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What is the commonly accepted definition of “breakout time”?

Finally, the 6 + 1 powers that own nuclear arsenals reached an agreement with Iran. For the next 10 years, Iran will be unable to produce a nuclear bomb, even if the regime changes.

If Iran didn’t abide by the fatwa of its imam Khamenei to ban the production of nuclear bombs, Iran could have had one long time ago.

This is the time required to produce enough weapons-grade uranium (WGU) for one nuclear weapon.

To produce WGU, uranium needs to be enriched (e.g., with centrifuges) to more than 90% of its fissile isotope U-235.

The amount of WGU required for one weapon is defined by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) as about 27 kg of uranium. This amount is often called a “significant quantity” (SQ).

What is Iran’s current breakout time?

Natural uranium has only 0.7 percent of the isotope U-235, and the effort required to enrich it to one SQ of WGU is about 5,000 Separative Work Units (SWUs).

Iran currently has about 9,000 functioning first-generation IR-1 centrifuges, with another 9,000 not in operation. The IR-1s installed in the Natanz and Fordow facilities have been performing at an average per unit rate of 0.75 to 1 SWU per year.

Using the 1 SWU/year performance of the latest IR-1 model, the breakout time with 9,000 machines using a natural uranium feed would be six to seven months.

However, Iran also has substantial stocks of 3.5% enriched uranium hexafluoride (UF6) that can be used as an alternative feed, shrinking the breakout time to three months.

If Iran brought online its other nearly 9,000 IR-1s, breakout time would be about three months with natural uranium feedstock and four to six weeks with 3.5 percent UF6 feedstock.

Iran has also developed the more advanced IR-2m centrifuge, rated at 5 SWU/year. If the 1,000 IR-2ms installed at Natanz were used in conjunction with all 18,000 IR-1s, the respective breakout times would be cut by a third.

According to media accounts, the proposed nuclear agreement would lower the number of operating centrifuges to around 6,500. In that circumstance, what would Iran’s breakout time be?

Using IR-1s with natural uranium as a feed, the breakout time for 6,500 centrifuges would be about nine months.

A crucial question will be how much 3.5 percent enriched UF6 will remain in Iran. Yet even if UF6 stocks are reduced from their current 7.5-8 tons to 500 kg, a breakout time of between seven and eight months would still be possible given the program’s enrichment capabilities with natural uranium feed.

Since these breakout times are less than the goals set by the U.S. administration, it is important to know what parameters Washington used for its estimates.

The administration says that one of the main achievements of an agreement would be to increase breakout time to at least a year. What else would have to be in the agreement to reach that goal?

The maximum allowed breakout time should be viewed as a combination of detection time and action time — that is, the time required to get Iran back in compliance with the agreement.

Both of these times are difficult to estimate precisely because administrative delays and efforts to resolve disagreements could easily take several months.

How long is the detection time?

Detection time depends on Iran’s actions.

If Tehran does not try to conceal what it is doing, the IAEA would detect a violation fairly quickly — in the worst case perhaps two weeks. The agency would then confirm the finding with Iranian authorities, and the IAEA Board of Governors would need another one or two weeks to take any formal action such as referring the issue to the UN Security Council. This would leave a reasonable amount of time for the international community to act.

Yet if Iran tries to conceal what it is doing, much longer detection times are likely.

As indicated in past IAEA reports, environmental samples play a pivotal role in confirming violations. Due to the large number of samples involved and the meticulous analytical process, the results would not be available for at least two months. And if samples show higher enrichment, additional samples have to be taken and analyzed.

Although the second set of samples would certainly be fast-tracked, it is unrealistic to expect that process and subsequent clarifications by Iran to take less than another month. This would leave the international community with only three or four months to act, an extremely short time.

There are also plausible scenarios of misunderstandings or even differing interpretations of what constitutes a breach of the agreement. In such situations, Iran could drag the process out for many months.

Iran might also pursue a “creep-out” strategy, such as by slowly increasing its inventory of 3.5 percent UF6. This has already taken place under the interim Joint Plan of Action.

