Posted by rogerhollander in Nuclear weapons/power.
Tags: anti-nuclear, fukushima, fukushima cleanup, kazuma obara, nuclear, nuclear disaster, nuclear power, nuclear reactor, roger hollander
Kazuma Obara, a native of Japan’s tsunami-hit Iwate prefecture, is the first photo-journalist to get unauthorized access to the Fukushima plant and photograph conditions for cleanup workers. Yes, they’re still there.
Posted by rogerhollander in Energy, Environment.
Tags: Al Gore, art levine, carbon reductions, clean energy, climate change, copenhagen, energy, environment, friends of the earth., global warming, greenhouse gases, greenpeace, helen caldicott, kyoto, nuclear, nuclear energy, nuclear industry, nuclear plants, nuclear power, nuclear reactor, radioactive, radioactive waste, roger hollander, sierra club, strontium 90, ujranium
Tuesday 22 December 2009
by: Art Levine, t r u t h o u t | Report
Dr. Helen Caldicott, the pioneering Australian antinuclear activist and pediatrician who spearheaded the global nuclear freeze movement of the 1980s and co-founded Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR), has joined with left-leaning environmental groups here in an uphill fight to halt nuclear power as a “solution” to the global warming crisis. “Global warming is the greatest gift the nuclear industry has ever received,” Dr. Caldicott told Truthout.
The growing rush
to nuclear power was only enhanced, experts say, by the weak climate deal at the Copenhagen 15 climate conference. The prospects for passage of a climate bill in Congress – virtually all versions are pro-nuclear – were enhanced, most analysts
say, because it offered the promise that China might voluntarily agree to verify its carbon reductions and it could reassure senators worried about American manufacturers being undermined by polluters overseas. But at the two-week international confab that didn’t produce any binding agreements
to do anything, Caldicott and environmental activist groups were marginalized or, in the case of the delegates from Friends of the Earth,
evicted from the main hall.
The upshot of the latest trends boosting nuclear power – although no nuclear reactor has been built in America since the 1970s – are indeed grim, she said. “Nothing’s going to work to stop them but a meltdown,” she said, fearing the prospects of such a calamity. “I don’t know how else the world is going to wake up.”
Her fears may sound apocalyptic, but as Truthout will explore in more depth in part II of this article, the dangers of a meltdown, terrorist attack and radiation damage are far greater than commonly known. That’s because of what federal and Congressional investigators, advocacy groups and medical researchers say is a culture of sloppy security
, health and safety
oversight by a cozily pro-industry Nuclear Regulatory Commission. (An NRC spokesman denied those allegations in a written statement to Truthout.) The quasi-independent agency is funded primarily by fees from nuclear power plants. On top of all that, the Obama administration is planning to offer about $20 billion in loan guarantees to fund two new uncertified and risky
reactors designs that have faced safety and cost overrun problems overseas.
Despite nuclear energy’s apparent dangers, Dr. Caldicott was a Cassandra crying out at the Copenhagen conference with little or no attention from the major government and media players there. Caldicott, who was featured on major American TV news shows and magazines during the 80s, who met one on one with President Reagan and addressed about a million people opposing nuclear weapons in New York City in June, 1982
, found herself speaking to groups as small as 50 people in Copenhagen. Although still an active lecturer
and radio broadcaster, she was essentially ignored by the media, even with the six minutes or so she was given to speak
to an outdoor rally of 100,000 protesting the global leaders’ inaction inside the main hall. “It was a shemozzle,” she said of her time in Copenhagen.
In her brief speech outdoors in bitterly cold weather, you can see her speaking more slowly than in her usual lecture, so that not one word or grisly fact is missed by her international audience. But you can almost sense her frustration at boiling down into just over six minutes all that she knows about the dangers of atomic weapons and nuclear plants. While inside the Bella Center, no official who really counted was bothering listening to her – or the protesters:
She told the crowd:
The Earth is in the intensive care unit, it is acutely sick. We are all now physicians to a dying planet …
The nuclear power industry has used global warming to say “we’re the answer.” All the money to go into nuclear power, 15 billion dollars per power plant, is being stolen from the solutions to fix the earth – solar, wind, hydro, geothermal, conservation.
The nuclear power industry is wicked. The nuclear power industry was formed by the bomb makers – it’s the same thing. Nuclear power plants are bomb factories – they make plutonium. Two hundred and fifty kilos a year of plutonium that lasts for 250,000 years. You need five kilos to make a nuclear bomb. Any country that has a nuclear power plant has a bomb factory.
