John Bolton says that Israel has only a few days to bomb the reactor near Bushehr, Iran, because the fuel rods are scheduled to be inserted soon, and once they are the reactor cannot be bombed without irradiating civilians. This is true. But a glance around the web suggests that his remarks are being widely misread.
Bolton is explicitly not saying that Israel is likely to bomb Bushehr this week — “I’m afraid that they’ve lost this opportunity,” he says when asked. And while he does seem to take a bomb-yesterday view, he is not saying (because, as he surely understands, it is not true) that the Iranian nuclear program becomes unstoppable when the Bushehr reactor comes online.
The Bushehr reactor is a light-water reactor, which makes it a less urgent threat than other pieces of Iran’s nuclear program. Arms control negotiators love light-water reactors, because extracting weapons-grade material from a light-water reactor is difficult, expensive, and impossible to do in secret. (By contrast, once the heavy-water reactor in Arak goes online, the Iranians will be able to pull plutonium out of it fairly easily, as the North Koreans have done at Yongbyon.)
In Jeffrey Goldberg’s cover story in the current Atlantic, where he concludes that there’s a better-than-even chance that Israel will bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities in the near future, he includes “possibly even the Bushehr reactor” among the targets — “possibly even” as in “not necessarily.” The Bushehr reactor isn’t necessarily a primary target because it is not a primary threat. So while it’s true that the Israelis have lost the opportunity to bomb Bushehr without spreading radiation, it was never a very important opportunity.