Jeffrey LewisIranian Nuclear Weapons Errata

Apologies for the light blogging. Things are settling down here in Cambridge, so I should be back to a regular schedule.

Elaine Shannon, writing in Time, answers another question that I had about the data on that purloined Iranian laptop, specifically about the size of the notional nuclear device in the plans for the Shahab 3 nosecone.

The question was whether the Iranians were working with a realistic estimate of the size and mass of a first generation Iranian bomb.

Paul already confirmed, from US intelligence sources, that the answer was no, the space is too small for a likely Iranian device.

But Shannon actually gives us some numbers on the “device”—it is about 0.6 meters in diamater, with a mass of 200 kg (would it have killed Time to publish the estimate in metric?):

They do, however, have diagrams that they believe show components of a nuclear bomb. According to a Western diplomat familiar with the U.S. intel brief, a Farsi-language PowerPoint presentation on the laptop has “catchy graphics,” including diagrams of a hollow metallic sphere 2 ft. in diameter and weighing about 440 lbs. Other documents show a sphere-shaped array of tiny detonators. No file specifically refers to a nuclear bomb, but U.S. officials say the design of the sphere—an outer shell studded with small chemical-explosive charges meant to detonate inward, which would squeeze an inner core of material into a critical mass—is akin to that of classic devices like Fat Man, the atom bomb dropped on Nagasaki during World War II. “Because of the size and weight and the power source going into it and height-of-burst requirements,” says the diplomat, Western experts have concluded that the design “is only intended to contain a nuclear weapon. There’s no other munition which would work.” A report issued last week by Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), says Iranian officials have dismissed a number of the laptop documents as fabricated.

No way Iran can build a weapon that small.


Do engineers do serious design work in PowerPoint? And what do we mean by “catchy graphics”? We talkin’ animation here?

Finally, is there no corner of the earth shielded from this evil, awful medium? I always figured Iran was, you know, a pretty safe bet for being shielded from the corrupting aspects of post-industrial capitalism.


I’ve created my own imagined Iranian Powerpoint presentation. It’s pretty tame (see it here).

I am taking submissions from readers. The best three “Iranian laptop powerpoint presentations” will get posted on the blog. The judging committee is, um … me, Paul and someone to be named later.


  1. James W (History)

    There are a lot of tough questions to be asked about the “laptop of death.” So far I’m given to understand it contains information on a warhead that won’t work for a bomb they can’t build. If it was supplied to the government by a dissident group then we have plenty of motive for deception. It’s hard to believe we’re heading down the same road all over again.

  2. Mark

    Where do we send our submissions? I hope this contest isn’t a joke, I gave up my precious Spider Solitaire time yesterday to, umm, “uncover” this “intelligence”.

  3. Jeffrey Lewis (History)

    To me. Jeffrey

  4. Jeffrey Lewis (History)


    “Laptop of Death”

    Totally, the way all Wonk postings will refer to it from now on.

    Thank you, James W.

  5. Yale Simkin (History)

    Dr. J wrote:
    “The question was whether the Iranians were working with a realistic estimate of the size and mass of a first generation Iranian bomb.”

    Why is the assumption being made that the putative a-bomb is “first generation”?

    This ppt file could be (if real) a sexy presentation of an overview of future potential projects, including a 2nd or 3rd generation device.

    The first generation device would be a better fit for the classic “dunce cap” nosecone variant, and may be already assumed by the author.

    Who knows? But is may be best not to make our assumptions our conclusions.