If the Second World War were fought today in Europe, none of you would be here; Europe would be a radioactive wasteland because all the nuclear power plants would melt down like Chernobyl. So, war is now impossible in Europe. Do the politicians understand that?
Nuclear power produces massive quantities, hundreds of thousands of tons of radioactive waste, which will get into the water, concentrate into the fish, the milk, the food, human breast milk, fetuses, babies, children. Radioactive iodine causes thyroid cancer. Twelve thousand people in Belarus had thyroid cancer. Radioactive Strontium 90 causes bone cancer and leukemia, [it] lasts for 600 years. Cesium 137 – all over Europe now – in the reindeer, in the lands, in the food, lasts for six hundred years, causes brain cancer. Plutonium, the most dangerous substance on Earth, 1 millionth of a gram cause cancer, lasts for 250,000 years. Causes lung cancer, liver cancer, testicular cancer, damages fetuses so they are born deformed.
Nuclear power, therefore, nuclear waste for all future generations will cause cancer in young children because they are very sensitive, [will cause] genetic disease, congenital deformities. Nuclear power is about disease, and it’s about death. It will produce the greatest public health hazard the world has ever seen for the rest of time. We must close down every single nuclear reactor in Europe and throughout the world…
That’s hardly the spirit of acceptance granted the nuclear industry as part of a hoped-for climate deal by world governments and environmental groups.
She was there for the first week as a guest of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom
and a science adviser to the Spanish government. But for a woman whose organization, PSR, won the Nobel Peace Prize and who has been cited by the Smithsonian as one of the most influential women of the 20th century, she was still unable to wangle even a three-minute opportunity to address the delegates. After she returned home to Australia, she saw the dreary news about the chaotic final days of the conference and the loophole-laden climate “accord.”
“I was deeply depressed,” she said. “I hadn’t done anything, and the world hadn’t done anything in the face of an impending catastrophe.”
It also reinforced her anger at those environmental groups that haven’t strongly opposed nuclear power while they’re supporting legislation that sees nuclear energy as a vital element in reducing carbon emissions. “They’ve sold their souls,” she said bluntly, while attacking the ties of some key groups to the energy industry, especially in such alliances as the US Climate Action Partnership
that includes such outfits as Duke Power and
the Natural Resources Defense Council. The well-funded coalition is widely credited as having set the template for both the main House and Senate climate bills that have passed the full House and the Senate Environment Committee – all containing provisions for nuclear energy.
Al Gore’s advocacy group, RePower America, also includes environmental and industry groups; a spokesperson said it hasn’t issued any statements on nuclear power and declined to answer charges that by failing to actively oppose nuclear power, it was allowing the spread of nuclear plants to undermine renewable solutions to global warming. (In his writings and some interviews, Al Gore has offered some criticisms
of nuclear power, but the Nobel Prize winner hasn’t used his international platform to attack its role in pending legislation or potential treaties.)
In her interview with Truthout, she ripped into those environmental groups that didn’t take strong, public stands against climate bills that included nuclear power, even while she, in turn, has been derided as a Luddite
or politically naive. “Some of the people within these organizations are not well educated about the biological effects of radiation and mutation, and what actually happens in the human body and the food chain,” she said. “So, they’ve gone soft on opposing nuclear power, and because they’re all very worried about global warming, they’re about to leap from the global warming frying pan to the nuclear fire.”
She continued, “You don’t replace one evil with another. Anyone who promotes an industry that will induce a global nuclear war that will mean the end of most life on earth, the final epidemic of the human race; or anyone who promotes an industry that down the time track will induce hundreds of thousands of cases of childhood cancers and leukemia, and babies being born grossly deformed; or anyone who would promote an industry that actively promotes disease when we’re so worried about cancer and spend all this money trying to cure it – well, they have sold their souls as far as I’m concerned.”
I noted, “They say they’re not promoting it,” they’re just not actively opposing it.
“If you don’t actively oppose it, it will get through. They know that,” she responded – “especially with all the advertising being spent on by the nuclear industry which is a bunch of lies.” She added, “If you talk to the average person, they believe all this stuff. The power of propaganda is enormous.”
