Jeffrey LewisUN Clears Iran on Beryllium

Beryllium (Be) from Element Displays

US intelligence reports that Iran imported large quantities of beryllium, which can be combined with polonium-210 (Po-210) to initiate a nuclear chain reaction, appear to be false.

The revelation undermines a key claim used by the Bush Administration to raise questions about Iran’s intentions and the integrity of IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei.

Western diplomats told Reuters that an investigation conducted by the United Nations concludes that Iranian firms linked to Iran’s defense industry attempted to purchase significant quantities of beryllium in the early 1990s from five countries — Russia, China, Germany, Kazakhstan and Britain.

Iran succeeded in obtaining only a trivial amount, from Britain. “The only known successful import of beryllium by Iran was a few grams purchased in Britain,” one diplomat told Reuters, “It appears all of the other attempts were foiled. There is no evidence that they succeeded.”

BBC Radio 4 previously disclosed that Iran had received an export license for the British beryllium import.

Iran does not appear to have attempted to acquire the metal in the past decade.

Arms Control Wonk blogged in December about efforts by diplomats to use allegations that Iran was stockpiling beryllium to raise suspicion about Tehran’s intentions and impugn IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei’s integrity:

Anonymous intelligence sources tell Reuters that Tehran purchased large amounts of beryllium, which can be used to initiate the chain reaction in a nuclear device. The allegation provided anonymous diplomats (including one U.S. diplomat) the opportunity to tell Reuters that “the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency knew about it but had withheld the information from the IAEA board of governors.”

I guess we can add “beryllium” to the growing list of phrases (aluminum tubes, documents relating to the sales of uranium from Niger) that have become shorthand for incompetence and deception. ElBaradei’s decision to remove the reference, in retrospect, looks rather sensible.


The right-wing noise machine also has egg on its face. The Washington Times said the allegation raises troubling new questions about Mr. ElBaradei’s leadership, while WorldNet Daily called the allegation a smoking gun. Or not.

Should I hold my breath waiting for retractions?