Jeffrey LewisDetonation Chamber at Parchin


Some commentators are annoyed that I haven’t written much about Iran.  In my defense, I now direct a nonproliferation program focused on East Asia.  Still, they have a point.  This post is a small step in that direction.

I wanted to write about the “detonation tank” reportedly at Parchin in Iran, where Iran may have carried out some nuclear weapons work.  I am conflicted about the appearance of this information in the press.  On the one hand, I believe Iran had a covert nuclear weapons program through 2003 and that Parchin was almost certainly part of that effort.  On the other hand, designing an arrangement under which Iran chooses to possess a bomb option rather than an actual bomb is a meditation about what happens in the future.  The past is, perhaps, prologue.  But not much more: Any deal with Iran is going to have to include either an amnesty for past weapons work or, at least, an agreement to not look to closely into Iran’s past activities.

There is an argument that documenting Iran’s pre-2003 weapons program is an important means of putting pressure on the regime in Tehran.  But focusing on the past can be counterproductive.  Some Western voices want to focus on the past to prevent an agreement with Iran.  The Iranians, too, want to focus on the past — hoping for a clean bill of health while avoiding current and future nuclear activities that are of the most concern to the international community.

It’s an interesting problem.  We certainly can’t ignore evidence of past nuclear weapons work in Iran, but nor can we leave our future at the mercy of debates about Iran did more ten years ago.  I don’t have much to say about how to strike that balance, although I think Mark Fitzpatrick’s little essay on the “Parchin Trap” starts to surface some of these tensions.


Let’s be clear about what this image is, and what it is not.  This is a visualization “based on information from a person who had seen the chamber at the Parchin military site.”

There is nothing untoward about using verbal descriptions to create images, although the authors should label them clearly and, as consumers, we need to remember that one can make a pretty drawings of unicorns, mobile bioweapons trailers and other things that do not exist. If the IAEA or the US intelligence community produced this image, they should say so.

Alright boys, let's rub two sticks together.

There are some curious aspects of the drawing.  The doors caught my attention.  I have not made a comprehensive survey of large “detonation tanks,” but every image I have seen involves a more robust method to seal off the chamber.  You know the colloquialism “blow the doors off,” right?  Well, I suspect that’s why explosive chambers don’t usually have doors.

Then there is the issue of the scale.  According to the Associated Press, the diameter of the tank is 4.6 meters.  This is not a typo, since the diameter agrees with the stated volume of tank.  By my reckoning, that makes the apparent door about 1.2 meters tall — a little under 4 feet.  Unless the Iranians are using Oompa Loompas to build nuclear weapons, I have some questions.

(Totally off topic, but this still absolutely looks like an Oompa Loompa handling a pit, right?)


Having said that, we have pretty decent evidence that the Iranians must have some sort of detonation chamber on site at Parchin.

Most of that evidence surrounds one Vyacheslav Danilenko, a high explosives expert from the Soviet nuclear weapons complex, who seems to have confirmed to the IAEA that he was in Iran from 1996-2002.

For all you ever wanted to know about Danilenko: Paul-Anton Krueger wrote a 2010 profile of Danilenko — identifying him with the psuedonym ” Viktor Cherenkov”  — in Sueddeutsche Zeitung. Erich Follath and Holger Stark wrote a similar profile a month later in Der Speigel, identifying Danilenko as “Wjatscheslaw D.”  (The full text of both stories are available in the comments.) After an IAEA report highlighted the role of a “foreign expert”  in 2011 — and the usual sources fingered Danilenko as that expert — David Albright prepared a nice dossier on the man that formed the basis for a story by Joby Warrick in the Washington Post.

Whether Parchin’s detonation chamber looks like the spiffy computer-generated image or the rather less glittering one at Danilenko’s firm in Ukraine is less important than the fact that Iran was conducting work of some kind. At issue are technical questions of regarding the size of the chamber — enough for 70 kilograms of high explosives  — and whether that looks more like nanodiamond research or early experiments on nuclear weapon hydrodynamics.


Who cares?

I believe Iran had a nuclear weapons program until 2003, just like the 2007 US National Intelligence Estimate said. I see no reason to doubt that Iran shut down the program, nor any evidence that it has been restarted.  Indeed, there is considerable evidence that Iran ended activities associated with a covert weapons program near the end of 2003, then tried to hide the evidence at places like Lavisan-Shian.

Reports of recent efforts to clear the site at Parchin, now that the IAEA is seeking additional access there, are hardly surprising.  (Cheryl Rofer had a nice rundown on why one might want to scrape that building clean — and she used to do this for a living.)

Parchin has long been reported as the site where Iran carried out its implosion testing.  Why is everyone so confident, Cheryl asked me, that this building in particular is the building the IAEA wants to access?  Because sources in the United States government and the IAEA are leaking it to us!

I presume that the people who pointed this building out to David Albright are the same people who tried to interest a reporter friend of mine in the same building.  He asked me about it, but in the end all I could see was the construction of an earthen berm.  David, on the other hand, got some images of the building under construction, which he thinks shows the foundation for the detonation tank.  So, there you go.  Slab and berm.  The end is nigh.

I understand that the IAEA must pursue evidence of Iran’s nuclear program before 2003, even if I am already convinced on that score.  But, going forward, what I want to know is whether that work continued after 2003.  The evidence for that seems much more ambiguous to me.  IAEA GOV2011/65 cites “information from two Member States” indicating that “after 2003, Iran engaged in experimental research involving a scaled down version of the hemispherical initiation system and high explosive charge referred to in paragraph 43 above, albeit in connection with non-nuclear applications.”