But environmental groups contacted by Truthout deny her claim that they’ve “sold their souls” or failed to vigorously criticize the nuclear industry, pointing to letters and testimony to Congressional committees. Tom Cochran, the senior scientist at NRDC’s nuclear program and perhaps the leading progressive expert on nuclear reactors in the country, pointed out, “Our position
is that we’re opposed to additional federal subsidies for the construction of new nuclear plants, but NRDC is in favor of getting climate legislation through the House and Senate. In terms of process, we’re happy to move the process along.” He noted, for instance, “We don’t support all the principles of Kerry-Graham-Lieberman,
” the most pro-industry proposal so far. “Our position is clear: we do not support additional subsidies.”
When I asked at what funding amount of subsidies the NRDC might be willing to draw a “line in the sand” and oppose the legislation, he replied, “I’m not going to negotiate through your publication.”
Caldicott and other experts say that even the claims that nuclear power is “clean air energy” fall apart when examined carefully. They have pointed out how over the full fuel lifecycle of a plant – from mining uranium to shipping it to “decommissioning” a plant – the nuclear process emits far more carbon and other greenhouse gases than the industry and its cheerleaders (and environmentalist enablers) admit. Indeed, according to one major study
she cited, because of the need to find more uranium as higher-grade uranium disappears, using the poorer quality ores would “produce more C02 emissions than burning fossil fuels directly.”
Even so, “there’s a push for nuclear power,” said Erich Pica, president of Friends of the Earth US. He noted that there were no limits on nuclear power in this latest nonbinding climate agreement – unlike the earlier Kyoto treaty, which the US didn’t sign, that restricted subsidies for nuclear power. And grassroots groups largely aren’t fighting back in a high-profile way against the industry’s drive for a $100 billion bailout
in federal subsidies. “Right now, the environmental community wants a climate bill,” said Pica, whose group, along with Greenpeace and a few others, hasn’t supported the legislation moving through Congress, asserting it’s too industry-friendly.
They include the Obama administration and its top scientists;
an industry that has successfully sold itself as “clean air energy;”
the tacit acceptance or muted opposition of such major environmental groups as the Sierra Club
and the relative silence on the issue by most influential environmental journalists. All of them are joined in what critics view as a near-“conspiracy of silence” about nuclear power in order to advance the goal of supporting a purportedly carbon-reducing climate bill
that can pass Congress.
Indeed, neither most grassroots environmentalists nor members of the broader progressive movement have been engaged to fight a nuclear bailout of $100 billion, if not trillions,
in loan guarantees for nuclear plants that would, critics say, dry up funds for renewable industries that could be up and running quickly. In contrast, it takes as long as 10 years to build nuclear plants
while the perils of global warming – from rising ocean levels to drought – have already begun.
The largely indifferent response to nuclear power has been in part because activists have taken their cues from leading national environmental organizations and progressive media outlets. And with a few exceptions, such as Mother Jones or Greenpeace
, they have not aggressively opposed the advancement of nuclear energy in their eagerness for a climate bill. That stands in sharp contrast to the grassroots environmentalist opposition that coalesced against including a $50 billion bailout in 2007 energy legislation, including a superstar rock video
. Despite new petitions
today, the organizing against nukes is woefully outdone by supporters of the current climate legislation.
Yet, Helen Caldicott’s passion for stopping nuclear power hasn’t eased, and although she’s older now, she still brings the same fervor and implacable determination to explain the dangers of nuclear energy that she did as a glamorous activist in her 40s speaking to a larger global audience. It was well captured in an Oscar-winning documentary short,
“If You Love This Planet
,”now the title of her syndicated radio show
and updated book
Art Levine, a contributing editor of The Washington Monthly, has written for Mother Jones, The American Prospect, The New Republic, The Atlantic, Slate.com, Salon.com and numerous other publications. He wrote the October 2007 In These Times cover story, “Unionbusting Confidential.” Levine is also the co-host of the “D’Antoni and Levine” show on BlogTalk Radio, every Thursday at 5:30 p.m. EST. He also blogs regularly on labor and other reform issues for In These Times and The Huffington Post.
Posted by rogerhollander in Environment.
Tags: browns ferry reactor, chernobyl, environment, fermi i, fermi i fast breeder reactor, harvey wasserman, indian point, nuclear accident, nuclear meltdown, nuclear radiation, nuclear reactor, oyster creek, perry reactor, radioactive waste, roger hollander, three mile island, tmi, vermont yankee
www.onlinejournal.com, April 24, 2009
A catastrophe like Chernobyl could happen here. It’s the radioactive core of the second biggest lie in US industrial history.
