The Dummies Guide to Iran’s Nukes

As a new round of talks kicks off, an illustrated five-step guide to understanding what it's all about

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Fabrice Coffrini / AFP / Getty Images

E.U. foreign-policy chief Catherine Ashton speaks with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif on Nov. 7, 2013 before the start of two days of closed-door nuclear talks in Geneva

A new round of negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program convenes in Geneva on Thursday. And there’s growing optimism about the talks.

“For the first time, Iran appears to be committed to moving this negotiation process forward quickly,” a senior Obama administration official told reporters in Geneva on Wednesday. “For the first time, we aren’t seeing them use this negotiating process simply to buy time.”

But while most people grasp the core problem here — Iran is thought to be working toward a nuclear bomb — the particulars can be confounding to a layperson. So for those without the time or inclination to absorb all the complicated details, here’s a crash course, in five pictures and about 3 minutes, on the key factors that could decide the difference between a historic diplomatic feat and another hellish Middle East war.

1. THIS STUFF

Uranium oxide, called yellow cake, clings to a filter press

Imacon X5 / National Geographic / Getty Images

Uranium, the mineral at the root of this whole crisis, is relatively harmless in its original, mined form. But Iran is refining large amounts of uranium into a frighteningly potent fissile material with…

2. THESE MACHINES

Rows of centrifuge units used in DOE pro

Time & Life Pictures / Getty Image

Spinning tubes which rotate a hundred times faster than your washing machine, centrifuges “enrich” uranium into bomb-grade fissile material by separating its more potent components from the less volatile stuff. Iran now has about 18,000 of these centrifuges (the ones pictured here are American). A key issue is whether Iran will be allowed to keep any of them under a deal in which the U.S. and its negotiating partners — Germany, China, Russia, Great Britain and France — agree to lift their punishing economic sanctions.

U.S. and Israeli hard-liners say Iran must give up all its centrifuges to ensure it can never produce a bomb. Iran, which denies it wants a nuke, insists it has a right to enrich nuclear fuel for energy, medical and research purposes. A deal might allow Iran to keep some centrifuges, but not enough of them to quickly enrich enough uranium for a bomb in a place like…

3. THIS MOUNTAIN

Fordow facility in Iran

DigitalGlobe / Getty Images

Thousands of Iran’s centrifuges spin away at Fordow, an underground facility near the Iranian holy city of Qom. The U.S. insists that Iran must shut down Fordow, which was built in secret and only discovered a few years ago, lending credence to the argument that Iran was stealthily trying to a bomb. The facility is especially worrisome because, unlike other Iranian nuclear sites, it’s burrowed hundreds of feet under mountain rock. That might make it impervious to attack by…

4. THESE PLANES

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Getty Images / Stocktrek Images

Hanging over the talks is the prospect that Israel will unilaterally strike Iran’s nuclear facilities if its leadership, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, believes Tehran has enough highly-enriched uranium to build a bomb. President Barack Obama also says he’d use military force if needed to prevent Iran from getting a nuke, but Israel’s threat is generally considered more credible. At the same time, the Israeli military is less powerful than America’s and may only be able to dent Iran’s program, not cripple it. Whether force becomes necessary may depend on the thinking of…

5. THIS MAN

IRAN ARMED FORCES KHAMENEI

Sajjad Safari / Mehr News Agency / AP

While attention has centered around Iran’s moderate new president, Hassan Rouhani, the ultimate authority remains the country’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei. Western observers describe Khamenei as clever but paranoid, and consumed with loathing and distrust for the west. Khamenei may feel that possessing a nuclear bomb is Iran’s sole guarantee against an American invasion like the one in neighboring Iraq. At the same time, he must heed the growing discontent within his country over the international sanctions.

Although skeptics still doubt whether either side is prepared to trust the other, the talks appear to be making some progress. A key goal of this week’s meetings will be to strike an interim deal, in which both sides make some concessions, as a trust-builder for a broader agreement. Gary Samore, a former top Obama White House aide who handled the Iran issue tells TIME that he sees “a reasonable chance” for such a deal before Christmas. “I think both sides want it enough, and that the Iranians are actually negotiating instead of just posturing, which is what they’ve been doing for the past five years,” Samore says.

