Attack on Iran not yet justified

September 03, 2012

An attack on Iran would be foolhardy and unnecessary ("As rhetoric heats up over Iran, so do preparations," Aug. 30). Iran is a "non-nuclear weapon" party to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, and Iran's nuclear materials and facilities such as reactors are under full-time surveillance by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

There are two paths to a first-generation nuclear weapon. An "implosion" weapon can use either plutonium or highly-enriched uranium, but is fiendishly complicated to engineer and would require a test explosion for a semblance of reliability. To acquire plutonium for a bomb, plutonium must first be laboriously separated from irradiated reactor fuel and Iran is not accused of doing that.

The second path, a relatively simple-to-construct "gun-type" nuclear weapon, would not need a test explosion for reliability but would require about 100 pounds of uranium enriched to at least 80 percent in isotope uranium-235. Iran has not attempted enrichment beyond just below 20 percent, and a higher enrichment effort (especially full-bore) would be detected by the IAEA monitors of Iran's materials and facilities. Further, achieving such enrichment of sufficient uranium for a bomb would take a couple of months at least — plenty of time for Israel, or the U.S. and Israel, to react.

Frederick N. Mattis, Annapolis

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