The IAEA vs. Iran II–Professor Heinonen’s Prognostication

By Geoffrey Cook, TMO

Editor’s note:  This article was written before news spread of an attack on one of the Iranian nuclear reactors.


Iranian workers stand in front of the Bushehr nuclear power plant, about 1,200 km (746 miles) south of Tehran in this October 26, 2010 file photo. For the Iranian government, the Bushehr nuclear power plant is proof to a world worried about Tehran’s intentions that its atomic programme is aimed only at securing a modern, clean energy source for its people. IRAN-NUCLEAR/BUSHEHR REUTERS/Mehr News Agency/Majid Asgaripour/Files

Dr. Olli Heinonen, originally from Finland now of Harvard, stated that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard would have to establish a special corps to secure the Persian facilities against outside attack.

Uranium is no problem for the Shia Republic.  They have designed delivery procedures for it.  That would most likely follow the patterns established by the father of the Pakistani bomb, A.Q. Khan.

Dr. Heinonen felt they (in Tehran’s nuclear program) could have enough fissile material, if the countries leaders decided to do so, to assemble one small atomic device by next month (February).

If there would be a crisis over any attempt for Iran to nuclearize, it would come next summer.  This leaves up to five months to reach a diplomatic solution.  Even if they chose not to weaponize immediately, they would have three to five months to do so from the knowledge they already possesses.  (In a manner, this is the most perfect form of Mutually Assured Destruction, for it is similar to the Indo-Pak theater before the Hindu chauvinists decided to test their bomb to put together a coalition which fell apart within two weeks anyway – and that is in potentiality rather than in actuality which gives a greater window for diplomacy.) Olli Heinonen predicts that the Persians have enough heavy-water based fuel for any weapon requirements in potential development already.  That is, if they will even have a need for the fuel.  The Doctor considers that the break-out timeline from their NPT commitments would probably come this summer at their current progression, and they would have a large enough plutonium production capacity to head for full weaponization sometime in 2014.

He feels the only way to divert this development is to diplomatically challenge the “hearts and minds” of the participants.  Fortunately, he feels it would be beyond the Israeli tactical competencies to militarily destroy Tehran’s nuclear expertise solely in and of themselves at this instance in history.  All regional WMDs should be factored into the equation.  Therefore, “we” can buy from one to two years more to diplomatically reach a level ground before a “viral mass” situation presents itself to the West.

Strategically, there are many issues:  An alliance would have to know where to attack in a precise manner.  The Medes do rely on imports for their nuclear program; so, the blockade is effective in slowing their efforts down, but, since the late 1980s, they have already bought much of the materiel they would require.  Yet, it must be kept in mind, their knowledge is only enough to produce a crude weapon when all is said and done.

Since Iran’s bomb is based on A.Q. Khan’s proliferation, and it is he who gave the impetus to Persia’s warhead, he possessed several distinctive designs; it is hard to predict the ultimate engineering model it will follow.  Nonetheless, “A successful test is a ticket to the [nuclear] ‘club,’” and, most assuredly, Professor Heinonen argues that Iran is going towards that test. 

Succinctly, the IAEA does not believe that Iran has abandoned its program as several foreign intelligence agencies have stated – including the (U.S.’) CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) and (Israel’s) Mossed – to have already occurred. At the very least, from the International Atomic Energy Agency’s perspective, the knowledge earned cannot be abandoned, even if renounced, because of what they have in cert already been verified to have accomplished.  Although they can terminate fissilization, they still maintain the ability for weaponization!

It is proffered that Tehran’s scientists can go through the process to see if a theoretical bomb they have assembled would work without the overt testing of it.

Olli Heinonen is convinced a diplomatic solution cannot be made within the next 6 months, but Tehran’s programs can be slowed to the extent that the timeline for a solution to the crisis can be extended!

I had asked a question about “throwing in” the Israeli arsenal into any discussions with the Iranians which is answered by Heinonon above.  A leading academic expert here at Berkeley came up to me at the reception afterwards, and said, “That was a very good question…but I don’t think it is going to happen.”  This demonstrates much of the conundrum that is the contemporary Middle East; the Israeli intransigence, unchallenged by America, led to an insurmountable impasse for negotiation. The Israelis’ nuclear stockpile is the central threat to which the Iranians feel they must respond with a mutually assured destruction of their own.  A zero option has to be sought within that region.  That is, a nuclear-free zone. The biggest obstacle to that is Tel Aviv itself!


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