Monday, June 27, 2005

Going Nuclear

Iran's new ultra-conservative president on nuclear energy:

Hardline President-elect Mahmoud Ahmadinejad faced an uphill task on Monday to assuage concern in the West that he will adopt a tougher policy on Iran's nuclear program and roll back freedoms at home.

The ex-Tehran mayor, who defeated veteran politician Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani in a crushing election win on Friday, has adopted a conciliatory stance since the vote, vowing to continue nuclear talks with Europe and to lead a moderate government.

But his track record as a former member of the hardline Revolutionary Guards and outspoken commitment to the principles of the 1979 Islamic revolution have convinced some that what he says and how he will act may be very different.

"He's starting from a position of a confidence deficit," said one Iran analyst, who declined to be named.

"No matter what he says right now, people will assume the worst, even though what he's saying is not much different from what Rafsanjani would have said if he'd been elected or what the current government's position is."

Iran says it wants nuclear technology to generate electricity, not make bombs. It has agreed to freeze some nuclear work while it negotiates a long-term arrangement with the EU, talks on which are due to resume in August.

Meanwhile, in the U.S.:

The Bush administration is planning the government's first production of plutonium 238 since the cold war, stirring debate over the risks and benefits of the deadly material. The substance, valued as a power source, is so radioactive that a speck can cause cancer.

Federal officials say the program would produce a total of 330 pounds over 30 years at the Idaho National Laboratory, a sprawling site outside Idaho Falls some 100 miles to the west and upwind of Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. Officials say the program could cost $1.5 billion and generate more than 50,000 drums of hazardous and radioactive waste.

Project managers say that most if not all of the new plutonium is intended for secret missions and they declined to divulge any details. But in the past, it has powered espionage devices.

"The real reason we're starting production is for national security," Timothy A. Frazier, head of radioisotope power systems at the Energy Department, said in a recent interview.

The two countries share some other things too. Like wingnuts.