When the JPOA was concluded in November 2013, Iran’s 3.5 percent UF6 stock should have been below 7.5 tons; any additional material existing or newly produced should have been converted to oxides. Yet none of the IAEA reports released since then indicate that the stock has been below that amount.

This demonstrates the need for the United States and its partners to maintain vigilance in getting Iran to comply with an agreement and not allowing it to widen the envelope of what is permitted.

The most difficult task is to detect a “sneak-out” violation in which Iran uses clandestine nuclear facilities. This scenario has several variants, including the possibility of an entirely separate, unreported enrichment cycle anywhere along the chain from uranium mining to enrichment. This scenario cannot be excluded because the IAEA has still not been permitted to verify the completeness of Tehran’s declarations on nuclear materials and facilities.

A sneak-out could also involve both declared and undeclared facilities. For instance, Iran could produce low-enriched UF6 in a known facility and then take that material to a smaller undeclared location to produce WGU. Therefore, it is important that the IAEA be empowered to not only verify the completeness of Iran’s inventory of nuclear material, but also establish as a baseline the total number and location of centrifuges inside the country.

If an agreement does achieve a one-year breakout warning time, is it possible to know whether this buffer could be maintained over the life of the deal?

What would change that?

Perhaps the most important factor is the research and development on more advanced centrifuges such as IR-5 or IR-8. Making such machines operational on a semi-industrial scale would likely take at least three years. If they are ten to twenty times more efficient than the current IR-1 centrifuges as estimated, the breakout times would be much reduced.

Warning time could also be shortened if the IAEA is not allowed to fully exercise rigorous monitoring and verification procedures. These range from routine inspections to so-called “anytime, anyplace inspections” and full access to component manufacturing facilities, as well as efforts to follow the procurement of certain dual-use materials and equipment to confirm their end use.

Can centrifuges be used to enrich material other than uranium?

Media reports indicate that some of the centrifuges in Fordow will be dedicated to producing isotopes for medical and industrial use. A similar process is already in use at enrichment facilities in Europe and Russia. A key question will be which kind of stable isotopes will be produced.

If the centrifuges are reconfigured to produce, say, xenon isotopes, the machines could be converted back to enrich uranium fairly easily. Yet if they are used to produce zinc or molybdenum isotopes, contamination could hamper any later attempts to resume production of nuclear-grade materials.

What is the international community’s past experience with predictions of breakout time?

History shows surprises. The Russian centrifuge program went for years without detection despite tremendous intelligence efforts.

The Iraqi and Libyan programs were not immediately detected, and South Africa, which manufactured nuclear weapons, ended up destroying its program before the IAEA saw it.

The Syrian reactor in al-Kibar also came a bit out of the blue, as did North Korea’s advanced centrifuge plant.

There is always the element of the unknown or the uncertain that adds to the risk equation.

Iran has talented engineers and the necessary financial resources, and its nuclear infrastructure is much larger than what it actually needs. Therefore, a monitoring scheme that is merely “good enough” will not guarantee success in preventing Iran from breaking out and achieving a nuclear weapons capability.

Olli Heinonen is a senior fellow at Harvard University’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs and a former deputy director-general for safeguards at the IAEA.

Together with Washington Institute fellow Simon Henderson, he coauthored the recently updated Policy Focus Nuclear Iran: A Glossary of Terms, a joint publication of the Institute and the Belfer Center.

Asad Ghsoub shared this link on FB this March 29, 2015

Breakout time can be as short as 3-4 weeks

With reports that Washington and its partners may reach a nuclear accord with Iran in the coming days, a former senior IAEA safeguards official answers the most pressing questions about Tehran’s program…
washingtoninstitute.org

Many Muslim Women Imams in China: Not worse than deadly earthquakes, devastating landslides, polluted rivers…

Could an old religious tradition from China help solve one of the world’s most pressing problems, such as violence committed in the name of Islam?

The irony of an officially atheist country possibly offering a way out of an international religious problem is intense.

“A few Islamic scholars in China and elsewhere hope that may happen due to a quietly liberal tradition among China’s 10 million Hui Muslims, where female imams and mosques for women are flourishing in a globally unique phenomenon.