That suggests, to me, that Iran has tried to keep post-2003 work consistent with nanodiamond research.  Of course, I don’t think Iran gives a fig about nanodiamonds.  Iran is keeping open its option to resume weaponization work if and when a decision is taken to build a nuclear weapon.  Which is totally what I would do if I were Iran’s Supreme Leader.


By the way, everyone seems to forget that the IAEA visited Parchin in September 2004, although it was a different part of the site. Fars News has a funny, though perhaps not necessarily true, description of the visit:

These parts of Amano’s report are the result of a job carried out by Ferederic Claude, an agent of the French Intelligence Service, who had earlier been in charge of satellite imaging at the IAEA and is now Amano’s advisor. It is noteworthy that Claude, accompanied by IAEA Deputy Director General for Safeguards Olli Heinonen, brought these pictures to Tehran a few years ago and asked for a visit to Parchin facility. In response, Iran allowed the IAEA inspectors to visit any part of Parchin that they wanted and carry out sampling tests. The result of that visit revealed that first, what Mr. Claude called a metal bunker or container for building bombs was actually a metal toilet in Parchin, and second the samplings showed no nuclear activity in Parchin and that’s why the IAEA closed the case with Parchin facility.


Now, my recollection was that Iran did not “allow the IAEA inspectors to visit any part of Parchin that they wanted,” but rather allowed the IAEA to select one area out of four identified and, if I recall correctly, five buildings within that area.  This is a very large complex with hundreds of buildings and underground structures.  Under Iran’s rules of access, I’d be surprised if  the IAEA found the right building.

I asked Heinonen about that visit, including whether he remembered the toilet story,  but didn’t ask for his comment on the record.  I will ask again.


  1. Kenton A. Hoover (History)

    Having seen the chamber at the HEAF @ LLNL I was wondering where the photo apparatus was supposed to go. Little point doing tests you can’t document. Also, that pipe looks like a process pipe, not an exhaust setup. Color me skeptical if you wish.

  2. Johnboy (History)

    Jeffrey, regarding running a ruler through 2003 and simply saying “well, that’s just history now”, can you comment on what happened with South Africa when it came back into the fold?

    They had a covert nuke program, and they went to very great lengths to conceal it.

    Nobody cares any more, yet I don’t remember anyone ever dragging a publically-humiliating confession out of the South Africans.

    I don’t know very much about how that all happened – that’s why I’m asking – but it seems to me that there’s the model to follow.

    • anon (History)

      South Africa acknowledged having a nuclear weapons program, but dismantled it before joining the NPT. The IAEA made a major effort to verify the “correctness and completeness” of the initial declaration Iran made under its safeguards agreement. This included a reconstruction of the history of South Africa’s HEU production and some degree of access to nuclear weapons related activities, with active cooperation from South Africa.

    • yousaf (History)

      This is why Iran sanctions are unlikely ever to be lifted short of regime change:

  3. Tim (History)


    South Africa is a slightly different case because it was not a member of the NPT when it built its 6.5 nuclear weapons, and it only admitted to having had nuclear weapons /after/ it joined the treaty in 1991.

    Because non-NPT member nations are (technically) allowed nuclear weapons, and (certainly more importantly) because the nuclear program had been undertaken by the defunct and discredited Apartheid regime, the disclosure of the program by Pres. F.W. deKlerk in 1993 was not humiliating.

    So in South Africa’s case, the fact of regime change in that country drew the line in the sand, making it possible for the new government to admit without shame that its predecessor had possessed nuclear weapons. Rigorous IAEA inspections verified that the program had been fully and permanently dismantled.

    Unfortunately there’s no such convenient line in the sand for Iran separating pre- and post-2003.

    • Johnboy (History)

      “So in South Africa’s case, the fact of regime change in that country drew the line in the sand, ”

      I’m not sure that statement is entirely true.

      FW de Klerk came into office in 1989, and that nuke program was dismantled in less than two years.

      South Africa then signed the NPT in 1991, which is still three years before Mandela replaced de Klerk i.e. all the major decisions regarding the cessation of that weapons program was made by the apartheid-era regime, not by the ANC.

      “Unfortunately there’s no such convenient line in the sand for Iran separating pre- and post-2003.”

      Of course there is. 2003 marks the moment that the current Iranian regime decided that it would cease its active nuclear weapons program, just as 1989 marks the moment when the apartheid regime decided to end the South African nuclear weapons program.

      The only real difference is that South Africa actually had nukes, and so it was necessary for the IAEA to satisfy itself that those nukes had been dismantled.

      Nobody believes that Iran has nukes, nor that they had progressed much beyond paper studies into the issue of how you mount them onto something that you can fling at people.

      So there’s very little *to* dismantle, so in this case – to me, anyway – it’s much easier for the IAEA to say “that’s all history now”.

  4. yousaf (History)

    In the latest talk failure Iran offered to comply with all major P5+1 demands, but again P5+1 could not take “yes” for an answer.

    This is due to a mix of electoral politics and congressional pressure.

    Also, the legislative text of the sanctions does not allow them to be lifted short of regime change in Iran.

    The brouhaha about Iran has little to do with anything nuclear — else P5+1 would have accepted Iran’s offers of inspecting Parchin and suspending 19.75% work. The Iran issue is, largely, politically motivated.

    Here is an ex-IAEA inspector and nuclear engineer on Parchin and that chamber, Bob Kelley:

    This, and the Iraq debacle, bolsters my conviction that discounting ISIS hype is generally a sound course of action.

