An understanding between Iran and the 5+1 countries about Iranian nuclear technology has been announced. Given my lack of expertise, no one should care what I think of the deal. That warning typed, I will write as if I were expert after the jump.
I think the key aspect of the understanding is “Under the agreement, Iran’s heavy-water reactor in Arak would be rebuilt so it could not produce weapons-grade plutonium. No nuclear fuel would be reprocessed, and spent fuel would be exported or diluted.” (Carol Morello at the Washington Post listed it first, so I think she agrees).
Atomic bombs can be made with enriched Uranium or with Plutonium 239. Iran has spent a huge amount of money and effort developing Uranium enrichment technology — the centrifuges. What do do with the centrifuges were the topic of most of the words written about the negotations and, I guess, said during the negotiations. However, I am as confident as I am ignorant that, if Iran made an atomic bomb, it would be made with Plutonium extracted from spent fuel from the Arak reactor.
It is relatively easy separate Plutonium and Uranium. This is the way India and North Korea made bombs. Iran needs low enriched Uranium to fuel Arak, but has no need for highly enriched Uranium to make a bomb.
I think the Iranian focus on centrifuges is grounds for hope about Iranian intentions. A peaceful nuclear energy program doesn’t make economic sense (notably Iran is almost the only country which claims to be interested in such a program). Iran’s aim is either an atomic bomb or prestige. Uranium enrichment is technically difficult. Demostrating the ability to do it is a source of prestige. Uranium enrichment is useful for peaceful nuclear energy — admitting they don’t care about Uranium enrichment implies admitting that they were lying about peaceful nuclear energy. The modified Arak reactor would be just as impressive as the current design (meaning not very impressive anymore). The focus on a project which is technologically challenging but not key either to electricity generation or nuclear bomb production is a sign that Iran is focuses on prestige not any practical aim (including murderous practical aims).
If I am right, criticism of concessions made by the 5+1 to Iran regarding centrifuges are misguided. I think the key issue for those concerned about a possible Iranian nuclear bomb is Arak.
In my dangerous near ignorance, I note that an actual expert seems to agree
Michael Gordon and David Sanger at the New York Times wrote
But perhaps the most important compromise came in a lengthy battle over whether Iran would be allowed to conduct research and development on advanced centrifuges, which are far more efficient than current models. The Iranians won the right to research, but not to use more modern machines for production for the next 10 years.
At Arak, which officials feared could produce plutonium, another pathway to a bomb, Iran agreed to redesign a heavy-water reactor in a way that would keep it from producing weapons-usable fuel.
Those conditions impressed two of the most skeptical experts on the negotiations: Gary Samore and Olli Heinonen of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard and members of a group called United Against Nuclear Iran.
Mr. Samore, who was Mr. Obama’s top adviser on weapons of mass destruction in his first term as president, said in an email that the deal was a “very satisfactory resolution of Fordo and Arak issues for the 15-year term” of the accord. He had more questions about operations at Natanz and said there was “much detail to be negotiated, but I think it’s enough to be called a political framework.”
OK so advanced centrifuges too, but I think the claim that Arak is the key was treated with respect by an actual expert.