Uranium Without An Amusement Park Ride Is Like Tinkerbell Without ParisS

Back by popular demand, it's "That's so Jane's!" where we apply the snarky Valley Girl charm of our beloved dead magazine 'Jane' to questions pondered by the types of people who read 'Jane's', the "defence" publication that basically to the military industrial complex what WWD is to the celebrity sartorial complex. Your interviewer is Wonkette's Anonymous Lobbyist, and her subject is Joshua Foust, editor of Registan.net, a blog devoted to all things Central Asia and holder of a day job somewhere in the MIC. He's kind of squirrelly like that, and he refused to get too trashed with Anonymous on account of "security clearance" or something, but she wheedled out the truth on subjects ranging from Borat to plutonium by applying a dollop of something the pros call the "Mystery Method"...They should maybe look into it at Guantanamo!


Anonymous Lobbyist:So like, the drinking thing. Central Asia is Muslim, but it's also sort of like, Russian. What's their stance on drinking?
Foust: They do it. Some even eat pork. They're Muslim the way we're Catholic.
Anonymous Lobbyist: Yeah, like even Jenna Jameson is Catholic, did you know that?
Foust: No.
Anonymous Lobbyist: Ok, anyway, do you ever get jokes about being part of the Military Industrial Complex, you know, because of your name?
Foust: You mean the Goethe play?
Anonymous Lobbyist: No I mean the "bargain" thing.
Foust: Um.


Anonymous Lobbyist: Just playing! But seriously, what does Central Asia have going for it that the average Jezebel reader couldn't learn from Borat?
Foust: Borat is kind of like a cockroach- he winds up everywhere, but he's really unwelcome. One of the only realistic things in that movie was when he tried to abduct Pamela Anderson. Bride-napping is actually a serious problem in Kyrgyzstan, and, to a lesser extent, is Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan.
Anonymous Lobbyist: Wow. That sucks. Probably most of those kidnappers aren't wealthy Oxford-educated Jews, either.
Foust: That's a safe bet!

But, seriously, Central Asia is one of the last frontiers in energy. It's run by power-hungry psychopaths. Many of the countries that we as a nation worry about - Russia, China and Iran - are building good relationships there that are perhaps not in America's best interests.
Anonymous Lobbyist: Ooooh, tell me about the power hungry psychopaths!
Foust: Well, Turkmenistan used to be ruled by a egomaniac who named months of the year after himself, and constructed a series of enormous golden statues of himself, one of which would always rotate to face the sun. Uzbekistan is ruled by a man now known for boiling dissidents in oil while they're alive; he also made a few headlines in 2005 when his troops murdered several hundred people in the city of Andijon who had come to protest his rule and economic policies. His term actually ended in January, but he still hasn't hasn't scheduled an election.
Anonymous Lobbyist: But they keep a lid on terrorism that way!
Foust: Well yes. As long as you aren't a journalist you can live a mostly normal life in Kazakhstan (Almaty, with a population pushing close to 2 million, actually has a thriving gay scene), Kyrgyzstan, and the big cities of Tajikistan. It is just desperately poor and still isolated — that is the real challenge, in addition to not being tortured and murdered.


Anonymous Lobbyist: So tell me about the oil. As a wise sixteen year old once said, "Oil is money, daddy." How much do they have?
Foust: Central Asia will produce somewhere around 1/10 of the energy OPEC produces (4 million barrels per day versus OPEC's 45). There are rumors that Kazakhstan is sitting on almost as much oil as Kuwait, but much of it is still unexplored thanks to the politics of foreign companies (an Italian firm, Eni, just had its lease on the Kashagan field revoked for "environmental violations," but most likely there were political shenanigans behind it). In the grand scheme of things, Central Asia doesn't have all that much oil or natural gas, but it isn't Arab, and finding non-Arab sources, even when controlled by guys like Hugo Chavez, is considered preferable.