  5. yousaf (History)

    Apologies for the multiple posts! — could not find this earlier re. Parchin:

    “Skepticism about IAEA’s Parchin claims

    The Parchin data doesn’t add up for Robert Kelley, an American veteran inspector of the IAEA who retired three years ago.

    “It doesn’t hold together, it doesn’t make sense. So I can’t understand why Amano would bet the Agency’s reputation on [Parchin],” says Mr. Kelley, contacted in Vienna.

    The hydrodynamic experiments described in the IAEA report are rarely conducted in a cylinder or any confined space, says Kelley, and would have used several hundred kilograms of explosives – not just the 70 kgs (154 lbs) the IAEA says the container was supposedly designed for in the 1990s.

    “Would somebody in 1998 have been expecting to try to fool the IAEA in 2012?” asks Kelley. “That’s kind of the logic of all this, that [the Iranians] are going to build a container because the IAEA is coming.”

    The 70-kgs figure is already “extremely high” compared to similar containment chambers around the world, says Kelley, and “is a red flag itself.”

    Any inspection should clear up the confusion at Parchin, especially if uranium was used, because it could not be hidden from the IAEA’s sensitive instruments and detection techniques.”

    • George William Herbert (History)

      The 70 kg is consistent with alleged-R265 leaks. That alleged-R265 is far larger and heavier than modern US and other nuclear weapons state systems is no surprise.

      First, from a historical perspective, US and other NWS weapons are endpoints of multi-decade thousand-tests programs.

      Second, technically, the alleged-R265 is an extremely inefficient design concept. It’s unlensed, using folded path multipoint initiation. The credible initiation point ranges and pit asymmetry limits mean it’s got a pretty thick supercharge. It’s – to first order – twice the diameter and eight or so times heavier than a most modern US uranium implosion system could be. That its principal radius is 265 mm is highly enlightening to dissectors and reverse engineers.

      Kellys point about open firing misses the containment of teltale trace debris issue. His point on size is nonsensical in light of R265, real or forgery/put up job. Size is consistent between chamber and implosion assembly. That doesn’t mean R265 is true, but the picture is internally consistent.

      Someone who has his contact info, please get ahold of him and ask him to join us or at least address those issues with another statement…

    • yousaf (History)

      I doubt he would waste his time and you are lucky I am wasting my time.

      IRAN OFFERED TO HAVE PARCHIN INSPECTED — P5+1 did not take the offer. So color me skeptical that P5+1 is really worried WTF happened in Parchin pre-1998.

    • Johnboy (History)

      GWH: “Size is consistent between chamber and implosion assembly.”

      George, would you mind explaining that point, because I’m not sure I’ve followed the logic.

      Are you saying that because the radius of the R265 design is – du’oh! – 265mm then it is obvious that you only need 70kg to test such a design in a blast chamber?

      I THINK that’s what you mean but, if so, how did you get from one to the other?

    • George William Herbert (History)

      Johnboy writes:

      Johnboy | May 25, 2012
      GWH: “Size is consistent between chamber and implosion assembly.”

      George, would you mind explaining that point, because I’m not sure I’ve followed the logic.

      Are you saying that because the radius of the R265 design is – du’oh! – 265mm then it is obvious that you only need 70kg to test such a design in a blast chamber?

      I THINK that’s what you mean but, if so, how did you get from one to the other?

      In short – the test chamber is roughly the right size for the alleged 70 kilogram explosive charge. The 70 kilogram figure is roughly the right amount for the R265 main charge. That the chamber is far bigger than a US chamber would be – with US weapons which are much much smaller – is not relevant to the Iranian test program, who appear to be using a much more primitive technology.

      On the “right size for 70 kilograms” of contained explosive, that’s repeated in multiple media from people who have chamber experience.

      On the “70 kilograms is the right size for R265” front… Let us reverse engineer.

      Working in centimeters because the conversions to mass have saner numbers…

      The detailed description of the alleged R265 is that the main charge diameter – not the folded path assembly (which is outside of and in intimate contact with the main charge) is the 265 mm / 26.5 cm radius.

      (technical note: In US weapons parlance, this would usually be described as the “supercharge”, but because the R265 is technically a multipoint unlensed system i’m going to use “main charge” rather than “supercharge” to indicate that the wavefronts aren’t already sphericalized as they traverse that charge…)

      Volume of a sphere is 4/3 pi r^3. For a 26.5 cm sphere, that works out to 77,950 cm^3.

      Pulling my handy copy of Cooper’s “Explosives Engineering” off the shelf 2 feet away…

      As documented in ( and ) the IAEA report suggests that the R265 main charge is made from Composition B high explosives, a time-honored castable explosive mixture of TNT and RDX. Canonical “Composition B” is 36% TNT, 63% RDX, and 1% wax. It’s not clear if they’re using the canonical mixture or what’s technically one of the “Cyclotol” mixtures without the wax and with more or less RDX. We will assume for the moment that it’s canonical Comp B.

      Cooper gives canonical Comp B densities of 1.71 to 1.72. If the full 26.5 cm radius sphere were full of Comp B explosive, the full volume would weigh 134,074 grams, or 134 kilograms.

      If we assume that exactly half of the total volume is actually explosives – the other half being pit or empty space – then the mass of explosives would actually be 67 kilograms. The actual listed value of exactly 70 kilograms is slightly more, suggesting that slightly more than half the volume is explosive. If it is literally 70.0 kilograms, that suggests that it’s 0.522 of the total volume, and by a little mathematics that 0.782 of the outer radius ( 20.7 cm or so ) is the main charge boundary; a main charge around 5.7 cm thick (roughly 2.5 inches).

