Iran’s Phantom Bomb

Suspicion Grows that Tehran Seeks Uranium for Nuclear Weapons

U.S. officials are adamant that Iran wants an atomic bomb, and they tell the Risk Report that Tehran is giving uranium enrichment high priority. “There are Iranians who have been given the task to get or make fissile material for a weapon,” says a senior U.S. official who has tracked Iran’s nuclear program for more than a decade.

These officials say that one of the strongest indications of Iran’s nuclear weapon intentions is its attempt to buy gas centrifuges from Russia this year. The centrifuges Iran sought would convert uranium found in nature to nuclear weapon grade a process known as enrichment. The deal made no sense commercially; Iran could purchase enriched reactor fuel cheaply from foreign suppliers, and Russia had already promised to supply fuel for the reactors it would build in Iran. The only rational use for the centrifuges would be to make bombs.

Under American pressure, Moscow promised in May not to sell the centrifuges to Iran. But that has not lessened U.S. worries about Iranian plans to enrich uranium. Western intelligence reports assert that Iran already has gas centrifuge design information and is now trying to buy components for a secret enrichment effort run by the military.

Caption text from cover photo follows: Russia has contracted to build nuclear reactors at Bushehr, 750 kilometers south of Tehran. West German firms started construction in 1974, but stopped after the 1979 revolution. Iraq bombed the site during the Iran-Iraq war, and Germany has refused to complete the reactors because of suspicions about Iran’s nuclear weapon intentions. Washington is trying to persuade Moscow to cancel the deal, in part because the reactors will give Iran its first access to bomb quantities of fissile material.