The longer-term stakes are enormous, including the scary prospect of war and major economic disruption. But an agreement after a decade of confrontation could mean that the U.S. and Israel don’t have to worry about…

(FILES) A file picture taken in 1971 sho

AFP / Getty Images

and Iran can stop worrying about

The B-2 Spirit stealth bomber flies over the Missouri Sky after taking off from the Whiteman Air For..

© Hyungwon Kang / Reuters

And maybe everyone can live in peace.

MORE: The Incredible, Absurd Iranian Hostage Rescue Mission That Never Happend

29 comments
AjaxLessome
AjaxLessome

The Nuclear talks in Geneva must be built on proven steps to halt its nuclear weapons capacity and not just promises. We should not give them sanctions relief just because they say "Trust us." Also, The US must include human rights issues as a condition of relief. This is the point where the US had maximum leverage over a regime wanting a deal badly. The US must not give something away without ganing something in return.

shepherdwong
shepherdwong

"The Dummies Guide to Iran’s Nukes."

"Note to self." 

What's dumber than Iran deploying a nuke? Nothing in the known universe. 

If anyone preempts Iran's program, it won't be for fear of a nuclear Iran, it will be to protect their ability to threaten Iran for the foreseeable future.

ricardo_lion
ricardo_lion

 Iran is ruled by medieval Muslim clerics.  Islam was invented by an Arab in Arabia 1,500 years after Judaism, 650 after Jesus.  That man was obsessed with Jews (today less than 0,2% of the world population).  All "prophets" in the Koran are Jewish prophets, patriarchs, kings and rabbis.  Not Arabs like Mohammed himself or from any other small people, but all Jews.  For some reason that obsessed man declared the Jewish capital, Jerusalem, holy to Islam too.  Afther his death the Muslim Arabs from Arabia invaded Palestine and built that vulgar mosque right on top of Judaism holiest site in Jerusalem where once the Temple stood.  Right on top of it.  Later the Arabs converted the Persians and today those mad mullahs ruling Iran are obsessed with little, far away Israel.  Whatever happened with iran`s original religion?  The moment they would go back to it the problem, obsession with Jews and their country, would go away.

SuperDooper
SuperDooper

Another propaganda article. Let's get over some history of it instead of propaganda: 


1- Western countries led by UK started to steal Iran's hydrocarbon reserves specially oil from 1901 and this oil was the only oil UK used during world war I and world war II. All royal navy ships and planes and trucks running in Europe, Africa or South Asia was being fueled by Iranian oil which Iranians never got paid for. Infact UK had nationalized Iranian oil in 1914 and all Iranian oil and gas had become property of British crown forever. After Iranians tried to get it back, UK with US help orchestrated operation Ajax. After this color revolution brought about by operation Ajax, Iran got some small share in oil revenues but still the biggest share holders in Iranian oil remained British, French and Americans (Mattie's Seven Sisters)

2- Western countries after the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran, which cut their access to Iranian oil greatly, supported Saddam to invade Iran and play havoc with its economy through sanctions. This was more than a revenge. It was being done to make sure, Iran would remain a poor country despite its oil wealth and stop Iran's technological progress. US directly sided with Saddam and militarily attacked Iran on behalf of Saddam and since Saddam did not have a navy, US navy was used to support him to the point that US shot down an Iranian civilian airliner killing 290 people including 66 children. In addition West provided Saddam with WMD's (chemical weapons) which he used on Iranians with American government approval, making Iran the second largest victim of WMD in the world after Japan.

3- Iran had paid tens of billions of dollars to American and British companies in 1970's to supply it with numerous weapon systems eg. Kidd class frigates, submarines, tanks and war planes etc etc. None of them reached Iran and neither the money was returned. US and France continued to supply Saddam with helicopters and war planes and holding back Iranian purchased weapons during the war. This was being done to ensure Iranian defeat and humiliation. Iran's chief nuclear negotiator Mr. Jalili was a soldier in that war and he lost his right leg during the fighting with western supported Saddam. Today he walks to the negotiating table with a leg prosthesis.

