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Iran Says Will Build a Nuclear Submarine—But Can It?

Iran has announced plans to start building its first nuclear submarine—a piece of advanced military technology that only the most powerful nations on earth are even able to construct—and which runs on uranium enriched to such a level that it can double as the fuel source for a nuclear bomb.

Iranian military personnel place a national flag on a submarine during the 'Velayat-90' navy exercises in the Strait of Hormuz in southern Iran on January 3, 2012, the End day of ten-day war games. Iran's military warned one of the US navy's biggest aircraft carriers to keep away from the Gulf, in an escalating showdown over Tehran's nuclear drive that could pitch into armed confrontation
Ebrahim Noroozi | AFP | Getty Images
Iranian military personnel place a national flag on a submarine during the 'Velayat-90' navy exercises in the Strait of Hormuz in southern Iran on January 3, 2012, the End day of ten-day war games. Iran's military warned one of the US navy's biggest aircraft carriers to keep away from the Gulf, in an escalating showdown over Tehran's nuclear drive that could pitch into armed confrontation

Olli Heinonen, former chief nuclear inspector for the United Nations, said that “such submarines often use HEU (highly enriched uranium),” yet due to international opposition to Iran’s nuclear program, foreign nations will be reluctant to supply them with the HEU needed. Iran will then be able to “cite the lack of foreign fuel suppliers as further justification for continuing on its uranium enrichment path.”

Any step that Iran takes along such a path will certainly increase global suspicions and destroy any progress made during negotiations that have been taking place with the UN. It could even lead closer to a military confrontation, which could devastate the global oil market.

[Commentary From Oilprice.com: Why the Iran Oil Embargo Is a Big Flop]

Many experts doubt Iran’s capability to build a nuclear submarine. Mark Fitzpatrick, director of the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, flatly stated that “there is no way that Iran could build a nuclear-powered submarine.”

Shashank Joshi, a Middle East specialist at the Royal United Services Institute, said that “Iran is using this submarine announcement to create bargaining leverage. It can negotiate away these 'plans' for concessions, or use the plans as a useful pretext for its enrichment activity.”

—This story originally appeared on Oilprice.com.

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