      The R265 details as reported are internally consistent, and are compatible with the chamber as described.

      I still have no basis on which to determine if R265 is a fabrication or an actual Iranian program, but it’s an internally consistent weapon description that should be able to be made to work. If the chamber was intended to test R265, is the described size, and the R265 description is accurate, there are no inconsistencies.

    • Johnboy (History)

      Thanks for the details, George.

      If I can summarize:
      1) Nobody can point to the description of the R265 and say “heck, no way that chamber can be used for this”
      2) Nobody can point to the description of that chamber and say “heck, that proves R265 is a crock o’ shit”.

      So it just boils down to a chicken/egg problem i.e. did the Iranians come up with the R265 design and then built that chamber to test it, or did someone spook see a photo of that chamber and then fake a design based around that knowledge.


    • George William Herbert (History)

      Johnboy writes:

      So it just boils down to a chicken/egg problem i.e. did the Iranians come up with the R265 design and then built that chamber to test it, or did someone spook see a photo of that chamber and then fake a design based around that knowledge.


      Yes. I cannot disprove the Iranian claim that R265 is a fabrication; I suspect no, but leave that to readers own judgement and future evidence.

      Whether it’s real or not, as far as my analysis shows, all technical leaks to date appear internally consistent with each other and consistent with a technically feasible HEU implosion fission bomb – I believe I can design one matching the so-far public characteristics, with large performance margins.

      Kelly, as others point out, disagrees with most of this. He has professional experience in the field, so is credible, but interviews by nontechnical interviewers don’t ask enough of the right questions. I would prefer to actually talk to him – either privately or somewhere like here in a comments thread, his choice. Trying to technically argue with press reports is fraught with danger from an accuracy point of view and often breaks down civil discourse. But i have no contact info…

  6. Dan Joyner (History)

    This is such a refreshingly thoughtful, objective and reasonable post. Not that that is at all rare for you, I just mean that it’s rare and appreciated in the context of general commentary about Parchin and the “possible military dimensions” subject more broadly. I think you raise important questions about why we should care about whatever past weaponization research Iran may have conducted. It’s the kind of inquiry that seems most useful for people trying to make sure that any progress toward a peaceful settlement of the dispute between Iran and the West is derailed. It’s simply not a necessary or even relevant inquiry at this stage, and as I have argued before, it really is not within the mandate of the IAEA to be conducting such an inquiry (
    We all know what has to happen for there to be a negotiated resolution to the current crisis. There will have to be compromises on clearly identified issues by both sides. Inquiries like Parchin and other views backward do nothing to advance such a resolution. They only get in its way. I posted an op-ed today on the related issue of sanctions policy. It’s at

    • Johnboy (History)

      I agree, Dan, I was most impressed by this article.

      Jeffrey highlights an important point: is it *really* necessary to nail the Iranians to the wall regarding research prior to 2003, and what purpose is served by attempting to pin them down and make them confess to something that is now history?

      My own opinion is that this is merely being used as an excuse NOT to come to grips with the only point that really matters i.e. is Iran *currently* engaged in activities that violate its obligations under the NPT.

      And the reason why “the west” doesn’t want to come to grips with that question is that they already know the answer: Iran made a decision in 2003 to stick to the letter of the NPT, if not to its spirit.

      In which case, of course, where’s the beef?

  7. Cthippo (History)

    Couple of thoughts on this…

    Such a chamber for containing explosions (assuming for a second that it really does exist) could have a number of other non-nuclear uses. Remember those Explosively formed penetrators (EFPs) that were in the news a few years ago being used in Iraq? Development of such weapons would require a chamber such as this. So would might chemical or biological weapons work, either offensive or legally permitted defensive studies. I’m sure there are other lines of military research that would find such a chamber useful, none of them related to nuclear work.

    Second, there are still people arguing over just how much enriched uranium South Africa made and whether the IAEA really accounted for it all. The reason I bring this up is that even in a situation where no one has a political ax to grind, there are always people who will argue that something is being hidden.

  8. jeannick (History)

    The explosively shaped penetrators made in Irak
    were sixty years old technology ,
    home made automotive garage grade version of the hoary
    panzerfaust ,
    the shaping was based on car headlight parabolics
    no doubt a bit of fiddling with the shaping was done
    by local artisans ,
    testing was done by blowing up someone
    no explosion chamber was required

    P.S. explosive shaping would be more interesting if done with Uranium , depleted stuff would do fine
    would it leave any signature in the immediate area
    could a virgin copy tank be switched ?

    • yousaf (History)

      Indeed there is little if any technical merit in the case against Iran:

      furthermore Iran AGREED to suspend enrichment and let inspections go on at Parchin and got the finger. The P5+1 interest rests in regime change, not in pre-1998 nuclear matters.

    • Johnboy (History)

      Yousaf, you appear to be conflating two different issues.

      It is the IAEA that wants to go to Parchin, and the recent (apparently successful) talks that he held with the Iranians centred around that issue.

      The P5+1 talks are at a whole higher level, dealing with the ENTIRE Iranian nuclear program i.e. whether (or not) Iran is “allowed” to enrich, and if so then to what level, and if not then what happens to the existing stockpile.

      Parchin – if it gets mentioned at all – is merely a sideshow as far as the P5+1 talks are concerned.

    • Cthippo (History)

      While the EFPs are technologically related to the Panzerfaust, that’s not the same as saying they are the same thing. The old German Panzerfausts never had to defeat the DU armor on s M1A2 MBT.