The atomic pushers say such a disaster is “impossible” at a US reactor. But Chernobyl’s explosion spewed radiation all over the world. And Sunday’s tragic 23rd anniversary reminds us that any reactor on this planet can kill innumerable people anywhere, at any time, by terror, error and more.
It further clarifies why yet another grab at billions of taxpayer dollars for new reactor construction must be stopped NOW!
The BIGGEST lie in US industrial history is that “nobody died at Three Mile Island.” Just before last month’s thirtieth anniversary of the central Pennsylvania meltdown, critical new evidence was completely ignored by the corporate media.
Nuclear engineer Arnie Gundersen, a former industry executive, reported in Harrisburg that new findings show far more radiation may have been released than previously estimated. Epidemiologist Stephen Wing of the University of North Carolina joined in a study indicating human health was indeed compromised downwind.
To this day, neither TMI’s owners nor the Nuclear Regulatory Commission knows how much radiation escaped, where it went or whom it impacted. The Gundersen/Wing findings cast new light on the question of building more reactors.
But they got a Stalinesque blackout from ALL corporate media, which parroted the official lie that “nobody was harmed” by the 1979 disaster.
This week comes official Radioactive Lie #2: “Chernobyl can’t happen here.”
Chernobyl Unit 4 exploded in the wee hours of April 26, 1986. It was of a different design than US reactors. But its lid was stronger than about a third of the domes covering plants here. The Soviets who ran it also said Chernobyl could not explode, and that in any event its lid would hold.
On October 5, 1966, the Fermi I fast breeder reactor nearly delivered a far worse explosion. Cooled by highly volatile liquid sodium, it teetered for a month on the brink of a radioactive eruption that could have cratered much of southeastern Michigan and permanently destroyed the biggest fresh water bodies on Earth. The accident was kept under Soviet-style wraps for years.
When TMI melted, a potentially explosive hydrogen bubble formed inside the dome. Officials denied there was a meltdown (there was) but were privately terrified the trapped gas could rupture the containment vessel. The escaping cloud would have contaminated millions along the east coast, from Boston to Washington.
Chernobyl’s cloud blanketed Europe with deadly isotopes. Some came down in California within 10 days, killing countless birds and possibly, in the long run, even more people. The radiation then crossed the entire northern United States, contaminating milk in New England. It returned later for a second pass.
Reactor backers say Chernobyl “only” killed 31 plant workers. But the Soviets denied the accident happened, then ran 800,000 drafted “jumpers” through the radioactive corpse for a futile clean-up. They have been dying in droves for two decades.
Chernobyl’s radiation rained down on a May Day parade among citizens of Kiev who were told nothing about the catastrophe 80 kilometers away. The heartbreaking deformities plaguing the children born thereafter are the starkest reminders of that horrific day. Dr. Alexey Yablokov, former environmental advisor to the late President Boris Yeltsin, and president of the Center for Russian Environmental Policy, has estimated the known death toll at 300,000. The financial costs have topped a half-trillion dollars. The sale of lambs is still banned 2,000 miles away in Wales and Scotland, where radioactive cesium still contaminates sheep farms and grazing land.
The tidal wave of cancers, miscarriages, sterility and worse that still washes over the Ukraine and surrounding regions gets ever more horrifying as time passes. Because Chernobyl 4 was a new “state of the art” unit, its core spewed far less radiation than might come from older reactors at Indian Point, New York, or Oyster Creek, New Jersey, which has just been relicensed to run 20 years beyond its original design specifications.
Chernobyl’s design was peculiar to the Soviets. But to say only it could explode is to argue that hybrid cars can’t run people over, or that since there are no more World Trade towers, terrorists can no longer kill Americans.
On January 31, 1986, four months prior to Chernobyl’s explosion, an earthquake shook the Perry reactor east of Cleveland, which thankfully was not operating at the time. Now it is.
By accident inspectors stumbled onto a football-sized hole eaten by boric acid to within a fraction of an inch through the pressure vessel at Davis-Besse near Toledo. A worker using a candle set a $100 million fire at the Browns Ferry reactor in Alabama. A cooling tower unexpectedly collapsed to the ground at Vermont Yankee. A basketball wrapped in tape was used to stop up a pipe at a reactor in Florida. This March 28, on TMI’s 30th anniversary, an unexplained tremor shut Unit Two at Fermi.
