'Iran strike won't lead to civilian disaster'

Israeli expert challenges claim radioactive fallout from strike on nuclear sites will lead to humanitarian catastrophe.

Interior of Bushehr nuclear plant 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Stringer Iran)
Interior of Bushehr nuclear plant 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Stringer Iran)
An Israeli nuclear expert has challenged claims by an Iranian-American philanthropist and industrialist that a military strike on Iran will lead to an environmental and humanitarian catastrophe.
Ephraim Asculai, a senior research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, published a response essay to a paper by Khosrow Bayegan Semnani, based in Salt Lake City, who claimed last year that radioactive fallout from military strikes on Iranian nuclear sites could leave up to 70,000 Iranians dead.
Asculai, who worked for the Israel Atomic Energy Commission for over 40 years, mainly on issues of nuclear and environmental safety, said the rubble produced by air strikes, combined with the fact that the targeted facilities are underground, would minimize damage to the site’s surroundings.
“Although it is not possible to foresee the consequences of direct hits on Iranian underground facilities, it is reasonable to assess that either the underground facilities will be penetrated and exploded from within, or hit, and collapse into the inner cavities and turn into piles of rubble, or with their innards at least gravely harmed. These piles of rubble would act as filters, with their greater surface areas holding onto or reacting with the materials released within, and thus preventing the major contents from escaping to the atmosphere and causing grave environmental harm,” Asculai said in his essay published last week.
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Semnani’s assumptions which led him to the figure of 70,000 casualties, are based on a “ground level, unprotected source, with the entire inventory in the liquid state. This certainly is beyond a worst case scenario,” Asculai said.
While the Natanz and Fordow uranium enrichment facilities are potential targets, the Bushehr nuclear reactor is not, Asculai affirmed, adding, “No one in his right mind would consider striking an operating nuclear power reactor.”
At Natanz and Fordow, a compound called uranium hexafluoride (UF6) is being enriched. Asculai said UF6 is kept in containers in mostly solid form, with a small quantity of gas at the top.
“Under normal conditions, if the container is ruptured, very small quantities of gas will escape to the environment and can cause injuries or even death to the workers at hand, but not to anyone beyond an immediate, circumscribed distance from the source,” Asculai said.
Asculai also challenged Semnani’s argument that regime change in Iran should form the main strategy to solve the nuclear crisis.
“Not only could there be no guarantee of this change, but it could also be so delayed that it would give the present Iranian regime time to produce nuclear weapons that would be a game changer for all concerned.
It is also not inconceivable that the present Iranian regime would resort to the actual use of nuclear weapons, should it consider it beneficial to do so,” Asculai wrote.