      Optimizing such a design would require testing in a controlled environment, possibly one which is instrumented for studying the formation of the penetrator.

    • yousaf (History)

      you are correct. The reason I am conflating what IAEA demands and what P5+1 demands is that they both represent, in practice, a single viewpoint. There was a time that the IAEA was not politically tainted but that was a while back.

      My point was that Iran showed good faith in accepting IAEA to come and inspect Parchin, and in agreeing to halt 19.75% work (in P5+1 talks) — however they got nothing but some stinking airplane spare parts offered as reciprocation for this show of good faith.


      “Iran wants a significant easing of the existing and looming sanctions on its economy, including its life-blood petroleum industry, in exchange for any concessions. But world powers want Iran to give up its stockpile of uranium enriched to 20 percent purity – a level that can be further purified relatively quickly to the 90-percent-enriched uranium to fuel a nuclear weapon – but without any roll-back of sanctions, at least initially.”


    • Jeffrey (History)

      We may be colleagues Yousaf, but you are flirting with a trolling ban.

  9. Allen Thomson (History)

    I haven’t been keeping up with this story as much as perhaps I should have, so could someone summarize what diagnostics equipment has been associated with this chamber or should be expected to be used?

    • George William Herbert (History)

      You basically want to know three things – core peak density, when that happens ( for timing your ENGs ), and symmetry.

      The canonical system is flash x-ray for a two- d picture. You take rapid series of those frim three or more orthogonal angles and get all three answers hopefully.

      If you are willing to accept the symmetry on faith, a single linear high time resolution density measurement gives you density peak and timing. That can be done with a wide variety of penetrating energy systems ( ebeam, x-ray, gamma, neutron, radio wave, ..)

      You can get symmetry from pin array inserts. Plenty of unclassified US sources on our use of them. Just a dense areay of conductive pins at varying radius inside a hollow pit, with a cut-out wall section in the implosion system and pit where all the wire leads come out. High speed voltage sensors and a voltage bias so you can tell when the pit contacts wach pin.

  10. Sam (History)

    I would prefer that you did not ban people from posting — I found the comments from Prof. Butt very useful. I thank him for providing links to Robert Kelley’s assessment of Parchin.

    Dr. Butt’s voice is a much needed counterweight to the (largely wrong) conventional wisdom.

    Thank you.

  11. yousaf (History)

    Jeffrey — apologies — did not mean to over-post but could not find the Parchin stuff all at once. Anyway, sent you my latest OpEd in CSMonitor via email.

    I agree 100% with your comment that “nor can we leave our future at the mercy of debates about [what] Iran did more ten years ago.”

    I also concur with Dan Joyner’s comment and OpEd above.

  12. rba (History)

    A quick question for those who know better: news of traces of 27% HEU at Fordow came out today ( with the comment that the centrifuges in place there have the tendency to over-enrich. How’s that possible? I thought it was the same block of centrifuges as Natanz with the same processes? or is it an artifact of calibrating for 20% enrichment?

    Thanks in advance!

    • yousaf (History)

      There are transients that happen at start-up and during changes of cascade configurations, and enrichment overshoots can occur in a tiny fraction of the material.

      This has happened before in Iran and is very likely again not a big deal to get anyone’s kinckers in a twist over.

      see e.g. AFP report:

      “Analysts played down the discovery, with Mark Fitzpatrick from the International Institute for Strategic Studies think-tank in London saying it was “probably a technical glitch.”

      “There are good reasons to worry about Iran’s enrichment work but this probably isn’t one of them,” he told AFP.”

      I agree with Mark Fitzpatrick.

    • Eve (History)

      It will be interesting what the upper limit in the extra samples will be – 27% is really significant.

    • Johnboy (History)

      Eve: “It will be interesting what the upper limit in the extra samples will be – 27% is really significant.”

      Do you mean
      “how much of this 27% stuff was detected”,
      or do you mean
      “is 27% the highest recorded level”?

      Because it’s pretty safe to assume that the highest level recorded was 27%, but as to the amount the only figure being mentioned so far is the ever-informative “minute”.

    • Eve (History)

      Under point 38, IAEA have performed extra environmental sampling. Therefore the question is about the particles in the new samples.

    • George William Herbert (History)

      Line startup transients, especially with improved gear, could explain this. Iran has every incentive in the world now not to cheat and overenrich at a safeguarded line at the moment.

      Should be IAEA reviewed, but not intrinsically escalating the situation unless something else about the line or sample or timeline are off.

  13. Gridlock (History)

    Are they sure the source for the drawing wasn’t just a huge BREAKING BAD fan?

  14. Nick (History)

    Albright, master of doom and gloom on Iran’s nuclear says this much on this issue:

    “The IAEA has found traces of uranium enriched up to 27 percent at Iran’s Fordow enrichment plant. This elevation is likely due to improved cascade design. The cascades at Fordow making 19.75 percent LEU have 17 stages instead of 15 as in the old cascade design. An effect is to overshoot 20 percent when 3.5 percent LEU is fed into the tandem cascades at the old feed rate for 15 stage cascades. To avoid this problem, Iran likely increased the feed rate of 3.5 percent LEU, which lowered the
    enrichment level of the product back to 19.75 percent. It also increased slightly the amount of 19.75 percent LEU produced. This development is an embarrassment for Iran but it is not a sign of Iran moving to higher enrichment levels.”

    So it is just a good “sound bite” for the main stream media.