4- Iran had paid 3 billion dollars to Germany in 1976 to build two nuclear power reactors for Bushehr plant which Germans never completed despite Germans being under obligation to complete under IAEA rules and NPT mandate which calls for nations with nuclear technology to help NPT members with all their needs. Germans only erected some buildings and refused to work any further. Germans never returned the money and Iranians had to literally beg the Russians for the technology. Russians took advantage and got maximum benefits from both Iranians and western countries by procrastinating the project. Finally the project which was supposed to be finished by Russians in 1999, became fully operational in 2012, that is 13 years later.

5- Iran had paid billions of dollars to France in 1970's for France to build a nuclear reprocessing plant in Iran which they never did. Iran had also paid France to build Darkhovin nuclear power plant, which of course French never did. The Iranian paid reactors were instead installed in a French nuclear power plant and are now working there at Graveline C nuclear power plant. Iran had also shared the costs of building Eurodif Uranium enrichment plant which Iran owns 10% share of, to this day and France had agreed to provide Iran with enriched Uranium from that plant as well as the transfer of technology for Uranium enrichment. Iran never got even one gram of enriched Uranium from France neither got its share money.

6- Iran in 1970's had invested in Rössing uranium mine, the world's third largest Uranium mine and to this day owns 15% of the mine with government of Namibia holding 3%, South Africa holding 10% of shares and the Anglo-Australian corporation Rio Tinto having 69% of the shares. But as is the case, Iran still has not received a single gram of Uranium or any of the profits of the mine due to western pressures. Almost all of the Uranium taken out of this partly owned Iranian mine goes to US and EU and used in their nuclear power plants or used to manufacture nuclear bombs with which they threaten Iran.

7- The west is supporting terror inside Iran by financing Jundallah and MKO, this despite the Algiers agreement of US with Iran, which had called for US to stop interfering in Iran's internal matters, US has kept interfering inside Iran. Now with unfair sanctions, US is trying to arm twist other independent countries that are trading with Iran as well in order to make Iran subservient to western desires for plunder.

8- US has been attacking Iran using sanctions, proxies, terrorists, media agitation, economic warfare, smuggling of drugs from Afghanistan into Iran, cyber attacks, assassinations etc. All these instances are declaration of war against Iran. Fortunately Iranians have been very restraint and have played cool. But this might not be the case in future.

9- Iran has been losing its territory to western and other imperialist powers and interests like Russia and UK since 18th century due to the bigger fire power of global imperialist powers. Iran still remains at risk today with so much terrorism against Iran and the fact that global imperialist powers openly talk about defeating Iran and breaking it up or encouraging secession from Iran. Under such serious threats, the only thing that guarantees peace from Iran's stand point is nuclear weapons. Only nuclear weapons will be able to secure Iran against much larger, lunatic and aggressive powers like United States whose president is talked by God to invade other lands or arms infiltrating wahabi cannibal terrorists.

10- Almost all sanctions against Iran have been passed by US congress which is very and highly anti-Iranian and will not remove them short of after complete destruction of Iran. The US president has nothing to offer Iran. Even if Iran gives up its entire nuclear program tomorrow, the sanctions are going to stand. These sanctions are designed to weaken Iran over time and prepare it for an eventual invasion by US/NATO. Only one thing can stop it. Iran building nuclear deterrence and Iran building its industries taking care of national needs such as medicines, machines, etc. The sanctions were never designed to be removed. It is a folly to think that if Iran gives up its nuclear program, then everything is going to be ok and Iran is going to become a paradise.

JackSpade
JackSpade

Gee, now times is not only reporting but making news. Where is there any evidence that Iran has nuclear material? With thousands of inspection the only thing found was accounting irregularities. That can be everyone of us who has books to keep. This is a horrible article written by most probably a CIA implanted reproted.

Fitzwilliams
Fitzwilliams

It has to be remembered: any POTENTIAL for a nuclear strike, especially under today's governmental state, has to be taken seriously. If our government didn't think it important, we could potentially have a nuclear armed Iran after us.

It is better to get cautious at the first sign of trouble rather than not taking alarm, and getting nuked.

drudown
drudown

Oh, please.

"Iran is thought to be working towards a nuclear bomb"…is that so?

Based on WHAT EVIDENCE?

The United States is under ZERO threat from Iran on account of UN Sanctions deigned to prevent such nuclear proliferation.

The leaders and policy makers of Iran do not think for one second that the United States, UK, EU and Russia are not waiting in silent repose, figurative swords sheathed upon Iran's good faith indication to build new and improved Diplomatic roads that serves ALL stakeholders' best interests. 

