A while back, I posted an article over at Davids Medienkritik about the “Hiroshima fallacy,” the notion that an effective nuclear weapon must necessarily have a yield approaching that of the device dropped on Hiroshima. This assumption is, of course, absurd. For example, all a terrorist needs to do to have a highly effective nuclear device is to drop one chunk of fissile material on top of another to form a critical mass. Whether it explodes or not is a moot point. It will certainly produce a radioactive mess, likely to cost millions if not billions to decontaminate. A few bloggers noticed (for example, here and here), but, in general, outside of a few people who know better, when it comes to nuclear proliferation, the world continues to keep its collective head deeply buried in the sand.
According to the conventional wisdom, a nuclear weapon is an extremely complicated device, requiring technological and scientific skill, not to mention economic infrastructure, only available to a nation state. In fact, the only thing that needs to be available is special nuclear material (SNM), typically in the form of either highly enriched uranium (HEU) or weapons grade plutonium. Whether or not Iran is really seeking to acquire nuclear weapons or not, its nuclear program must be seen in that context.
There is an interesting article on the subject over at Wikipedia, although, as usual, it is subject to change from day to day depending on the political predilections of the last one to post. It appears that, as this post is written, many of the incorrigibly optimistic are convinced that Iran is not enriching uranium beyond the level required for the production of nuclear power, and, therefore, poses no nuclear threat. Unfortunately, once one of those nuclear reactors is run for a relatively short period, it produces enough plutonium to produce a bomb, and no high-tech centrifuges are needed to separate it. All it takes is someone with a reasonalble level of skill as a chemist.
As in the case of North Korea, I have no brilliant suggestions about how to deal with the Iranian threat or the problem of proliferation in general. I merely point out that the problem is growing worse, that tons of SNM are out there, and that, eventually, enough of it will get in the wrong hands to make a bomb. Whether the “wrong hands” are those of a rogue nation or a terrorist organization, the result will be as devastating as it is inevitable. It is merely a question of when.