by Cheryl Rofer
As I put the tea water on to boil and turned on the tv this morning, I was assaulted by the claim that seems to be everywhere. Maybe you've seen it in the New York Times, or the Los Angeles Times, or heard the same CBS report that I did, or even read it on Kevin Drum.
It's a lie.
Much as I hate to do so, because psychology tells us that repetition will help to fix the erroneous message in our minds, I will quote the most egregious statement of this "news."
Ah yes. And if you live in Boulder, Colorado, or in Connecticut, or New York City, you have enough U-235 under your house (or perhaps block) to amass a nuclear bomb! Or, Kevin, all that sea water lapping up against the California coast has uranium in it too! I have a call in to the IAEA to inspect your homes!
The issue here is concentration. Mining uranium concentrates it from the ore. Purification and conversion to UF6 concentrates it further. The purpose of the enrichment centrifuges is to concentrate the fissionable U-235.
Concentration is not that hard to understand, but in our science-challenged society (yes, we all hated chemistry, where it was discussed in the first week), it seems not to be a consideration. See also this post from earlier this week.
The concentration of U-235 is 3.49% in the enriched uranium that the Natanz plant is turning out. The IAEA has found no evidence (Download Iran 0902) that any higher enrichment is being produced. 3.49% is not enough to make a bomb. Iran is not in a position to make a bomb, unless there is a bunch of hidden stuff that nobody has found, involving big buildings that can be seen by satellite surveillance.
It would take a reconfiguration of the Natanz facility that the inspectors would notice to produce bomb-grade uranium (concentration of U-235 of 90%). The inspectors also take environmental samples to verify the concentration of U-235. They would have to be kicked out of the facility and their video cameras taken down for Iran to do this.
There are a number of other things in that IAEA report that the media aren't bothering to report, like that the pace of enrichment has slowed. That doesn't support the idea that Iran is racing toward a bomb, so it's not relevant, I guess.
Bloggers who are trying to hold back this tsunami of misleading non-science:
Update (2/22/09): Douglas Saunders of the Toronto Globe and Mail has asked me some questions and tells me he has used WhirledView as a source of material for this article. Many thanks to Doug for quoting me.