And, of course, the first jet that flew into the World Trade Center passed directly over the two decrepit reactors at Indian Point, as well as the three spent fuel pools and one dormant core shut for lack of an emergency cooling system. No reactor on this planet could withstand a similar terror attack.
Small wonder the reactor industry cannot get private financing or insurance and has no place to go with its radioactive waste. Or why its pushers are yet again demanding $50 billion in loan guarantees for new reactor construction, and still more to perpetrate the myth that nuclear fuel can be reprocessed (to help stop this madness, see www.beyondnuclear.org, www.nirs.org and www.nukefree.org).
Chernobyl remains history’s worst human-made disaster. Something slightly different but even worse could be happening as you read this. Building new reactors, and keeping old ones running, will guarantee it.
The only containment strong enough to make atomic energy truly safe is the political power YOU exert. Chernobyl “can’t happen here” only if the reactors are turned off before they kill again.
Harvey Wasserman edits nukefree.org. This article originally published by freepress.org.
Copyright © 1998-2007 Online Journal
Posted by rogerhollander in Environment, Health.
Tags: chernobyl, environment, Jimmy Carter, joy thompson, kemeny commission, meltdown, metropolitan edison, nrc, nuclear accident, nuclear power industry, nuclear power plants, nuclear radiation, nuclear reactor, nuclear reactors, nuclear regulation, nuclear watchdogs, radiation exposure, randall thompson, roger hollander, sue sturgis, three mile island, uranium
* * *
NUKE-SPEAK: Glossary of terms used in this story
Cesium – an element occurring naturally in rocks, soil and dust. The breakdown of uranium fuel in nuclear reactors produces radioactive forms including cesium-134 and cesium-137, exposure to which can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, bleeding and death.
Curie – a measure of radioactivity, with 1 curie equal to the activity of one gram of radium.
Erythema – redness of the skin due to capillary congestion, it can be caused by radiation exposure.
Iodine-131 – a radioactive element produced in nuclear reactors. Absorbed into the body, it accumulates in the thyroid gland, which controls metabolism, and can cause cancer and other diseases.
Kemeny Commission – a panel created in April 1979 by President Jimmy Carter to investigate the Three Mile Island disaster. It was chaired by John G. Kemeny, president of Dartmouth College, and released its final report on Oct. 31, 1979.
Noble gases – a group of chemical elements that occur in nature in a number of isotopes, some of which are unstable and emit radiation.
Nuclear fission – the splitting of an atom accompanied by the release of energy. In a nuclear reactor, the fission energy is converted to heat used to generate electricity via steam turbines.
Nuclear meltdown – a severe nuclear reactor problem that occurs when there is a loss of control over the reactor core, causing the radioactive fuel to melt and release highly radioactive and other toxic elements.
Nuclear reactor core – the part of a nuclear reactor containing the nuclear fuel; it is where nuclear reactions take place.
Radiation, ionizing – subatomic particles or electromagnetic waves energetic enough to detach electrons from atoms or molecules. It includes alpha particles, beta particles and gamma rays.
Radiation poisoning or sickness – damage to organ tissue due to excessive exposure to ionizing radiation. Acute symptoms include erythema, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, hair loss and internal bleeding.
Radium – an extremely radioactive chemical element that was at one time used in self-luminous paints for watch dials, leading to radiation-related illnesses in dial painters.
Rem — an acronym that stands for “roentgen equivalent in man,” this is a unit for measuring absorbed doses of radiation equivalent to one roentgen of X-rays or gamma rays.
Roentgen — a unit of measurement for ionizing radiation.
Scram – an emergency shutdown of a nuclear reactor, also referred to as a “trip,” achieved by inserting neutron-absorbing control rods into the reactor core.
Strontium – a highly reactive chemical element whose radioactive isotope, strontium-90, is produced by nuclear fission. It takes the place of calcium in bones and can lead to bone disorders including cancer.
Three Mile Island Units 1 and 2 – the two reactors at the commercial nuclear power plant located south of Harrisburg, Pa. on an island in the Susquehanna River. TMI-2 suffered a partial meltdown on March 28, 1979 and is no longer in operation. Originally built by General Public Utilities Corp. and operated by Metropolitan Edison, TMI-1 is now operated by Chicago-based Exelon while Unit 2 is owned by Met-Ed.
Uranium – a radioactive element used by fuel in nuclear reactors.
