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Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Iran May Actually Need Nuclear Energy

Iran has been saying that it's pursuing a nuclear program 'for peaceful purposes.' There are reasons not to believe this. With the fall of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, Iran stands a chance of becoming a dominant military force in the region -- the Israeli Defense Force being the only military that could match it. For all intents and purposes, the iraqi military, like Iraq itself, has become almost entirely theoretical. When people from the Bush administration talk about Iraq, they almost always talk about what will be, not what is. There is no is in Iraq.

Other reasons to think Iran may be working toward weaponizing its nuclear program are noises made by iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad about Israel. But Ahmadinejad's actually nobody. Iran has a sham democracy. Only candidates approved by the ruling clerics are allowed to run and, once elected, these people can't really initiate anything. Ahmadinejad exists to throw red meat to the crowd -- both for home consumption and regionally. He's a PR tool and a propaganda outlet. It's best to think of Ahmadinejad as the horoscope in the newspaper. He exists for entertainment purposes only.

Another reason to disbelieve in a peaceful nuclear program is that Iran has oil. Other than weapons, the only remaining applied use of nuclear technology would be generating electricity. Nations tend to use their most abundant resource to generate energy -- Iceland, for example, relies on geothermal. Because it's a land of hot springs and geysers.

So, you'd expect a nation like Iran to use oil for energy. But it turns out that they've probably already experienced peak oil. Without oil, they may see nuclear as the only way to generate enough electricity. Personally, I'd go go solar -- desert nations close to the equator would be nearly perfect in the sunshine department. But nuclear's advanced. Iran scored a lot of points at home by successfully enriching uranium. It's the shiny, big sciencey step toward being a big player in the world. To a nation that remembers the glory of Persia, it's a re-entry into the world as a power. Nuclear power is sexy and, in a country obsessed with appearances, sexy is good.

On that peak oil point:

Associated Press:

Iran is suffering a staggering decline in revenue from its oil exports, and if the trend continues income could virtually disappear by 2015, according to an analysis published Monday in a journal of the National Academy of Sciences.

Iran's economic woes could make the country unstable and vulnerable, with its oil industry crippled, Roger Stern, an economic geographer at Johns Hopkins University, said in the report and in an interview.

Iran earns about $50 billion a year in oil exports. The decline is estimated at 10 to 12 percent annually. In less than five years exports could be halved and then disappear by 2015, Stern predicted.

Not only could nuclear answer Iran's needs, but they could sell energy regionally. For all of nuclear's downsides -- it may be the most toxic of power sources -- it generates an incredible amount of energy per unit. Iran sells energy now and it needs to stay in that market. Or thinks it does, anyway.

So Iran may be doing exactly what she says she's doing, pursuing nuclear generating capacity. In fact, there's no reason to believe they're doing anything else.

BBC News:

The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has not found conclusive evidence that Iran is developing nuclear weapons, a US magazine has reported.

Veteran investigative reporter Seymour Hersh, writing in The New Yorker, cites a secret CIA report based on intelligence such as satellite images.

Correspondents say the alleged document appears to challenge Washington's views regarding Iranian nuclear intentions.

You can read Hersh's piece here.

Does the administration need one more scarecrow? I don't think so. We've got al Qaeda, we've got North Korea, we've got a lot of different groups blowing the living hell out of Iraq. We've got Somalia, we've got Darfur. If we need to freak people out, we've got enough. Our problem is that we've got a State Department that prefers to err on the side of paranoia. I've written about it before, but I can't find it in search engines (why doesn't Google grab every post?).

I call it 'Hard Ass About Everything Syndrome.' The syndrome works this way; you look at what any given group is doing, assume the worst, and punish them for it. Domestically, this gets us insane crap like the war on Christmas and the idea that gays are out to destroy families. It doesn't make any difference that it's obviously stupid, what matters is that we're fighting problems. Whether or not the problems actually exist is beside the point. Domestically, this is isn't really a problem -- the ginned up 'War on Christmas' gets idiots like Bill O'Reilly ratings, but most people don't really care.

But, globally, the problem is huge. Why do you think we're in Iraq? The urge toward overreaction in a diplomatic sense is disastrous. This 'Hard Ass About Everything' syndrome means that all you do is punish and never trust. And, so, faced with a nuclear program in a country we don't like, we get visions of mushroom clouds where there's actually no real reason to see them. Paranoids see threats everywhere.

What if we abandoned the punishment idea? What if we helped Iran develop other sources of energy? What if we did something that any other administration would've done and not set up Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to be a papier mache Stalin? What if we were sane?

As things are now, there's no real reason to believe that Iran's nuclear program is military. And, as this administration does so often, we're wasting an opportunity to make friends. We have a chance to be a positive force in a region where we desperately need to be seen as positive -- we can help.

But as long as we have a reactive, punishment based foreign policy, we can't help. We'll smack everyone with a hammer and wonder why they hate us.


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Anonymous said...

iran has some of the dirtiest oil reserves in the arab region. Oil is graded in how it cleans up when it is refined. My father worked in the industry, so this is from memory, but Iraqi oil is one of the highest grade oils in the region--at some 70% out of 100%.
Iran's oil grade has always been around 30%. Iran has less oil at a very low grade.
I understand their need for alternative power. i would prefer they try solar, but they are a very modern country and want to stay up to date. so far, they have complied the same as any country applying for nucleur power.
As for the persian comment: they are persian and may feel very seperate in ideology from their arab neighbors. So they are looking to stand on their own feet. maybe the US, (we) should offer the latest in solar and wind technology to bolster their needs and then go from there.

Wisco said...

Thanks for the extra info. It helps solidify my point, I think.

I brought up Persia because I wanted the reader to get a sense that iranians have good reason to feel national pride, regardless of the current government. From everything I've read, the average iranian on the street is as proud of having enriched uranium as americans were of the space program back in the sixties -- it's a big deal.