It is time to let the Iranian (and Syrian) governments bear witness to a new course of dealing that fosters Economic Development and Stimulus-fed healing. 

Say, about that Executive Agreement…maybe the UK could draft a commercially reasonable 'global settlement' for "Colonial Reparations"- that is, to create immediate funds for wide-scale infrastructure projects, renewable energy projects and desalination/irrigation projects to offset desertification in each participating Nation.

Perhaps the proverbial "key" to Israel's security mirrors our own shared path with the EU, UK and Russia: it is Stimulus to ameliorate the adverse, stagnating legacy of Colonial pursuits left half-finished, with so much opportunity to create revenue between the participating economies and our Wall St. investment vehicles.

Why collectively suffer under ANY imaginary debt burden at all? It takes sheer will and prudence, not miracles. 

Jobs and education…to provide that to both the Mother and Colonial subject, no matter how desolate a location. If Western Civilization wants security…it must pursue dramatically new avenues of such agreed-upon measures, to positively effect change in the surrounding vicinities. 

Just as there is no real reason to hastily negate such simple Federal/State/Municipal debt reorganization, the pretext of a "global settlement" between said parties provides the sufficient agreed-upon consideration.  

"The mind will be loosed. It must be loosed." - John Adams

vorlons
vorlons

@ricardo_lion

At least those medieval Clerics don't have a history of raping, enslaving, killing and invading other peoples. And America is ruled by a bunch of white people like you have a history of enslaving black people, subjugating the Philippines pre-WWI, dropping two atomic bombs on Japan, threatening to use nuclear weapons against China during the Korean war, invading and occupying Hawaii, invading Vietnam and killing millions, invading Panama, invading Iraq claiming there were weapons of mass destruction when there was not any and continuing to bully.

drudown
drudown

@ricardo_lion 

Mixing religion and politics invariably leads to the degradation of both.

nickojul1
nickojul1

@SuperDooper  

First I am not an American. But your so called facts are a subtle mixture of history with propaganda. You have an obsession that the west especially America is after u is that the reason why u are interested to build a bomb in the guise of  peace for security against whom? No true democracy will be intent to invade another country even the US in the guise of what? I marvel at the beauty of the democracy america gives the world not a country ruled by religious persons having an overiding interest in the destruction of Israel. America has been a blessing to the world than jihadistic countries that revel in blood. My country today is fighting a bloody insurgency by fanatical muslims and iran has been fingered and tried in our court of importing arms into it. Please get your facts right and dont play to the gallery. The real danger the world is facing today is not america is radical islam. GOOD DAY.

bill4
bill4

@SuperDooper 

Your voice of reason is apparently not very welcomed here judging from the comments.

I'd like all nukes turned into power plant fuel world wide - no exceptions.

I'd like someone to provide me with the logic used to say that Iran can't have a nuclear weapon and Israel can. I just read an article saying that Saudi Arabia has ordered nukes from Pakistan, and that it was done many years ago. They simply haven't taken delivery. Yet no one is up in arms over the Saudi's possibly acquiring nukes.

By what logic can one country possess these awful weapons and another can't?



mikevolze
mikevolze

@SuperDooper Just one thing, irregardless of all the bad stuff the West has done to Iran.  What justifies the mistreatment of their own people?  What justifies the funding of terrorists that take away mothers and fathers from their children? What justifies chanting death to America and Israel and the West? What justifies a regime that killed 30,000 in 1988 alone, and is on track to kill nearly a thousand people this year?  History may have treated Iran awful, but get real, the leadership deserves whatever pain is inflicted upon it, heck maybe they deserve it 10 times over.  The people, should be spared, but because of corrupt, psychotic, and cruel leadership, they're trapped.  Regime change isn't just a good idea for Iran, it's necessary should the Persian culture be able to survive the current leadership.

omaoildeirg
omaoildeirg

@Fitzwilliams The only country EVER to use nuclear weapons or threaten to use them is the US. When Kennedy threatened Khrushchev with attack he was very quick to back off when he realised Russia would reply with all its might. The US's dominance is a clear threat to world peace.

drudown
drudown

@Fitzwilliams 

Your logic is non sequitur. In the future, at least try "proposing" war mongering for an actual, credible threat. 