    • Anon (History)

      I am not sure what the embarrassment should be about: Iran is allowed under its CSA to enrich to 95% if it likes, as long as it does so with IAEA safeguards in place.

      In fact, that the IAEA even caught this tiny glitch is a great indication that every milligram of U235 in Iran is well safeguarded.

      It is an embarrassment that this likely hiccup would be so widely reported, even by the paper of record, without waiting for any confirmation.

      It is an embarrassment that IAEA leaked it.

      Albright should be embarrassed that he is following his own Iraq footsteps in Iran.

  15. b (History)

    Robert Kelly has now published his analysis at SIRPI. There is some additional information on the chamber in it.

    The container described by anonymous sources has a massive concrete collar around the middle to contain the huge blast and make it useful for experiments. This collar makes it difficult if not impossible to make the scientific measurements that Iran needs to make in the chamber that was designed. Flash x-ray, optical and especially neutron measurements would be difficult or impossible because of the collar.

    The container has wash-down systems and a vacuum pump system that are appropriate for nanodiamond production rather than for explosives tests. It was supposed to have been built by an Iranian company with the capability to build relatively thin-walled pressure vessels for the oil industry. This company could not build a small chamber appropriate to contain a large blast so they would have built a larger, but thinner-walled chamber, to offset the weakness of their vessels.

    And we are back to Iran’s nanodiamonds program …

    (which was the explanation I first publicly suggested)

    • anonone (History)

      I concur with Robert Kelley’s analysis. This chamber looks similar to one of the in-door firing chambers at PX which was designed to withstand repeated detonations of small HE components weighing up to 2 lbs (TNT).

      As for this facility being designed for repeated HE tests of 70 kg – rather than calling it a ‘world class facility I much prefer the old Texas term that starts with B and ends with S.

    • George William Herbert (History)

      Kelly’s recent SIPRI publication is the first mention I have seen of a concrete collar. Additional references anyone else has seen?

      It’s also not clear from public record which of two related test series happened at which of two test sites. Kelly is asserting one thing but it seems backwards. The bare multipoint system and explosive layer test, with fiber optic pickup of detonation front breakout, leaves no special material residue and could be done anywhere large explosive tests happen with no significant trace. If one test was at at Marivan this is likely it. The Parchin chamber, if weapons related, would be to contain natural / depleted uranium traces and tamper / reflector traces such as tungsten or beryllium. Those would be used for all up full tests with inert material, giving full confidence in the implosion system.

      Those would need some measurement systems – flash X-ray or the like – and a fully enclosing collar would block that. But a cylindrical collar ( open ends ), or a collar with open windows for imaging. If there is a collar, details would matter. Full 3D imaging would require the most access. A single dimension of line density measure would only require one narrow window, and if one had good confidence in the wvenness of system symmetry give good maximum compression diagnostics, and timing ( necessary for advanced neutron pulse generator systems ).

    • Anon2 (History)

      Why is the industrial nano-diamond research facility at Parchin, a defense installation?

      Why did not Iran as a matter of course allow IAEA inspectors to see that is was a nano-diamond research facility and not a nuclear explosive research facility.

      I’m sorry “b”, but your hypothesis seems unlikely because of where the test facility was located and the fact that the IAEA was prevented from inspecting the facility for enough time for a thorough cleanup.

    • b (History)


      Why is the industrial nano-diamond research facility at Parchin, a defense installation?

      The explosive chamber building as identified in the satellite pictures is actually a bit outside of the major Parchim complex.

      I suppose it is near Parchim because it uses explosives that are sourced from Parchim. Putting near to the explosive manufacturing avoids the transport of explosives through the country. I’d rather ride a few more miles with a can of nano-diamonds in the trunk than with a ton of high-explosives.

      Why did not Iran as a matter of course allow IAEA inspectors to see that is was a nano-diamond research facility and not a nuclear explosive research facility.

      That comes down to a question of principle. The IAEA has no business in Parchim. It is not, under the normal NTP routine, supposed to search through military sites that are not involved in nuclear stuff. Iran suspects that allowing the IAEA to do so would simply be abused for the collecting of targeting data just as it has been abused in Iraq.

      There is no way to do a “thorough cleanup” if the chamber has been used for it is alleged to have been used.

  16. b (History)

    Sorry for the typo in the name. It is “Robert Kelley …”

    • anon2 (History)


      “The explosive chamber building as identified in the satellite pictures is actually a bit outside of the major Parchim complex.”

      That comes down to a question of principle. The IAEA has no business in Parchim. It is not, under the normal NTP routine, supposed to search through military sites that are not involved in nuclear stuff.

      “The explosive chamber building as identified in the satellite pictures is actually a bit outside of the major Parchim complex.”

      “It is not, under the normal NTP routine, supposed to search through military sites”

      1) Your two above statements are contradictory.

      “There is no way to do a “thorough cleanup” if the chamber has been used for it is alleged to have been used.”

      2) This depends on if nuclear material leaked outside of the test chamber or a sealed waste collection system.

  17. Ara Barsamian (History)

    Greetings from the Straights of Hormuz!

    The “sentiment” of the fuel oil traders here oscillated between euphoria and despair.

    The story circulating here is that basically, Iran, one of the major fuel oil suppliers here decided to play a game with the US, something like this:

    Iran believes that no matter what it does, US, acting as a surrogate for Israel,will reject all Iranian offers that do not meet Netaniahu’s criteria, complete stop and dismantlement of ALL enrichment facilities. That’s the reason the Iranians felt confident to offer to stop the 20% enrichment, and switch Fordow to 5%, knowing that it would be rejected.