Female imams and women’s mosques are important because their endurance in China offers a vision of an older form of Islam that has inclusiveness and tolerance, not marginalization and extremism, at its core, the scholars say.

Exact numbers are not available, but Shui Jingjun, a leading scholar of women in Hui Islam estimates there are hundreds of female imams leading mosques around the country, educating boys and girls, and organizing social services in their communities. (The Hui are scattered across China and are distinct from the Uighur Muslims of the far western region of Xinjiang)

Female imams and women’s mosques are not “a new thing here. It’s just a cultural tradition that was never interfered with,” Ms. Shui, an author and researcher at the Henan Academy of Social Sciences in Zhengzhou, the capital of Henan Province, said in an interview.

That is what makes it so important, said Khaled Abou El Fadl, a prominent Islamic legal scholar.

“The Chinese tradition of women’s mosques is rooted in Islamic history. It is not novel, a corruption or innovation or some type of heretical practice,” Mr. Abou El Fadl, a professor of Islamic law at the University of California, Los Angeles, said in a recorded interview.

China’s liberal Hui tradition therefore challenges the power of Wahhabism, a puritanical, patriarchal sect dominant in Saudi Arabia today that is behind much Islamic extremism.

Abou El Fadl said: “The Chinese example preserves and reminds Muslims of an important jurisprudence and historical phenomenon that Wahhabism tried to wipe out.

“Contemporary fundamentalist movements use the space provided by the mosque to affirm all types of patriarchy and male power over women. When you have something like the Chinese example, which ultimately empowers women to work within their own space and lead prayer and manage that space on their own, it’s a significant form of women asserting themselves in the Islamic tradition, helping in constructing it and perpetuating it. I always see Islam in places in China as reminding Muslims of their authentic tradition before it was impacted by petrol dollars and this very gruff and dry form of Bedouin Islam that came out of Saudi Arabia,” said Mr. Abou El Fadl.

“So the point is there’s an old, historically rooted tradition, and the Chinese, if they tap into this tradition, they can effectively provide resistance or examples of resistance to puritanical Islam.”

Muslims arrived in China during the Tang dynasty, more than 1,000 years ago, and their numbers swelled during the Yuan dynasty in the 13th century.

Mostly from Persia and Central Asia, though some were Arabs, they brought with them traditions that had always emphasized women’s education, said Ms. Shui.

But women’s status really took off in the early Qing dynasty, more than 300 years ago, when the numbers of Hui declined as they were absorbed into the majority Han Chinese culture, she said.

By then, “most Muslims couldn’t read or speak Arabic. So they relied on women to spread the word, to educate. It wasn’t possible to rely just on the men. There weren’t enough of them.”

Far away, in the Arab world, Wahhabism began spreading.

“About 300 years ago, there were changes in Islamic education” in the Middle East, said Ms. Shui. “In other Islamic nations, what men said was decisive. But that wasn’t going to work here.”

Over the past decade, Hui Muslim women’s role in offering both religious and secular education in their communities has grown, said Jackie Armijo, a professor at Qatar University.

Young Hui women, seeing the need for education among their people, are choosing to travel far from home to teach, often in small villages.

While conducting doctoral research in China, Ms. Armijo said: “I was continually struck by these young women.They know instinctively, and they say it: ‘To teach a man is to teach one person. To teach a woman is to teach everyone.”

Slowly, awareness is spreading in China of how valuable this tradition might be.

During a recent meeting in Gansu Province of mostly female Muslim educators, researchers, writers and local Han Chinese officials — there were also some non-Chinese Muslims from Pakistan and Taiwan, according to online reports — “some people argued privately that China should ‘go out into the world’ with this good tradition,” spreading the word, said Ms. Shui, who was among the participants.

That would resonate among women elsewhere in the Muslim world, who are increasingly gathering to study texts independently of men.

At the meeting, many people said they wanted the biennial event, happening for just the second time, to become a permanent research facility in Gansu. “We talked about turning it into an international meeting for all Muslim women,” said Ms. Shui. “Everyone was in favor of that.”