Anonymous: Wait, which reminds me: I keep hearing nukes are hot again.
Foust: Well, take Iran. Their oil infrastructure is so dilapidated they will become net importers by about 2015 or so — and they realized it is cheaper to build nuclear reactors than to upgrade their entire pumping, distribution, and refinery network. And coming back to Central Asia, Kazakhstan has uranium.
Anonymous: And butt sex! So like, what's the difference between uranium and plutonium?
Foust: 2 protons.
Anonymous: Are they both on the periodic table?
Foust: Yes, Plutonium 94. Uranium is 92
Anonymous: So they're two spots apart, just like they're two protons apart! Is that a coincidence?
Foust: No.


Anonymous:Are there any other differences?
Foust: Functionally, plutonium is only useful for weapons, while uranium can also be used for power generation. And refined uranium, into an isotope called 235 (if I recall right) is also really only used for weapons.
Anonymous: Okay, so who has plutonium. Like North Korea and who else?
Foust: Well, we don't really know. North Korea does operate centrifuges, but those are for separating weaponizable Uranium out of regular uranium. Iran also has a centrifuge system set up, but it's of dubious quality.
Anonymous:Wait, centrifuge. Am I right to say that is like the amusement park ride where you spin around and stick to the walls and throw up on yourself?
Foust: Yes, they spin around uranium gas until the heavier atoms sink to the bottom and the top can be siphoned off.
Anonymous: Okay, so uranium alone, without centrifuges, is like Chanel, without Lagerfeld. Tinkerbell without Paris. Nicole without Rachel Zoe.
Foust: Right.
Anonymous:Okay, an Kazakhstan made all their old centrifuges into gravitron rides or something.

Foust: Yes. Kazakhstan has a significant supply of uranium, and just negotiated a deal with Russia to create a sort of World Bank for Uranium. It is meant to establish firm market and supply rates for the global nuclear power industry—like a better way of tracking who is getting their hands on what, as well as establishing a central locus of expertise. It would also conveniently allow Iran to build nuclear reactors that could not be used to produce weapons-grade fissile material. A Kazakh firm, KazAtomProm, was also going to buy a 10% stake in Westinghouse (a nuclear reactor construction company) from Toshiba... but it's been held up in frankly ignorant complaints about proliferation and environmental degradation considering Kazakhstan voluntarily dismantled all of its nuclear weapons in the early 90s.
Anonymous Lobbyist: So it sounds like a pretty good place to find fuel for our clothes dryers and stuff! What are our enlightened, forward-thinking defense and diplomatic corps doing about it?
Foust: That's funny. This is actually a pet peeve of mine. In Turkmenistan especially, but really in the whole region, the U.S. has kind of lain down and dozed off. After 9/11, the region was our jumping-off point to Afghanistan, and the politics and leaders in the regions were lavished with diplomatic, defensive and financial attention. With the invasion of Iraq, Central Asia has become a back burner issues and no one at the top seems to care any longer. Meanwhile, other countries are sending their heads of state and key diplomats to talk trade and oil deals, and we're sending assistant undersecretaries of state to talking basing rights [for military bases].
Anonymous Lobbyist:: So, basically, we're not doing jack about anything there while some of our biggest strategic competitors for both oil and global/regional dominance are locking up mineral rights and preferential trade access?
Foust: Actually, yes. See, the Middle East is an unattractive place to buy oil- it's messy, violent and really annoying diplomatically. It's been that way for a long time, and will continue to be that was as long as we care. Central Asia is easier in that sense- despite the scary rhetoric of the dictators, there's not much terrorism, the leaders are (relatively speaking) fairly rational, and the cultures are generally America-friendly at the moment. But, we're squandering our opportunities in the region. By the time we get finished in Iraq and finally start possibly paying attention to Central Asia again, Russia, China and Iran will have already gotten diplomatic concessions, mineral rights, trade deals and cultural influences - everything that we would have wanted the U.S. to gain in the region, except democratization


Anonymous Lobbyist::Well that sounds like exactly the way our government would fuck shit up- another day, another set of international priorities, another region of the world that we'll choose to ignore at our own peril until it's too late to do anything but bomb it.
Foust: Pretty much, yeah.

Earlier: "Miss Universe" As A Metaphor For Geopolitics