Posted by rogerhollander in Israel, Gaza & Middle East, War.
Tags: Afghanistan, ahmadinejad, aipac, Bush, chris hedges, Clinton, dennis ross, enriched uranium, europe, hamas, hezbollah, hillary, intelligence, Iran, iranian missiles, iranian nuclear scientists, Iraq, israel, jundullah, kurdistan, lebanon, Middle East, military, mossad, mujahedin, netanyahu, nuclear, nuclear reactor, Obama, pakistan, peace, politics, revolutionary guards, roger hollander, russia, security, shiite, shimon peres, sunni, Syria, Taliban, United Nations, uranium, war
|AP photo / Hasan Sarbakhshian
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad speaks at a ceremony in Iran’s nuclear enrichment facility in Natanz.
By Chris Hedges
Bibi Netanyahu’s assumption of power in Israel sets the stage for a huge campaign by the Israeli government, and its well-oiled lobby groups in Washington, to push us into a war with Iran.
Iran does not have a nuclear weapons program, according to U.S. and European intelligence agencies. But reality rarely impedes on politics. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama, along with Netanyahu, all talk as if Iran is on the brink of dropping the big one on the Jewish state.
Netanyahu on Friday named Iran as Israel’s main threat after he was called to form a new government following the Feb. 20 elections.
“Iran is seeking to obtain a nuclear weapon and constitutes the gravest threat to our existence since the war of independence,” Netanyahu said at a ceremony at President Shimon Peres’ official residence. “The terrorist forces of Iran threaten us from the north,” the presumptive prime minister said in reference to Lebanon and Syria, where Israel says Tehran supplies arms to Hezbollah and Hamas. “For decades, Israel has not faced such formidable challenges.”
Netanyahu, whose arrogance is as outsized as his bellicosity, knows that for all his threats and chest thumping, Israel is incapable of attacking Iranian targets alone. Israel cannot fly its attack aircraft over Iraqi air space into Iran without U.S. permission, something George W. Bush refused to grant, fearing massive retaliatory strikes by Iran on American bases in Iraq. Israel’s air force is not big enough to neutralize the multiple targets, from radar stations to missile batteries to Revolutionary Guard units to bunkers housing Iran’s Soviet- and Chinese-made fighter jets and bombers, and also hit suspected nuclear targets. The only route to a war with Tehran for the Israeli military is through Washington.
Netanyahu’s resolve to strike Iran means that we will soon hear a lot about the danger posed by Iran—full-page ads in American newspapers from Israel lobby groups have appeared in the past few days. Allowing this rhetoric to cloud reality, as we did during the buildup to the war with Iraq, would shut down the best chance for stability in the Middle East—a negotiated settlement with Iran. This may not finally stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, but a stable relationship with Iran would do more to protect Israel and our interests in the Middle East than massive airstrikes and a war that would bleed into Iraq and Lebanon and see Iranian missiles launched against Israeli cities.
“If you go into a problem with a mistaken assumption, you come out with a bad policy,” said Sam Gardner, a retired colonel of the U.S. Air Force who has taught strategy and military operations at the National War College, Air War College and Naval War College, and who opposes the Israeli campaign to strike Iran.
Iran’s nuclear program is currently monitored by inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency. Iran had amassed about 2,227 pounds of low-enriched, or reactor-grade, nuclear fuel by late January, according to the latest updates from the arms control watchdog for the United Nations. To produce the 55 pounds of highly enriched, or weapons-grade, uranium needed for an atomic warhead, Iran would need 2,205 to 3,748 pounds of low-enriched uranium. It apparently has this amount—which is why Netanyahu refers to Iran as “an existential threat” to the Israeli state. But Iran has made no move to enrich the uranium and until it does cannot be accused of having a nuclear weapons program. Iran also does not have enough high-speed centrifuges at its facility in Natanz to further refine the uranium, according to the United Nations.