    I am afraid the whole thing (“negotiations”?!) turned into a charade…

    Regarding Parchin, so what if they tested an implosion system? Or other weapon components? Big deal. Again, we’re putting the cart before the horse, forgetting that 100% of nothing is nothing (in this case, potentially war).

    What do we really want, to get Iran to verifiably stop the 20% enrichment and hand over the accumulated 20% material, or stop any enrichment and hand over the equipment, which is not going to happen?

    The rumor mill around here (Hormuz) is that they are resigned to war…

    Another sad chapter for humanity!

    • George William Herbert (History)


      Regarding Parchin, so what if they tested an implosion system? Or other weapon components? Big deal.

      It is a big deal, if true, for several reasons:

      Iran, now and at the time a NPT nation, had a weapons program they still have not come clean with the IAEA about.

      It would clearly put the lie to the “fatwa against nuclear weapons”.

      Iran would have an off the shelf, reasonably compact and deliverable, 90% tested fission weapon. No technical or time barriers of note other than enrichment remain between today and a deployed weapon.

      Israel and various westerners assume these things now. The degree of change with proof at the ground truth level is unsure. It would probably force other nations to end cooperation; Iran is apparently preparing to go things alone. It would probably reinforce the trade restrictions. The Israeli anti-attack party is weakened.

      Debates here would be a little less interesting.

      A lot of sacred cows of how hard it is to make compact-er deliverable fission weapons are staked through the heart, decapitated, and buried at the crossroads. The R265 revalations should have done that already. There seem to be a few ostriches, however. If we weren’t a couple of decades into the test ban, a US265 demo would be useful on this point, but will never happen now.

  18. Mark Lincoln (History)

    Now, from the people who brought you the Mobile Biological Warfare Laboratory and Saddam’s other WMD. . . Son of Jumbo!

  19. yousaf (History)

    I ought to have been more careful in my wording above and less strident — sometimes one is in a rush and fed up with poor reporting: I said that the IAEA is politically tainted, whereas what I should have said is that I happen to believe the accusations being made that the IAEA DG is somewhat biased.

    For support of my impression, there are a couple of articles by Julian Borger at the Guardian — e.g. one titled “Nuclear watchdog chief accused of pro-western bias over Iran” and another “Nuclear Wikileaks: Cables show cosy US relationship with IAEA chief” and one, e.g. at CSMonitor titled, “WikiLeaks cable portrays IAEA chief as ‘in US court’ on Iran nuclear program”

    Also, I tend to agree with Bob Kelley when he says that the IAEA Office of the Directorate is currently acting unprofessionally:


    ‘ “The Agency is wrong. There are lots of applications for EBWs,” says Kelley. “To be wrong on this point, and then to try to misdirect opinion shows a bias towards their desired outcome…. That is unprofessional.” ‘

  20. Dan Joyner (History)

    You know, I’m just going to come out and say this. If I were in charge in Iran, I would be sorely, sorely tempted to just withdraw from the NPT and from the IAEA. I mean, I’m a big believer that the NPT is a grand bargain, a quid pro quo, between nws and nnws. And if I am sitting in Iran, I don’t see that I have gotten anything good out of NPT membership for a very long time. It has exclusively been a source of trouble for the Iranian government and people, as it and the IAEA system has been used constantly as a political instrument by the West to harass and to harm Iran. And it gives Iran’s detractors the grotesquely unreasonable pretext for casting as evil the precise activities that the detractors themselves have engaged in. I remember I was recently at a meeting in which an Israeli academic was going on about how evil Iran’s nuclear program is, and it was like I was in the twighlight zone. It takes the most profound cognitive disconnect for Israel, and for the nws western states, to make such normative claims about activities that they themselves engage in. So why does Iran stay in the NPT? I know the conventional answer is that if they pull out, that will be taken as a sign that they are planning nuclear breakout, and that Israel would attack the next day. But isn’t that where we pretty much are now anyway? I mean, what does Iran really have to lose at this point? Assuming that they have not yet manufactured a nuclear weapon and are not currently in breach of the treaty, if they were simply to make a statement to the effect that they don’t intend to have nuclear weapons, but NPT membership is simply not in their national interest, that would seem pretty reasonable to me. I know the UNSC would meet the next day and command them to re-join the NPT, just like they did with NK, but in my view that act would be ultra vires the UNSC’s authority and legally void. And again, it’s not like the UNSC could be any more against Iran than it already is. So why not remove the ridiculous source of hypocritical condemnation by the West in legal terms, and just set yourself on par with India and Pakistan and Israel?

    • yousaf (History)

      you make a great point, and as I happen to agree with you I will leave it to others to attempt to answer. However, I believe the standard answer is something along the lines that an NPT withdrawal would somehow justify a military attack in violation of the UN Charter and in specific violation of UNSCR 487.

      Anyway, I would like to mention a point about clandestine nuclear (power/fuel-cycle) activity in Iran.

      The standard narrative is that Iran has been sneaky for very long so that there is a big trust-deficit. However, a careful examination of the history — in this case done by Mark Hibbs — reveals a more nuanced story.

      It turns out that Iran, in 1983, went directly and in a non-clandestine way to the IAEA and said that, per its NPT rights, it would like IAEA help in setting up a nuclear fuel cycle pilot plant.

      The IAEA was receptive to this move and was going to go ahead and help Iran out, per NPT letter and spirit.

      However, when USG personnel caught wind of this, they intervened in the normal functioning of the IAEA to stop the IAEA in its tracks. [Sound familiar?]

