Asman: Getting 30,000 centrifuges needed to process highly enriched uranium "is going to be a cakewalk" for Iran; nuclear experts disagree
Research ››› ››› BEN ARMBRUSTER
Fox News host David Asman claimed without basis that "getting to the 30,000 centrifuges" Iran needs to produce a significant amount of weapons-grade nuclear material "is going to be a cakewalk," adding: "Are we going to have to wait until there's a mushroom cloud over Jerusalem before we take a hit in Iran?" But The New York Times noted that Western nuclear analysts have determined that Iran "still lack[s] the parts and materials to make droves of the highly complex [centrifuges] which can spin uranium into fuel rich enough for use in nuclear reactors or atom bombs."
On the April 21 edition of Fox News' The Big Story with John Gibson, Forbes on Fox host David Asman claimed without basis that "getting to the 30,000 centrifuges" Iran needs to produce a significant amount of weapons-grade nuclear material "is going to be a cakewalk." Asman sought to bolster the case made by an April 21 Wall Street Journal editorial suggesting that President Bush must confront Iran's nuclear program sooner rather than later, and wondered: "Are we going to have to wait until there's a mushroom cloud over Jerusalem before we take a hit in Iran?" But as an April 13 New York Times article noted, Western nuclear analysts have determined that Iran "still lack[s] the parts and materials to make droves of the highly complex [centrifuges] which can spin uranium into fuel rich enough for use in nuclear reactors or atom bombs."
Discussing the Journal editorial with Gibson, Asman referred to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's April 11 announcement that Iran had successfully enriched uranium, stating that Iran has "the complete cycle now, from mining the uranium ore to the hexafluoride to getting the centrifuges working." He added that "[t]hey still have to line up several thousand centrifuges. But apparently, the most difficult task was the last one that was taken, and they have done that, and getting to the 30,000 centrifuges is going to be a cakewalk after that."
But far from being a "cakewalk," the April 12 Times article reported, nuclear experts described the difficult process Iran would have to next undertake as follows:
It took Tehran 21 years of planning and 7 years of sporadic experiments, mostly in secret, to reach its current ability to link 164 spinning centrifuges in what nuclear experts call a cascade. Now, the analysts said, Tehran has to achieve not only consistent results around the clock for many months and years but even higher degrees of precision and mass production. It is as if Iran, having mastered a difficult musical instrument, now faces the challenge of making thousands of them and creating a very large orchestra that always plays in tune and in unison.
An April 12 Washington Post article similarly noted that "[p]roducing amounts [of nuclear fuel] large enough to power an electrical plant or -- if enriched long enough -- to make a bomb would require several thousand centrifuges, orchestrated in cascades whose constant operation poses significant technical challenges" for the Iranians.
The Times also quoted Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) president David Albright's assessment that Ahmadinejad was "hyping" Iran's uranium enrichment, as well as the determination by Anthony H. Cordesman and Khalid R. al-Rodhan of the Center for Strategic and International Studies that the announcement by Iran was "little more than vacuous political posturing." Also, on the April 11 edition of PBS' The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, Albright noted that Iran is "a long way from mastering gas centrifuges," adding that "[t]hey really are just starting the process of learning to operate this cascade."
Furthermore, an ISIS paper entitled "The Clock is Ticking, But How Fast?" by Albright and Corey Hinderstein noted that "in total, Iran is estimated to have in-hand enough good components for at least an additional 1,000 to 2,000 centrifuges" beyond their current capability. The paper also noted that "Iran can be expected to face serious technical hurdles before it can produce significant quantities of enriched uranium."
Finally, Asman's false assessment regarding Iran's centrifuge capibility allowed him to wrongly conclude that previous long-term estimates of Iran's nuclear timeline were off, claiming "it may be within a year before they actually get the workings of a [nuclear] bomb put together." Gibson quickly corrected Asman, stating that Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte recently said that "it's years and years and years" before it will have enough fissile material for a bomb. And while the U.S. government has estimated that Iran could make a single nuclear weapon in 5 to 10 years, the ISIS paper found that a "worst-case assessment" would be that Iran could have its first nuclear bomb in 2009.
From the April 21 edition of Fox News' The Big Story with John Gibson:
GIBSON: An editorial in a recent Wall Street Journal suggests President Bush must confront the threat now and not let the standoff roll over to the next administration. It says there is no more clear and present danger than Iran's nuke programs. Nearly half of the U.S. believes we will eventually have to take military action against Iran, according to our new Fox poll. David Asman, host of Forbes on Fox, joins us now. The Wall Street Journal says our lives depend on it.
ASMAN: Yeah, you can't mix The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times in the same breath. They're very different. Now, of course, these are my old employers. I used to work for the editorial page. They're making a case that, you know, the longer we wait, the harder it's going to get. They have got the complete cycle now, from mining the uranium ore to the hexafluoride to getting the centrifuges working. They still have to line up several thousand centrifuges. But apparently, the most difficult task was the last one that was taken, and they've done that, and getting to the 30,000 centrifuges is going to be a cakewalk after that. So they are saying we cannot wait. The longer we wait, the harder it's going to get. They're making the case that was made in 2001, 2002, 2003, up to the Iraq war. The question is, will they be able to make the case to go to war with Iran? It's going to be a tough sell.
GIBSON: The president has to decide whether to do this before he leaves office. Is the Iranian bomb going to be upon us so quickly that some president is going to have to do something very soon?
ASMAN: Well, despite the fact that they were bragging in a really ridiculous way last week with that charade that they had, where they all got up in the party in saying how wonderful it is we all have the nuclear weapon at our hand. They still are a lot closer than we thought. We were saying our best estimates were that 10 years was as long as it was going to take. Now they're saying it may be within a year before they actually get the workings of a bomb put together. So that, certainly, on Bush's watch.
GIBSON: Well, Negroponte yesterday or the day before -- he's the head of our spook service. He said it's years and years and years.
ASMAN: I know. And that leads to another question of not only will they be able to convince the public, but will they be able -- these people who are in favor of taking care of it sooner rather than later, will they be able to get the ducks in order within the Bush administration? There are questions about now if the Bush administration is as divided as ever before? And Negroponte certainly didn't settle that debate with his comments.
GIBSON: Has Iraq made it impossible for the United States to attack Iran?
ASMAN: That's a great question. The bar is so high now, because of the failure to find WMDs in Iraq, that is going to take an awful lot -- I think before we act, we may have to see evidence of a nuclear weapon, in which case it'll be too late. They'll already have it. It is sort of like the North Korean -- the same thing happened with North Korea. Apparently now, we realize they have it. And we had to wait for that to happen.
GIBSON: North Korea wasn't promising to wipe anybody off the map.
ASMAN: Exactly. And that leads to the question of Israel. Are we going to have to wait until there's a mushroom cloud over Jerusalem before we take a hit in Iran? And that's an open question.