The headline is
Defying UN, Iran Opens Nuclear Reactor.The first paragraph, however, says
KHONDAB, Iran -- An Iranian plant that produces heavy water officially went into operation on Saturday, despite U.N. demands that Tehran stop the activity because it can be used to develop a nuclear bomb.Later in the article, we find
Iran has been a building a heavy water reactor near the plant for two years, but the reactor is not scheduled for completion until 2009.I would
The article is from Associated Press. We'll let the writer off the hook for the headline, because someone else does that. But there are many who aren't doing their job, or maybe didn't get enough elementary science to know that a heavy water plant isn't a reactor. It would start with the headline-writer and an editor or two at AP; then there were all those editors at the NYT, WaPo, and Boston Globe who weren't doing their jobs, just slipping it in (at the top of the NYT home page) because it fits with the latest narrative: that the Iranians are nuclear bad guys, defying the world.
I'm wondering, too, about the writer's accuracy. I need to check the UN resolution, but I think it's just uranium enrichment that the UN has required Iran to suspend, not all nuclear activities. And uranium enrichment is different from heavy water production is different from a reactor.
Here are the differences: the heavy water plant produces (distills, most likely) heavy water from regular water. Heavy water contains deuterium, which is an isotope of hydrogen that has more neutrons in its nucleus, which makes it more effective at slowing down reactor neutrons to produce a chain reaction. An enrichment plant raises the amount of uranium-235, the fissionable isotope of uranium, from its natural abundance of 0.7% to reactor grade (about 3%) or weapons grade (greater than 90%). A reactor brings the uranium and heavy water together to produce a controlled nuclear chain reaction, which can be used to produce power and plutonium, another weapons material. The heavy water plant has no radioactivity involved, the uranium in the enrichment process is slightly radioactive, and a reactor is very radioactive.
Whoops! A more careful reading of the article gives this:
Nuclear weapons can be produced using either plutonium or highly enriched uranium as the explosive core. Either substance can be produced in the process of running a reactor.So the writer flunks too. Highly enriched uranium comes only from enrichment plants, sorry.
Update below the jump.
Update (about four hours later): The New York Times has a new story and headline up:
Iran Opens a Heavy-Water PlantBut, unfortunately, they're still confused:
The plant, which Iranians say is intended for peaceful purposes, would also produce plutonium, which could be used in building nuclear warheads.No, no, no, guys! The heavy water is for the reactor, which produces plutonium.
The Washington Post still has the AP article up, right at the top of the electronic page.
I feel sort of nit-picky when I write this kind of post. Iran is doing some nuclear things that might lead to nuclear weapons. Do the details matter?
Would the New York Times write
General Motors is planning to bring out a new version of the Explorer?Would the Washington Post say
Tom Cruise is planning another baby with his wife, Meryl Streep?Do the editors of the Boston Globe not check spelling and punctuation? That's the kind of error this is.
How much do these details matter? It matters whether the opening of a heavy water plant breaches the UN Security Council Resolution 1696. Turns out it might or might not. That link is to a news release (courtesy of Arms Control Wonk); the resolution itself seems to be inaccessible through the UN website. What the news release says is that the
Security Council...demanded that Iran suspend all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities, including research and developmentwhich may or may not include heavy water plants. In any case, we need to know if the plant is operational (not clear), and, as noted in the AP story and quoted above, the reactor that would use the heavy water to produce plutonium from uranium will not be completed until 2009.
So they matter if they are being used in the frenzy of accusation against Iran, and they matter very much if the Bush administration is indeed following that same path they followed in justifying their attack on Iraq.
Unless we understand the facts, we can't make an informed judgment.