New York (Jun. 24)
Two nuclear experts here agreed today that, at its present rate of development, Iraq would have been able to manufacture an atomic bomb within three years if its nuclear reactor had not been destroyed by Israeli aircraft June 7.
However, a discrepancy emerged between the two experts as to whether Iraq had such nuclear technological ability and, as a signator of the Nonproliferation Treaty, whether Iraq could have carried on such a clandestine operation without detection by International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors.
The experts — Dr. Herbert Kouts, chairman of the energy department at the Brookhaven National Laboratory and a member of IAEA, and Dr. Herbert Goldstein, professor of nuclear science and engineering at Columbia University — addressed a conference on Iraq’s nuclear weapons capabilities, sponsored by the American Professors for Peace in the Middle East.
Kouts contended that the processing stage of extracting plutonium, a key component in atomic weapons production, from uranium that has been exposed to neutrons within the reactor was a stage in weapons production that could have easily been achieved by Iraq. But he said the second stage of converting the plutonium to a metal form essential to atomic weapons development was more difficult. He added “this is a competence well beyond most countries.” He said Iraq’s “objectives” had to be compared with the “realities” of its nuclear technological skills.
Meanwhile, Goldstein said he found it difficult to see Iraq’s type of research reactor being used for peaceful purposes, noting that it “was entirely too large and powerful to be used for medical purposes.” He said that in this country, a research reactor for medical purposes is somewhere between 1/20 and 1/50 the size of the reactor being built in Iraq.