- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 2, 2009

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

It is a peaceful civilian effort to become energy independent. But a new report by government scientists reveals that Iran is either misguided or lying. Close examination of the Iranian energy market shows that this is at best a misguided quest, and far more likely a cover for a nuclear weapons program.

Why does a country with 90 years of oil reserves and 220 years of natural gas reserves need nuclear energy? A study entitled “The Economics of Energy Independence for Iran” in the March 2007 Nonproliferation Review stated, “If energy independence is the goal, the logical strategy is conservation and stewardship of national oil and natural gas resources.”

But Iran is notably inefficient in utilizing its fossil fuels. Iran “flares” or burns off over eight percent of its natural gas, 17 times the flare rate in North America and equal to the energy output of four nuclear reactors like the one at Bushehr. Simple efficiencies in handling natural gas would make Iran more energy independent, without the political fallout from building a nuclear program. The report concludes that Iran’s “investment in front-end nuclear fuel cycle facilities is not consistent with the economics of nuclear power.” But it is consistent with a weapons program.

Iran’s Atomic Energy Agency claims that it has uranium to last for decades, but the available facts say otherwise.

The Nonproliferation Review study found that Iran’s uranium reserves are four-tenths of one percent of other fuel reserves. Even Iran’s paltry coal reserves have six times the energy output of its uranium. Furthermore, Iran is quickly running through what limited uranium reserves it has. A February 2009 report from the Institute of Science and International Security notes that Iran is only operating one of its two uranium mines, adding “Iran could be close to exhausting its supply of uranium oxide while lacking the adequate resources to sustain indigenous commercial-scale uranium processing and enrichment.” The report noted that the uranium shortfall underscored a “fundamental inconsistency” in Iran’s stated intentions to construct a “commercially viable, indigenously fueled, civil nuclear power industry.” But there is enough uranium to sustain a nuclear weapons program.

Other reports underscore the fallacy of a nuclear-powered energy-independent Iran. In November 2008, the International Atomic Energy Agency estimated that Iran has used two-thirds of its original uranium stockpile dating back to the days of the Shah, but also noted that it is difficult to determine the precise scope of Iran’s stockpile because Iran has refused to give the agency access to all of its uranium mining, milling, and enrichment facilities. The question remains why Iran would hide these and other aspects of its purportedly peaceful energy program. The report also noted that Iran has continued to defy the United Nations Security Council by continuing to enrich uranium necessary for a weapons program.

Iran’s rationale of attaining energy independence through nuclear power is clearly unsustainable in the face of other less costly domestic options. Also, Iran would not have the domestic uranium production capacity necessary to sustain an independent nuclear power program.

We are driven to the conclusion that Iran is not seeking energy independence but desires a nuclear weapons capability. “Iran’s progress in the nuclear field cannot be stopped,” said Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in his recent New Year’s address to the nation. Maybe. But there is no credible economic justification for having started it in the first place.

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