Iran has turned to its old nemesis Russia for assistance as Israel has become more strident. The work on the Bushehr nuclear reactor will soon be assisted by 3,000 Russian technicians. And Russia has promised to sell the S-300 missile to Iran to boost that nation’s air defense systems. The Russian Federation Security Council and the State Council’s new national security strategy statement says that the primary focus of the struggle over the next decade will be on hydrocarbons. The Middle East and Central Asia are mentioned specifically. In these areas, according to the document, the struggle could develop into a military confrontation. And, while the document does not mention the United States, there is no other rival military force in the region that can match the Russian machine. The more we push Iran the more Iran flees into the arms of the Russians and the closer we come to a new Cold War struggle for control of diminishing natural resources. Iranian officials have barred inspections of facilities producing centrifuge parts, a move which worries arms control specialists. Iran may be planning to build an undeclared centrifuge facility separate from Natanz. Iran has also barred inspectors from its heavy-water reactor near Arak, an action that has concerned inspectors who hope to examine the site for possible telltale “clandestine” features that could be used in a weapons program. These signs would indicate that Iran could begin a nuclear weapons program. But as of now there is no such program. We should stop speaking as if one exists.
The destruction of Iraq as a unified state has left Iran the power broker in the Middle East. This was the result of our handiwork and the misguided militarism of Israeli politicians such as Netanyahu. Iran, like it or not, holds the power to decide the outcome of several conflicts that are vital to American security. It has enormous influence with Hamas and Hezbollah and can accelerate or diminish the conflict between Israel and these groups. It and the U.S. are now the major outside forces in Iraq. The Shiite-led Baghdad government consults closely with Iran and for this reason has told the Iranian resistance group the MEK that it has 60 days to leave Iraqi territory and may see its leaders arrested and tried for war crimes. Once American forces leave Iraq, it is Iran, more than any other nation, that will determine the future of any Iraqi government. And, finally, Iran has for centuries been embroiled in the affairs of Afghanistan. It alone has the influence to stabilize the conflict, one that increasingly threatens to spill over into Pakistan. Afghan politicians have sharply criticized the Iranian government for deporting more than 30,000 Afghans who had fled to Iran since October. Many, unable to find work or return to their villages, have signed up to fight for the Taliban, according to U.S. intelligence reports.
Iran has endured our covert support for armed militant groups from the Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization (MEK or MKO) to the Free Life Party of Kurdistan to the repugnant Jundullah, also known as the Army of God, a Sunni fundamentalist group that operates with U.S. support out of Pakistan. Jundullah has carried out a series of bombings and ambushes inside Iran. The militant group has a habit of beheading Iranians it captures, including a recent group of 16 Iranian police officials, and filming and distributing the executions. Iran has coped with nearly three decades of sanctions imposed by Washington. The U.S. support for the militant groups and the sanctions, meant to help change the regime in Tehran, have failed.
There is a lot riding on whom President Obama names as his special envoy to Iran. If, as expected, it is Dennis Ross, a former official of AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, we will be in deep trouble. Ross, who is expected to be placed in charge of the Iranian portfolio this week, is a vocal supporter of Israel’s call for increased pressure on Iran. He is distrusted, even despised, in the Muslim world and especially in Tehran. With good reason, he is not viewed as an impartial broker.
Ross has called for more draconian sanctions against Iran, something Russia or the five companies that provide Iran’s refined petroleum products are not likely to support. (The companies include the Swiss firm Vitol, the French giant Total and the Indian firm Reliance.) Ross backs the covert support for proxy groups and, I would assume, the alleged clandestine campaign by Israel’s intelligence agency, Mossad, to assassinate Iranian nuclear scientists. Mossad is rumored to be behind the death of Ardeshire Hassanpour, a top nuclear scientist at Iran’s Isfahan uranium plant, who died in mysterious circumstances from reported “gas poisoning” in 2007, according to the British newspaper The Daily Telegraph. “Other recent deaths of important figures in the procurement and enrichment process in Iran and Europe have been the result of Israeli ‘hits,’ intended to deprive Tehran of key technical skills at the head of the program, according to the analysts,” the paper reported.
It remains unmentioned that Israel, which refused to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty—signed by Iran—is in possession of 200 to 300 nuclear warheads, perhaps the single most important factor in the Middle East nuclear arms race.
“For the US to shape a peaceful relationship with Iran will be difficult under any circumstances,” Stephen Kinzer, author of “All the Shah’s Men,” wrote recently. “If the American negotiating team is led by Ross or another conventional thinker tied to dogmas of the past, it will be impossible.”
Obama has an opportunity to radically alter the course we have charted in the Middle East. The key will be his administration’s relationship with Iran. If he gives in to the Israel lobby, if he empowers Ross, if he defines Iran as the enemy before he begins to attempt a negotiated peace, he could ignite a fuse that will see our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan evolve into a regional conflagration. This may be the most important decision of his presidency. Let’s pray he does not blow it.