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The Origins of the Iranian Nuclear Program
The Origins of the Iranian Nuclear Program
by Queen Nefertari

Since the splitting of atoms was discovered in the early 1940's, every nation on Earth has attempted and even succeeded in the proliferation of nuclear materials. Although many use nuclear power plants to provide an oil independent energy supply, many nationals use the plants to strengthen their nations' defense. Once a nation gains the status of a "nuclear superpower", they are rarely pestered. Through the story of the Iranian nuclear power program, one can witness a first-hand glance as to how these bio-hazardous plants come into being, and why they continue to emerge. The production of nuclear plants may be given the false alibi of energy production, but you will see the political and military influences that follow their path to inception.


Iran's nuclear roots can be traced as far back as 1967. Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi created a nuclear power program that called for the construction of 23 nuclear reactors dispersed throughout Iran. Date of completion was originally set for 1994. The first stage of his plan came after the shah had purchased a 5 megawatt light water reactor (LWR) from the United States along with "hot cells," heavily shielded rooms used to separate grams of material. The reactor was placed in the Amirabad Technical College in Tehran for training purposes. The hot cells have proven to be a key element for the establishment of a successful infrastructure.

The year 1967 was not randomly chosen. That was also the year that gave birth to the infamous 6-Day War where Israel had defeated the Egyptian, Syrian, Jordanian and Iraqi armies in a three fronts attack. Israel, roughly the size of New Jersey, now claimed the leading authority in the region, a fact that unsettled many of her neighbors. Since the 1950's, Israel had dominated the Middle East as being the only country with nuclear capabilities in the region. The Israeli nuclear program has and still is publicly kept a secret and denied. One cannot deny, however, the incessant fear the Shah and his kingdom felt if this rumor should one day proves itself true. The Shah felt it imperative the powers in the region needed to be counterbalanced. The Shah was quoted as saying, "An Iranian bomb would break Israel's nuclear monopoly and balance the power in the Middle East."


Undoubtedly, the purchase of the reactor from the U.S. was the starting point for Iran's nuclear program, however it did not gain crucial momentum until 1973. This was the year that talks and negotiations began between Iran and West Germany on nuclear assistance. In 1974 the deal was struck and the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) was created. A West German contractor, Siemens agreed to build two 1200-1300 megawatt electric LWRs at Bushehr, a city known for its militarily strategic location in the Southwest corridor of Iran. The German government's Kraftwerk Union AG (KWU) also a subsidiary of Siemans, had designed and built nuclear power plants since the mid-50's. This came shortly after another Israeli defeat in the region, and the first attempt by Iraq to lay claim to Kuwait. In the early years, reactors were purchased from West Germany, France and the U.S.

Scientists were trained in these countries in addition to Great Britain, Italy, Belgium, Canada and Argentina. These simply provided information on the obtaining of nuclear energy, however the Shah had a different agenda. September of 1974 he stated, "The present world is confronted with a problem of some countries possessing nuclear weapons and some not. We are among those who do not possess nuclear weapons so the friendship of a country such as the United States with its arsenal of nuclear weapons, is absolutely vital."

India was an early supporter of Iran's nuclear mission. There is speculation that the nuclear experiments of India, May 1974, gave the Shah inspiration to form AEOI later that year. It is no speculations that the tensions were rising between India and Pakistan. The Shah defined that any attack on Pakistan was an attack on Iran. From that moment on, India was regarded as a potential adversary.

The nuclear program was partly meant to impede any Soviet intervention in the region as per the obligations outlined in the Central Treaty Organization. Iran had always felt the heat of Russia breathing down her northern border in fear the Russians would come after the Iranian oil supply. The pressure was intensified when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in 1979.

Arms Race

Key elements in the origin of the Iranian nuclear program ere imposing threats from Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Iraq. Prior to the Iran-Iraq war, the two were great rivals, arguing over borders and water resources. Iraq had supported revolutionaries in opposition to the Iranian regimes. After Baghdad heard of the Iranian nuclear program, efforts were intensified to create an Iraqi nuclear program.

The Fall of The Pahlavi Dynasty

After the 1979 Iranian Revolution, Ayatollah Khomeini made it his top priority as Iran's new leader to rid the country of every aspect of the Pahlavi Dynasty, including the nuclear program. Khomeini referred to the nuclear program and its reactors as "anti-Islamic." With Bushehr I reactor 85% complete and Bushehr II partially complete, West Germany stopped construction immediately and returned home. Iran's nuclear program was temporarily put on a hiatus.

