Radioactive fallout is likely if Iran is hit, study says
By Howard Altman | Tampa Tribune, Fla. | Published: October 8, 2012
One day after the 11th anniversary of the start of the war in Afghanistan, let's turn our attention to that nation's neighbor to the west — Iran.
Iran is kind of hard to ignore, really, especially here in Tampa, where a good number of people in the headquarters of U.S. Central Command are busy looking at the threats from and to that nation.
As concerns about the potential for a nuclear-armed Iran grow and, along with it, the potential for an Israeli pre-emptive attack to prevent what the Israelis consider an existential threat from becoming a reality, what's the fallout?
According to a recent study by The University of Utah's Hinckley School of Politics and Omid for Iran, exactly that.
Among other consequences, enough radioactive fallout to kill about as many people as perished in Nagasaki.
As I have done in the past, I want to take a look at the consequences of a military engagement before it happens, especially considering that we are still embroiled in Afghanistan and Iraq remains a mess.
Previously, I have looked at what a war with Iran would mean from our perspective. Now let's look at it from the Iranian perspective. And let me preface this by saying that by pursuing its nuclear ambitions while wreaking havoc in the Middle East and threatening the existence of a well-armed and nervous Israel, the Iranian government is complicit in anything that happens.
The study is called "The Ayatollah's Nuclear Gamble." It was authored by Khosrow B. Semnani. Foreign Policy describes him as "a scientist (who) went to 'considerable lengths' to make his model as realistic as the available data allows" and who "funded his own research."
Lambasting Ayatollah Khamenei for putting his own people at risk by locating nuclear facilities so close to population centers, the report lays out what could happen if those sites are attacked.
With the International Atomic Energy Agency verifying "an inventory of at least 371 metric tons of highly toxic uranium hexafluoride stored at Iran's nuclear facilities," Semnani argues that "the release of this material at sites that are only a few miles from major population centers such as Isfahan warrants a thorough and comprehensive assessment of the potential risks to thousands of civilians living in the vicinity of Iran's nuclear sites."
Even conventional bombing of nuclear installations "can be far more devastating than nuclear and industrial accidents such as Chernobyl, Fukushima, Three Mile Island or Bhopal," Semnani writes. "The damage from strategic aerial bombardment is planned to be total and irreversible. It leaves no time for intervention, no chance for evacuation and no possibility for containment."
What does this mean?
"It is highly likely that the casualty rate at the physical sites will be close to 100 percent," Semnani writes. "Assuming an average two-shift operation, between 3,500 and 5,500 people would be present at the time of the strikes, most of whom would be killed or injured as a result of the physical and thermal impact of the blasts. If one were to include casualties at other targets, one could extrapolate to other facilities, in which case the total number of people killed and injured could exceed 10,000."
That's just at the facilities.
"The risks to civilians extend well beyond those killed from exposure to thermal and blast injuries at the nuclear sites," argues Semnani. "Tens, and quite possibly, hundreds of thousands of civilians could be exposed to highly toxic chemical plumes and, in the case of operational reactors, radioactive fallout."
Israel is looking at developments in Iran through the prism of George Patton's famous rationale that you win wars not by dying for your country, but by making the other side die for theirs. Given that, Semnani's conclusion is both hopeful and potentially tragic.
"In the long run, neither a nuclear deal with Iran, nor military strikes would generate a satisfactory long-term solution to the nuclear impasse," according to Semnani. "Ayatollah Khamenei — the most powerful man in Iran today — can always renege on a nuclear deal and strikes might even strengthen his grip on power.
"A military strike would not only kill thousands of civilians and expose tens and possibly hundreds of thousands to highly toxic chemicals, it would also have a devastating effect on those who dream of democracy in Iran," Semnani writes. "Ayatollah Khamenei has proven that he cares little for the Iranian people. It is up to us in the international community, including the Iranian-American diaspora to demonstrate that we do."
For the sake of everyone, here's hoping that happens.
Seven troops were killed last week in Afghanistan:
Sgt. Camella M. Steedley, 31, of San Diego, Calif., died Oct. 3 while supporting combat operations in Helmand province, Afghanistan. She was assigned to Combat Logistics Regiment 17, 1st Marine Logistics Group, I Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Pendleton, Calif.
Sgt. 1st Class Daniel T. Metcalfe, 29, of Liverpool, N.Y., died Sept. 29 in Sayyid Abad, Afghanistan, of injuries suffered when his unit was attacked with small arms fire. The incident is under investigation. He was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, Caserma Ederle in Vicenza, Italy.
Sgt. Thomas J. Butler IV, 25, of Wilmington, N.C.; Sgt. Jeremy F. Hardison, 23, of Maysville, N.C., and Sgt. Donna R. Johnson, 29, of Raeford, N.C., died Oct. 1 in Khost, Afghanistan, of injuries suffered when an insurgent detonated a suicide vest while they were on dismounted patrol. The soldiers were assigned to the 514th Military Police Company, 60th Troop Command, Winterville, N.C.
Sgt. 1st Class Aaron A. Henderson, 33, of Houlton, Maine, died Oct. 2 at Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when insurgents attacked his unit Sept. 30 with an explosive device in Zombalay Village, Afghanistan. He was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne), Fort Campbell, Ky.
Sgt. 1st Class Riley G. Stephens, 39, of Tolar, Texas, died Sept. 28 in Wardak, Afghanistan, of wounds sustained from enemy small arms fire. Stephens was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne), Fort Bragg, N.C.
There have now been 2,116 deaths in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, the nation's longest war.
Howard Altman is Senior Writer at The Tampa Tribune