Moratorium on spreading myths: Hezbollah and “Wilayat fakeeh” (part 1)

            I selected Hezbollah for my topic for three reasons: first, I need to have a specific target in order to minimize tendencies for generalization; second, Hezbollah is the most powerful movement in Lebanon in number, organization, military training, and in readiness and thus, this important social and political force can either spread havoc or strengthen the independence of Lebanon, depending on open dialogue and communication among all Lebanese political parties; and third, because I have a high respect for this organization that saved Lebanon twice from becoming a total non-entity within the last decade.

Yes, with Hezbollah, I feel that Lebanon is no longer just a State recognized by the UN, but has acquired the status of a Nation; a tiny Nation but with the potential of agreeing that we are one people under the law and against all contingencies.

            The first myth that Hezbollah needs to lay off is “dress codes should be a religious matters”. Dress codes for man and woman have nothing to do with religious dogma. In Mecca, during the life of Prophet Mohammad, only noble ladies wore the veil outside their homes, as a discrimination dress code of their rank from the other working women.  When the companions of the Prophet fled to Yathreb (Medina), at the onset of persecutions, the veil was not used in Medina:  Women had large freedom; and they had their own mind.

Actually, it was a chock for the women of Yathreb seeing a few of the companions’ wives wearing veils as if they considered themselves of nobler ranks!

            Prophet Muhammad did not bring the issue of dress codes until he married many women for political exigencies.  Sexual rumors spread about a few of his wives: Muhammad had to ask his wives to wear veils and long dresses when stepping out of their homes in order to minimize their recognition by the public.  Thus, a particular and local case needs not be extended to whole communities and to people of different cultures.

            I suggest to Hezbollah to taking the bold decision of toning down the importance of dress codes and desist of spreading this myth. Women who have no convictions that dress codes are of the domain of religious belief should not be pressured to cheat on their convictions.  Extending liberty to exercising the power of individual rational thinking is the best asset for higher confidence in leadership and tighter cohesion in the ranks in dire circumstances. The leaders of Hezbollah should give examples within their own family and relatives.

            The second myth to get rid off is combining political and religious responsibilities.  It certainly is a proof of internal weakness in the organization when the Secretary General feels the need to offering the face of an Imam.             

            The Prophet Muhammad was upset with the central “Orthodox” Church of Byzantium (Constantinople) because it labeled one of the Christian sects in Mecca (the Ebionite) as “heretic”: Muhammad’s uncle Ain Warkat was the Patriarch of this Christian-Jew sect and he taught Muhammad to read and write in the Aramaic language, the lanhuage of the Bible the sect read in.

Ain Warkat translated his “Bible” into the Aramaic slang spoken in Mecca, which was called Arabic.  The Prophet goal was to unite the “heretic” sects under common denominators by discarding the abstract notions that divided among them; after all, they all followed the daily rituals of the Jewish customs that they inherited by tradition.

Muhammad abhorred central religious power and viewed it as the enemy for harmony and peace among the believers.  That is why the Prophet declined to name an Imam before his death so that Islam should not be regulated by any religious central power; he could have named Ali as Imam and Ali would have been an excellent religious guide.

            Preaching at every religious event as if in a Friday prayers, Hassan Nasr Allah is definitely sending the wrong message to the Lebanese:  The mixing of politics and religion is bound to lead to disaster.  We need to hear Hassan Nasr Allah political messages and wish he spares us his religious belief that is not the concern of the people at this junction.

What the Lebanese people, and many members of Hezbollah, understand is that Hezbollah is a shifty religious sect following the sect of the Iranian Guide in power.

            Taking a religious story to drive through a political message, every now and then, is appropriate rhetorically, but when the entire speech is religious then the people get tired of too much chatting in matters they care less about. Everyone should have his specialty, responsibility, and his target audience. 

            State business, political organization, and religion should not mix.  Lebanon has 18 formally recognized sects and we need not exacerbate our caste problems.  We need to be the vanguard to the other Arabic and Islamic States in running our life and strengthening our individual freedom for rational thinking.

            That is my first installment on myths, from all religious castes, to confront head on our calamities for a harmonious and stable Lebanon. The next follow up post is entitled “Hezbollah to desist spreading myths: Encore


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