The Iran-Iraq War

Shortly after the Iranian Revolution, the Iran-Iraq War ensued. The main targets for the battle were each country's reactors. Iran's first struck nearly annihilating Iraq's Osirak reactor. Iraq answered by nearly wiping out the reactors at Bushehr. Before Iran would see the end of the war, Iraq would lead an air campaign striking the reactors eight separate times, the first on March 24, 1984; two in 1985; one in 1986 and the last occurring in 1988.

Russian and Chinese Assistance

Since the 1980's, China has been Iran's main supplier of nuclear related materials and technologies. Three sub critical and zero-power reactors have been supplied by China in addition to an Electro-magnetic Isotope Separation (EMIS) machine and a 30-kilowatt thermal research reactor. China has also helped Iran build uranium mining facilities, fuel fabrication, uranium purification and zirconium tube production capabilities. Minute quantities of nuclear materials have been used to train Iranian plant employees on how to separate nuclear materials.

In 1994, China signed a preliminary agreement to supply Iran with 2,300 megawatt electric LWRs. The agreement specifies China will not aid in weapons design or manufacturing. The agreement maintains continuity with the Non Proliferation Treaty, with which both parties are signatories of, Iran signed on February 2, 1970. January 1995, Russian Foreign Minister Victor Mikhalilov and Iranian Vice President of AEOI, Ruhollah Amrollahi, signed a secret protocol committing to complete the reactors at Bushehr at the sticker price of $800 million dollars. This was an extremely tempting offer for an economically barren country like Russia.

The protocol specified Russian commitments to negotiate additional contracts for research reactors, development of uranium mines, Iranian AEOI personnel training at Russian institutes and the construction of a new centrifuge plant used for uranium enrichment. At a summit in Moscow on May 10th, the clause calling for the centrifuge plant was omitted. Russian officials claim all spent fuel will be sent back to Russia. Atomic Energy Minister, Alexander Rumyantsev, has promised that Russia will not allow Iran to have access to spend fuel. Gary Amore, a senior nonproliferation official in the Clinton Administration stated that Russian-Iranian coercion provides a curtain hiding the transferring of sensitive, hard-to-track weapon related components and interaction. This relationship provides an all too convenient channel between the two countries for trade and hard to detect inside dealings. IAEA officials say any program to separate plutonium or enrich uranium is at an entry-level "pre-research and development" stage of nuclear weapons proliferation.

What Lies Ahead

U.S. government officials claim Iran is following the classic steps toward nuclear weapons manufacturing. The Central Intelligence Agency estimates Iran is roughly seven years from completing a nuclear bomb. Israeli officials claim Iran is only five years from a bomb. Both sides agree that in several years Iran will have capabilities to produce long-rang nuclear missiles without foreign assistance. George J. Tenet, Director of CIA, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that Russia continues to supply Iran with the knowledge and training in nearly all aspects of the nuclear program in addition to assistance in building a long-range ballistic missile program. The U.S. has continually put considerable pressure on Russia to abandon the deal. If the Russian/Iranian and the Chinese/Iranian deals follow through, Iran will be armed with one large LWR capable of discharging a few hundred kilograms of plutonium per year. The U.S. Department of Defense regards the Iranian nuclear program "top National priority." Both Russia and Iran have repeatedly claimed the reactors are for energy production only. If Iran is the worlds third largest producer of fossil fuels, then why the urgency for nuclear energy?


This report was first written in July of 2002. Since then alarming discoveries by satellite surveillance has proven Iran's nuclear program. Following suit with my original proposed question, "Is Iran next?", Iran should have been first if not second next to North Korea to be the prime target for U.S. military action. The U.S. foreign policy in this region has been bastardized by careless assessment and speculations, one right after the other. Iran's silence has been taken for granted and by ignoring her, the U.S. once again has gotten it in the ass. With a looming economic deficit, anorexic stock market conditions, an ongoing global war on terrorism and a potential useless war with Iraq that will cost billions of dollars, the U.S. is left extremely vulnerable to attack. North Korea and Iran couldn't have chosen a better Christmas gift for Dubya, a big "fuck you." A perfect rhetoric to the ignorant choice of going to war with the lesser of three evils.

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