in mainstream media articles on the Iranian nuclear program - warning that any attack on Arak would have to occur before it becomes operational due to the catastrophic consequences of bombing an active nuclear facility. Because "the option of a military strike on an operating reactor would present enormous complications because of the radiation that would be spread," Fitzpatrick told the Telegraph, "Some think Israel's red line for military action is before Arak comes online."

Similarly, in the new Wall Street Journal incarnation, Solomon writes, "Any Israeli strike on the reactor complex, said current and former U.S. officials, would likely have to take place before Tehran introduces nuclear materials into the facility, because of the potential for a vast environmental disaster a strike could cause."

What breaking news!

Buried at the end of this latest propaganda piece, after myriad misleading statements about UN Security Council resolutions, Israeli military capabilities, and Iranian obligations under international law, Solomon quotes go-to nuclear alarmist Olli Heinonen, a former high-level IAEA official, as saying, "There is a good possibility that [the reactor] can reach its first nuclear criticality by the end of 2014."

"However," Heinonen adds, in a conclusion that undermines the entire tenor and tone of Solomon's article up to that point, "no significant quantity of plutonium should be available for actual extraction before 2016."

Beyond this, Solomon cites "U.N. officials" (whatever that means) as claiming that Iran has "significantly restricted the IAEA's ability to inspect the reactor and its development plans." He deliberately omits this tidbit of information, reported by Bloomberg News back on June 6, 2013: "Iran encouraged United Nations nuclear monitors to use powerful new detection technologies to dispel international concern that the Persian Gulf country is seeking to build atomic weapons."

"We always welcome the agency to have more sophisticated equipment, to have more accuracy in their measurements, so that technical matters will not be politicized," Iranian Ambassador to the IAEA Ali Asghar Soltanieh told the press in Vienna at the time, adding that Iran "won't object to IAEA monitors using new technologies to determine whether plutonium is being extracted from spent fuel at its new reactor in Arak."

Solomon's report, which surely will be seized upon by an endless parade of disingenuous warmongers and professional liars as proof that Iran must be bombed posthaste, is as embarrassingly transparent as they come.


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