Saturday, February 21, 2009

Science Fiction Reaches New Heights....

...of respectability.

Sci-Fi used to inhabit the ghettoes of fiction and television--published in cheap magazines and running in series that tank after three seasons.

But no more. Kim Stanley Robinson and Octavia Butler have greater intellectual prestige than many writers of conventional fiction. Rolling Stone considers Battlestar Galactica the best show on television. And now, science fiction is in The New York Times.

Yes. The New York Times.

You see, the paper of record in the United States has been suggesting that Iran is dangerously close to being able to creat nuclear weapons. They don't come right out and say that. But they beat the drums to build up hysteria: "Iran Has More Enriched Uranium Than Thought," "209 kilograms more--an increase of a third." They let an anonymous UN official say the magic words: '“You have enough atoms” to make a nuclear bomb.'

Well guess what? It's just not true. Admittedly Iran is closer to developing nuclear weapons than NASA is to developing warp drive, but that's about it.

Sure, they've got more uranium than anyone thought. But for weapons purposes, it might as well be almond paste. Sure, everyone agrees that Iran has enough "low-enriched uranium" for a nuclear weapon, but you don't make weapons with "low-enriched uranium," you make it with high-enriched uranium (i.e., uranium that has about a 90% concentration of the isotope U-235. What Iran has is around 4%.). Now, according to the New York Times the latest IAEA report "suggests Iran is moving ahead briskly with uranium enrichment."

In other words, they don't really know what the Iranians are doing.

The guys who want or need (for whatever twisted reason) an Iranian nuclear bogeyman have another problem: Iranian uranium is full of impurities. A 2006 article in Science (refenced here at Science and Global Security), reported that Iran could not purify or enrich uranium to a weapons-grade level without foreign help.

Sure, China or Russia helping Iran develop weapons grade uranium is a scary prospect. But Iran is a country that seems to need technical help with everything, and they don't seem to have been getting it. They can't even launch missiles: doing it in Photoshop doesn't count.

So even if they do make a nuclear weapon, how are they going to launch it? Get the best power forward in the Iranian Basketball Super League to pick it up and toss it?

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