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34°4'48" N, 49°42'0" E.

Arak is not an old city, though it is the capital of the Markazi Province, one of the oldest settled areas on the Iranian plateau.

Arak, Iran.

That white patch in the upper-right is a sometime lake and salt-flat, if I’m remembering correctly. It’s the Kavir-e Mighan (or Miqan, or Miyqan, or MeiQan, depending), except this page says it’s the Shur Gel. I don’t remember; I do remember seeing plumes of dust rising hundreds of feet into a hard blue-white sky, the only sign of a convoy of trucks driving across it, lost somewhere in the shimmering heat-haze.

Arak, Iran.

There’s a university in Arak, now: the Islamic Azad University of Arak, founded in 1985, some 23,000 students, degrees in drama, agricultural science, Islamic theology, English literature. —Actually, there’s several universities: the Arak University of Medical Sciences, the University of Arak, the Tarbiat Moallem University of Arak, a campus of the Iran University of Science and Technology. I don’t know how old any of those are. I don’t remember any of them; I remember a small town and dust and open sewers and the incongruities of an American-style suburb thrown up away from all that, platted blocks of yellow grass and red-brick houses and the high-rise apartment towers off over that way.

Arak, Iran.

If I’m remembering correctly, the suburbs were at the southern end of Arak; we looked out on the mountains to the south and west. We’d drive up there and go tromping about. I spelled my name in flat rocks with letters taller than myself in the snow, but when we got back in the car and drove back down to our house and I got out and looked back, I couldn’t see them. When we went out into the country for the last day of Nawruz, I remember it looked a lot like this:

Somewhere outside Arak, 30 years ago.

And I remember we could look out the window of our car and see farmers threshing wheat the way they had for centuries:

Threshing wheat outside Arak, 30 years ago.

But if nothing changed for centuries, a lot can happen in thirty years.

Arak, Iran.

Thirty miles to the northwest these days there’s a brand-new heavy water production plant. Heavy water is water made with deuterium atoms, rather than simple, light-water hydrogen; it’s used to moderate neutrons in nuclear reactors that run off natural uranium, rather than enriched uranium. Just the ticket if you’re trying to get a nuclear program off the ground.

I haven’t seen the list of 400 possible sites the president plans to attack in Iran, but I can tell you the Arak heavy water facility is on it. I don’t know if it’s hardened enough to require a nuclear bomb. If so, it’ll (probably) be a B61-11, which could generate between 25,000 and 1.5 million tons of radioactive debris—depending on the yield “dialed in”—some thirty miles northwest of a house I lived in, thirty years ago.

The 100 KT Sedan nuclear explosion, one of the Plowshares excavation tests, was buried at a depth of 635 feet.

If not, it’ll just take a lot of conventional ordnance. —And I know, I know: who cares? The Russians loved their children, too. So did the Iraqis.

I just can’t help but take this personally. I’m only human.

—cross-posted to Sisyphus Shrugs

  1. Kevin Moore    Apr 10, 12:34 AM    #

    Not only have you made me feel incredibly sad and worried, but I now feel incredibly old.

  2. Professor Zero    Apr 10, 12:41 PM    #

    Brilliant post. I had been hoping they wouldn’t really do this, but you make it so concrete.

  3. anonymous    Apr 10, 12:44 PM    #

    not that it makes much difference, but… from that satellite photo, i don’t see anything in the heavy water plant that looks especially hardened. i see a well with a derrick, that probably pumps water out of the ground for raw materials; a bunch of oil-refinery-like towers that probably do much of the actual processing; and a pipeline coming out of the ground at the right-hand edge, with terminal building attached, that could be natural gas (or oil) to power the whole thing. everything looks to be above ground, so plain old explosives should be able to level it all… along, of course, with everybody in and around it at the time. :-(

  4. Kip Manley    Apr 10, 12:57 PM    #

    That photo’s from February of 2004; I don’t know what they might have done since then. Maybe little enough. (What small mercies!) —Also, there’s a 40MW reactor to be built somewhere in Arak, apparently. Don’t know where or how far along or what, at all, about that.

  5. almostinfamous    Apr 10, 10:23 PM    #

    it’s so easy to toss around terms like ‘strategic nuclear strike’ and ‘collateral damage’ and all the emotionally neutered, focus-grouped pentagon jargon when you have never been near to the targeted area, never spoken with it’s people, never understood their traditions or customs or where they’re coming from. seems the global village hasn’t prohibited us from dehumanizing the enemy far more efficiently

    it looks more likely that someone, even if not iran (grenada? paraguay?) is going to get their country invaded with no provocation whatsoever.
    and even if there is no more violence now, the bush admin must go to the dock for war crimes.

    if they do invade/bomb iran, god help us all.

  6. Kip Manley    Jan 3, 04:03 AM    #

    Arak, Iran.

    Arak, Iran.

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