Iran?

Try to be serious.

mikevolze
mikevolze

@drudown The IAEA is currently unsure whether the Iranians have nuclear capabilities, why? Because Iran refuses to open its weapons facilities at Arak for inspection.  Check the latest ones out at the IAEA's site.

SuperDooper
SuperDooper

@bill4 @SuperDooper Unfortunately this is the case. MSM has been exceedingly efficient and effective at brainwashing the majority of the population. I agree with your logic and what you propose. But we are not in that ideal situation. It is better for Iran to have nuclear weapons and deter the war that inevitably will be imposed on them or prepare to die in millions. Nuclear weapons are ugly but their record at keeping peace is unmatched. Iran is a country that has not attacked another nation in the past 275 years (since the battle of Karnal). It would be a tragedy if they are to be maimed just because they did not have a dozen nuclear weapons. 

vorlons
vorlons

@bill4 @SuperDooper 

Precisely, if we applied some mathematical logic to the current abovementioned quagmire, then everything can be solved. Unfortunately the people dictating the terms, i.e the United States of America, seem to have one rule for them and another 99%-minus USA. I do not think this world needs nuclear weapons. The big 5 should put pressure on themselves to dismantle their nuclear stock piles. But they will not. The country that claims to lead others in values and freedom, ie the USA, is actually advancing and modernizing its nuclear arsenal. So sadly we will see more nations with nuclear, not less. Whilst everyone is focused on Iran, other nations can now start to build their own reactors..

vorlons
vorlons

@mikevolze @SuperDooper Firstly irregardless is not a word. Secondly you're asking people to ignore the bad stuff the 'west' has done to Iran, yet you're  also asking what justifies funding of terrorists. Which is stupid, it is like saying 'ignore the fact that white people enslaved blacks, why do blacks who were enslaved try to fight the slave masters'. Why were white people like you funding Al-Qaeda to fight the Soviets? Why were white people like you chanting "USA" and "INVADE IRAQ"? What Justifies an American regime that has killed up to a million Iraqis within a few years of invading. History may have treated Iran awful - what? History did not treat Iran awfully, white people like you did! You overthrew the democratically elected government of Iran in the 50's now your blabbering on about History mistreated them. No white people from America did. The same white people who ethnically cleansed the Indians and the same white people who enslaved the blacks. SO YOU GET REAL! You don't like the regime of Iran? Then don't go against the people! YEAH YEAH Regime change right.... Like you tried to do in Iraq, Afghanistan, Bolivia, Chile, Brazil, Panama, Vietnam, Korea, Cambodia and so on. I think YOU need a regime change. White people from America need to be removed from the decision making process because you lost the moral ground, much like Britain did in the last century.

Stop talking about the west... It was only America that had committed these crimes, I do not recall Finaland, Norway, Ireland, Sweden, Spain, etc.. attacking Iran.

SuperDooper
SuperDooper

@mikevolze @SuperDooper  What you have written is propaganda. US has killed and continues to kill more human beings than Iran can ever dream about. Half a million children in Iraq for example. So let's talk about truth here:

What justifies about 16000 children getting shot in US each year (more children get shot in US each year than in Iran, Pakistan, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Somalia and Egypt combined)? What justifies US to spy on all of its citizens and do arbitrary arrests? etc etc

adf
adf

@mikevolze @SuperDooper 

Check your fiction!

If you are concerned about Iranians and humanitarianism, as you seem to be, please campaign for stopping sanctions on medicine - it is killing hundreds of Iranians every month.

drudown
drudown

@mikevolze @drudown 

The ability of the United States and its aforementioned Allies to ascertain same is not so limited.

As noted above, when UN Sanction are in place to prevent nuclear proliferation, it is disingenuous at best to conflate Iran "dragging its heels" with an actual, discernible threat. 

Let me guess…leading up to the Iraq invasion you were prating on and on about a "mushroom cloud"; do I have that right?

"Wrong." 

/s/ Arnold, 'The Terminator'

adf
adf

@mikevolze @drudown 

Check your fiction!

IAEA is not charged with inspection of weapons facilities! 

mikevolze
mikevolze

@adf @mikevolze @SuperDooper Then maybe their leaders should give up before they kill more.  People blame the US for the sanctions, but Iran's actions are what brought them into being.