The government of Iran has garnered a lot of negative international attention in recent times. When the country’s outspoken President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, isn’t making provocative remarks to the media, the Islamic republic has come under increasing scrutiny over accusations of uranium enrichment for not-so-peaceful purposes. However, it appears that uranium may not be the only technology being developed by the Iranian’s that is causing American officials anxiety.
According to a recent article in the Economist, Iran happens to be good, very good, at developing what is known as “ultra-high performance concrete” (UHPC). Because of its geographical position, the county is under constant threat of earthquakes. The most devastating earthquake in recent memory occurred in the city of Bam, located in southern Iran, and claimed the lives of 30,000 people. As a result, Iranian engineers have developed – out of necessity – some of the toughest and most rigid building materials in the world.
So how does Iranian concrete standout? Well, unlike conventional concrete, Iranian concrete is mixed with quartz powder and special fibers – transforming it into high performance concrete that can withstand higher pressure with increased rigidity. What this all translates to is excellent building material given the environment that has found peaceful applications like the construction of safer bridges, dams, tunnels, increasing the strength of sewage pipes, and even absorbing pollution.
Why so much fuss over Iranian concrete? According to the article, US defense secretary Leon Panetta is worried that should a conflict escalate, American bunker-busters may not be able to penetrate Iran’s deepest bunkers should UHPC be employed for military purposes.
And therein lays the issue with any dual-use technologies that carry both civilian and military applications. Technology like UHPC could be used to protect underground facilities from bombardment, which could pose a real headache for military endeavors into Iran.
Of course should tensions continue to rise, military operations into Iran become a reality, and penetrating underground bunkers prove problematic, America’s Defence Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) — an organization that has been investigating UHPC since 2008 – says that various other avenues could be explored such as deploying robotic warhead-carrying snakes, destroying electrical systems, or bombing entrances to these facilities shut. With any luck though, it won’t come to that.