      Only then did Iran say “Funk dat!” and go about doing clandestine work.

      For Mark Hibbs’ excellent reporting on this in Nuclear Fuel (2003) see — “U.S. in 1983 stopped IAEA from helping Iran make UF6”

      by Mark Hibbs, Bonn

      Nuclear Fuel August 4, 2003 Vol. 28, No. 16; Pg. 12

      which can be found at:

    • Jeffrey (History)

      Please take this conversation someplace else.

  21. Anon (History)

    Oh heavens! Yes, a totally relevant conversation about IAEA bias and internal political maneuverings …

  22. John Schilling (History)

    I don’t see why it matters all that much whether Iran stopped its nuclear-weapons work at Parchin before or after 2003. A later stop date would suggest a somewhat higher degree of deception and dishonesty, but still no more than usual for virtually any nation engaged in this sort of diplomatic maneuvering and in any event the sort of thing we would have to agree to forgive if there is to be any progress in negotiations.

    The more substantial difference is whether Iran stopped its nuclear-weapons work before or after it designed a deliverable nuclear weapon. Weapons development and fissile-material production are largely separate activities, and it is possible for one to be all but completed before the other even starts.

    If a workable design came out of the Parchin work years ago, and that is unfortunately quite plausible, then where Iran is concerned all of our non-proliferation eggs are in the single basket of enrichment safeguards. The actual manufacture of the remaining components of a weapon can be conducted by Iran’s conventional munitions industry, beyond reach of any practical safeguards, and breakout would consist mostly of just acquiring a sufficient quantity of HEU plus a few weeks to fabricate the pit and perform qualification testing.

    Possibly faster if there are Oompa-Loompas involved; even with the musical interludes those little guys get the job done fast…

    • Barmak (History)

      John Schilling writes:
      “I don’t see why it matters all that much whether Iran stopped its nuclear-weapons work at Parchin before or after 2003”

      It matters because IAEA has never found any evidence of Iran’s nuclear weapons program. If they find something at Parchin, it would be very significant.

      On the other hand, if IAEA doesn’t find anything, it won’t matter. It won’t stop anybody from making baseless claims about Iran’s nuclear weapons program. One can always argue that the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. There are known unknowns… as Donald Rumsfeld would say.

      It matters if IAEA finds something. It doesn’t matter if IAEA doesn’t find anything. That’s how it works.

    • Anon (History)

      Indeed, there are many holes in the CSAs — but that is what was agreed to. It is indeed very bad that the IAEA cannot go into any nation and do what it wants.

      Per Parchin, however, you need lose little sleep as Bob Kelley an ex-IAEA inspector has weighed in rather authoritatively:

    • Amy (History)

      Yes, it would be good to re-negotiate the NPT and all international SA’s so that the IAEA will be endowed with more policing powers than it so far has.

      However, at the moment, the NPT is limited, as are the SA’s.

      There is the Additional Protocol which helps do what you suggest, but it is totally voluntary.

      The legal mandate of the IAEA is rather limited, absent an AP:

      BTW, the reason that the NPT/SA’s are rather limited is that, in negotiation, NWSs wanted top hold on to their weapons: if they actually were going to zero then there would be a bigger negotiating lever to have pressed the NNWSs with, for more intrusive inspections.

  23. Anon (History)

    …and, of course, the proof is in the pudding. If the P5+1 were really worried about imminent Iranian nuclear weaponization then they would not allow Iran to keep enriching to 20%. That they seem to be OK with dragging out the negotiations, in the face of Iranian evident capitulation on the 20% issue, makes it seem as though they are not too worried. See:

    If P5+1 were really worried about Iranian nuclear weapons then they’d yield a bit on sanctions: they haven’t.

    Probably, information from the DNI that Iran has not restarted its decade old nuclear weapon research program informs their lack of worry.

  24. Cheryl Rofer (History)

    Susan Voss compares the reported measurements of the Parchin vessel to Russian and American vessels and comes up with a different conclusion from Kelley’s.

    • Amy (History)

      That is fascinating. The Iranians have offered to open up Parchin again, and indeed it was recently inspected twice by the IAEA with no detection of uranium or any other ambient nuclear anomalies.

      Also, as Jeffrey says, this is all 15 year old stuff; also, it does not pertain to the diversion of nuclear material.

      The Iranians, in P5+1 talks, also offered to stop 20% enrichment recently.

      In exchange they wanted some sanctions lifted.

      If there was real worry about Iran’s 20% enrichment and Parchin (ca. 1997-8, not current worry), why not strike a deal and get this over with?

      The answer is explained in the link Anon provided just above.

    • Cheryl Rofer (History)

      Amy, your interpretations of what the Iranians have offered are somewhat optimistic. It’s hard to find actual fact, like what the proposals from both sides were at last week’s negotiations, among all the rhetoric from both sides.

      I haven’t seen a report of what IAEA Director General Amano agreed with the Iranians. Have you?

      Susan points out that some of the claims about Parchin include tests after the 2003 date at which Iran says it ended its nuclear weapons program. The American intelligence estimates agree with that date as well. So nuclear weapons tests after that date would be a problem.

      I share Jeffrey’s concern that much of this has to do with water under the bridge, but we do need to know more about Iran’s nuclear weapons program before we can say “no problem.”

      Striking a deal takes two sides. There is very little trust on either side. Of course a deal can be struck if one side gives up all its concerns. That would go for Iran as well: open all sites to inspectors and open up their records. Unfortunately, the situation is more complicated than that.

      I tried to summarize the situation here: