Jeffrey LewisSay “Landscape Architect” in Farsi

Fredrik Dahl of Reuters reports that the IAEA has satellite images, including one dated May 25, that show “two side buildings had been dismantled and other possible clean-up work” described as “ground-scraping activities” at Parchin. (The sourcing is “diplomats who attended a closed-door briefing by U.N. nuclear agency officials.”)

We don’t have the images (yet) [Update: We do now.], so I thought I would share these lovely photographs of Kowsar Park in Tehran. Oh, you may not recognize it — the place has changed a lot since we last saw it.

Back when it hosted Iran’s pre-2003 covert nuclear weapons program.

Yes, that’s right, you may know Kowsar Park  better as the Lavisan-Shian — location of the Physics Research Center.

If you don’t recall the story, ISIS has a nice summary.

The short version is that some people became suspicious of the Ministry of Defense site after they purchased two whole body counters — the sort of equipment one needs for sites with nuclear material.  Pretty much any site that requires whole body counters (which identifies and measures radioactivity in the body of human beings) ought to be declared to the IAEA.  Before the IAEA could visit Lavisan-Shian, Iran bulldozed it, claiming that the Ministry of Defense had returned the site to the municipality of Tehran after a dispute.  When the IAEA took environmental samples from vacuum equipment that had been stored at the site, it found uranium particles with enrichment levels of 36 and 54 percent.  (Iran claimed the equipment had been contaminated by the supplier, widely reported as Pakistan.)

You can see the evolution of the site from 2000 to the present in Google Earth (images are dated 2000, 2004, 2005, 2005 again and 2010):

I know, I know.  It’s getting to be where a fellow can’t build an innocent soccer pitch in Tehran without someone screaming for an IAEA special inspection.  🙂

Today, Lavisan-Shian is a lovely park, pictures of which are available in Google Earth.  I’ve made available a sampling.  Really, this is one of the finest instances of defense conversion I’ve ever seen.  Clearly we need to get the Municipality of Tehran involved in Global Zero.

Update | 5:09 pm The Institute for Science and International Security has images of the earth moving equipment and what remains of the two small buildings.  Clearly this is about giving the workers at Parchin the quality soccer pitch they so deserve.


  1. Johnboy (History)

    You know, this is all getting slightly ridiculous, isn’t it?

    The Iranians scrubbed Lavisan-Shian clean as a whistle, and when the IAEA went in with their testing equipment they found radioactivity.

    Moral: it doesn’t matter how much you scrub, you aren’t going to scrub it well enough.

    Conclusion: these “diplomats” shouldn’t bother with all their hollerin’ ‘n’ hootin’. They should just smirk and say “scrape all you want, it ain’t gonna’ do you the slightest scrap o’ good, sonny-jim”.

    • Jeffrey (History)

      I wish that were true, but the IAEA found the particles on equipment that had been removed from Lavisan; the site is, as you say, clean as a whistle. If the Iranians have learned their lesson, they won’t be making available any equipment from this site for environmental sampling.

    • Johnboy (History)

      “If the Iranians have learned their lesson, they won’t be making available any equipment from this site for environmental sampling.”

      Not that I really want to point out the obvious, but the equipment that the IAEA wants to test at Parchin is known to be the size of a bus.

      What do you expect to happen when the IAEA turns up?
      Iran: Sorry, nobody told us you wanted to test that!
      IAEA: We do. Where is it?
      Iran: We put four wheels on it and it’s now plying the 370c route Tehran-to-Qom.

      Come on, Jeffrey, the IAEA isn’t going to agree on a “modality” for visiting Parchin that doesn’t include a visit to one “Honkin’ Big Steel Container, Bus-sized”.

      And if the IAEA gets to prod ‘n’ poke that “Container, Bus-sized” then no amount of landscape gardening is going to help the Iranians.

      Or do you expect those cunning Persians to reveal a paper-mache copy and then claim that this is what has always been there?

    • Jeffrey (History)

      I think the Iranians will do exactly what the Syrians did — decontaminate the site, allow the IAEA to visit and refuse access to any equipment. Indeed, they may even deny that there was ever any detonation tank in the first place.

    • johnboy (History)


      You mean treat this like a visit to a Wildlife Park?

      You know: drive around wherever you want but, please, don’t get out of your vehicle.

      The IAEA has said more than once that what they want to see is that bus-sized detonation tank.

      They will have no interest in visiting Parchin if that isn’t included, and they won’t be so foolish as to agree to a “modality” that does not explicitely list that tank as One Of The Things We Get To Fondle.

      You can’t seriously be suggesting otherwise, can you?

  2. yousaf (History)

    Not to split hairs, but I think it may be better termed “Iran’s pre-2003 covert nuclear weapons *research* program.”

    I have not seen positive evidence of fissile material diversion which would qualify the pre-2003 program as an actual nuclear weapon-making program.

    This may not seem important in the scheme of things but it may be: the Iran-IAEA Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement’s exclusive purpose is to make sure that no nuclear material is diverted to a nuclear weapon’s program.

    Also, from 2003-6 Iran voluntarily abided by Additional Protocol which should have allowed a rather large scope for inspections. It also seems unlikely that Iran would risk possible nuclear-weapon-related conventional weapons’ explosions during this time, as suggested by Susan Voss recently.

    I tend to agree with the IAEA and the US IC that the nuclear weapons research program ended “rather abruptly” in 2003.

    In the grander scheme of things: if the IAEA/P5+1 are seriously concerned about Iran 15 year old research program and/or current 19.75% enrichment, let’s see some serious sanctions’ relief on the table in Moscow to enable more intrusive inspections/19.75% suspension.

    Nice pictures.

    • Jeffrey (History)

      I think “fissile material diversion” is a pretty fucking stupid standard for “a covert nuclear weapons program” given the existence of undeclared facilities.

      I’ll stick with the definition in footnote 1 of the 2007 NIE.

    • yousaf (History)

      Yes, the IAEA-Iran CSA could be considered pretty fucking stupid. So could the NPT itself.

      I’m all for a much stronger NPT 2.0, but we ain’t there yet.

      The ideal and legal are way apart.

    • WTF (History)

      I take issue with almost every point in your post. To keep things simple, I’ll address one of them. The IAEA glossary defines diversion as, inter alia, “…the use of a safeguarded facility for the introduction, production or processing of undeclared nuclear material…” According to GOV/2004/83, Iran failed to declare “…the production of natural and depleted UO2 targets at ENTC and their irradiation in TRR, the subsequent processing of those targets, including the separation of plutonium..” At the time, ENTC and TRR were both safeguarded facilities in which undeclared processing and production of nuclear material occurred. By your own standard for a nuclear weapons program, it appears Iran had a nuclear weapons program.

    • kme (History)

      One thing I’ve often wondered – is there a proposed source of unsafeguarded UF6 for the undeclared enrichment facilities, if they were to have been run in secret? Aren’t the mines and UCF safeguarded?

    • Cameron (History)

      @Johnboy – I assume you’re taking “covert uranium conversion-related and uranium enrichment-related work”

      to mean conversion and enrichment of uranium outside of IAEA sites?

      Would uranium samples on equipment from sites that were not under IAEA observation, with enrichment above that observed at IAEA sites, (so they couldn’t simply be equipment that was moved from one site to another for a new purpose) qualify as evidence of covert enrichment under the meaning of the act?

      If so, then there is evidence of 36% and 54% HEU on equipment from the above site. To my knowledge Iran has never enriched uranium to that level at a facility under IAEA safeguards. We can look into the claim that it’s contamination from the supplier but the onus of proof for that fall, I think, on Iran.

      I’d maintain that there is evidence of covert enrichment of some kind, in amounts that are, perhaps, purely experimental, but there isn’t a threshold amount given, as far as I know.

    • Anon (History)

      Look, the first part of any nuclear weapons program is a nuclear weapons research program. If you have a nuclear weapons research program, you have a nuclear weapons program. Full stop. Anything else is silly.

    • SPurcell (History)

      @Cameron: pls see information from Mohammad below on the fact that “The Agency concluded that the explanation and supporting documentation provided by Iran regarding the possible source of contamination by uranium particles at the university were not inconsistent with the data currently available to the Agency. The Agency considers this question no longer outstanding at this stage. However, the Agency continues, in accordance with its procedures and practices, to seek corroboration of its findings and to verify this issue as part of its verification of the completeness of Iran’s declarations.”

      I strongly believe if progress is to be made, we have to let these resolved questions lie and try to induce Iran to accept the AP.

      As Thomas Pickering has said, [I paraphrase] you cannot force a country to accept the AP nor would you want to: it has to be a willing acceptance (to work), and since it (the AP) is voluntary, force and pressure are not conducive.

      re. the “fissile material diversion” standard: this is the standard in the Safeguards Agreement for Iran so we can be unhappy as we want to be about it, but it is indeed the legal standard that applies. Not only that, but it gets worse: the standard, absent an AP, only applies to declared material.

      Yes, it is f—— stupid, but there you have it. It was negotiated in pre-1974 when Iran was our friend, but it still applies.

      The IAEA ought to have held out for a more stringent agreement but in those days, the atmosphere was different and we did not get very intrusive.

      A different time, a different Iran, a different IAEA, a weak agreement.

    • Dan Joyner (History)

      To understand the distinction Yousaf is making here, which is an important distinction in legal terms and thats why he’s making it, one would have to have a real and meaningful discussion about international law. The problem is, I have over some time now developed the distinct impression that Jeffrey, like so many people primarily focused on nonpro technical issues and policy in the US, is really not interested in international law. That would appear to explain why Jeffrey takes such a hostile view toward discussions of international law on his blog posts. He will allow some such discussion, like whats below in the comments here, and like some things he allows people like me to post. But actually thats just more confusing. Because sometimes he’ll allow some discussion, and then sometimes he comes down with a draconian delete key on international law related comments. I’ve really found it quite unpredictable and frustrating. So I have to think that its not just a complete antipathy toward international law that explains this behavior. I suspect that the explanation for the apparently arbitrary and capricious nature of Jeffrey’s editorial policy regarding international law is that, again like so many American technical and policy types, Jeffrey doesnt mind when international legal arguments are mustered in support of US efforts and policy toward states like Iran and NK. Its only when international law is used to circumscribe what the “good guys” want to do to the “bad guys” that he thinks international law has outstayed its welcome in conversation, and that its time to just get back to technical talk again. I cant say any of this with a certainy about Jeffrey. But its certainly what I’ve come to think about the editorial policy around here. This arbitrary and capricious behavior makes this an unwelcome place for meaningful discussion about legal issues that, no matter what Jeffrey or others think, do matter to most states in their considerations of nuclear nonproliferation policy. I”ll try not to bother him so much with such unwelcome discussion in the future. Others on this site, like Mark Hibbs, take a more welcoming view to meaningful international legal discussion.

    • Jeffrey (History)

      Goodbye, Dan.

  3. Sharif (History)

    Dr. Yousef is quite correct. Absent an Additional Protocol, a state’s Safeguards’ Agreement [SA] typically — and in Iran’s case, specifically — only requires that declared material be safeguarded.

    As Jeffrey intimates, that the SAs are often “pretty fucking stupid” is correct, and backed-up by the fact that an Additional Protocol was invented: if the SAs were legally sufficient then the AP would not be needed.

    The IAEA’s view of what is safeguarded with and without an AP are given on the IAEA website:

    =======BEGIN IAEA QUOTE=======

    What verification measures are used?

    Safeguards are based on assessments of the correctness and completeness of a State’s declared nuclear material and nuclear-related activities. Verification measures include on-site inspections, visits, and ongoing monitoring and evaluation. Basically, two sets of measures are carried out in accordance with the type of safeguards agreements in force with a State.

    One set relates to verifying State reports of declared nuclear material and activities. These measures – authorized under NPT-type comprehensive safeguards agreements – largely are based on nuclear material accountancy, complemented by containment and surveillance techniques, such as tamper-proof seals and cameras that the IAEA installs at facilities.

    Another set adds measures to strengthen the IAEA’s inspection capabilities. They include those incorporated in what is known as an “Additional Protocol” – this is a legal document complementing comprehensive safeguards agreements. The measures enable the IAEA not only to verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear material but also to provide assurances as to the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in a State.”

    ======END QUOTE====

    Aside from the legalese, honestly, I have not seen anyone imply that Iran was actually making nuclear weapons with fissile cores pre-2003 (nor that they enriched to anywhere near the required amounts), so the correct terminology and wonkishly accurate would appear to be a pre-2003 nuclear weapons research program.

    I would also note there is much legal dispute about when Iran was required to declare the facilities.

    • Heavy Water (History)

      States declarations are required to be correct and complete, affirmed by the Board after the exposure of the Iraq program in the early 1990s and even pre-dating 93+2. In other words, the phrase that Iran’s CSA “only requires that declared material be safeguarded” means nothing and even misleads. This suggests that Iran’s undeclared material need not be subject to safeguards. Point is, that would be noncompliance.

      Iran is required to declare all nuclear facilities and material (code 3.1 issue aside).

    • SPurcell (History)


      However, the legal mandate of the IAEA to pursue Iran — if it had not declared all nuclear material and/or facilities — is very limited absent an Additional Protocol.

      After all, there was a reason that an Additional Protocol was invented.

      Even Pierre Goldschmidt, a former deputy director of the IAEA Safeguards Department, admits that the organization “doesn’t have the legal authority it needs to fulfill its mandate.” [absent an AP]:

      Re. Anon’s point: there is, of course, a monumentally large difference between a nuclear weapons research program and a nuclear weapons production program: one of those will likely never lead to your death.

      And one of those is essentially allowed by Iran’s — and many other nations’ — CSAs.

      Sadly, an imperfect state of affairs, for the reasons I gave previously: the CSA was negotiated pre-1974 when Iran was our friend.

    • Heavy Water (History)

      SPurcell, I understand what you are trying to say but I disagree with how you are saying it. The IAEA’s legal mandate absent an AP has been strong enough to report compliance issues to the Board, which has in turn found Iran in noncompliance several times and referred the file to the Security Council. I think your point is that the IAEA is unable to provide credible assurance to the international community that Iran is not engaged in undeclared activity absent an AP.

      A second point. Although the CSA was written in a different era, that doesn’t mean it’s a static document. In fact the strengthened safeguards movement was as much about identifying expanded authorities under a CSA as it was about developing the Additional Protocol.

  4. SPurcell (History)

    A little history on this: Re. Iranian “covert facilities”: Code 3.1 of the Subsidiary Arrangements of Iran’s Safeguards Agreement with the IAEA, stipulated that Iran must declare to the IAEA the existence of any nuclear facility no later than 180 days before *introducing any nuclear materials into the facility*. So it was undeclared and “covert” legally since they did not introduce nuclear materials into Natanz when they did not report it.

    Of course, in 1992, the Board of Governors of the IAEA replaced the original Code 3.1 with the modified Code 3.1, which requires a member state to notify the IAEA, “As soon as the decision to construct or to authorize construction has been taken, whichever is earlier”. It also developed the Additional Protocol to the Safeguards Agreement that empowers the IAEA with the authority for intrusive inspection of any site in any signatory state.

    After the Natanz facility was officially declared to the IAEA in February 2003, Iran agreed on February 26, 2003 to the modified Code 3.1. More precisely, Iran agreed to voluntarily implement the modified Code 3.1 until the Majles — the Iranian parliament — ratifies the modification to the Agreement. But while the Majles refused to ratify the modification to the Safeguards Agreement covering the modified Code 3.1, Iran continued to observe it from February 2003 to March 2007.

    In February 2007 the Board of Governors of the IAEA sent Iran’s nuclear dossier to the United Nations Security Council. Iran contends that the IAEA had acted illegally, and, therefore, in retaliation, it notified the IAEA on 29 March 2007 that it would no longer voluntarily abide by the modified Code 3.1, and would revert to the original Code 3.1 (that required 180 days notification).

    Indeed, a fine legal mess!

  5. anon2 (History)

    “Why would the IAEA or anyone else expect to find something nuclear at the chamber site?”

    1) Nano-diamond production could be used as a cover for warhead verification, not withstanding the quote.

    2) A verification experiment could be done with or without a natural uranium mass substitute for the 90% enriched uranium fissile material. If done with natural uranium or even the small amount of highly enriched uranium (found in the vacuum cleaners at the Physics Research Center), there would be some nuclear material left over that could hypothetically be detected. If done without uranium to verify the performance of the explosives subcomponent, there would be no nuclear material, but a good deal of other material to clean up.

    If there is any material to clean up, these pictures from the Iran Physics Research Center make it clear that what will be left will be cleaned up before the IAEA gets there. Exactly what the motivation was for baiting Amano two weeks ago with an inspection agreement “in principal” and then backing out is unclear — perhaps they are almost done with the cleanup and need just a little more time.

    There is no need to cleanup a nano-diamond experiment. In fact, any nano-diamonds found would prove they were nano-diamond tests and not nuclear warhead R&D. The fact the buildings were demolished is an important piece of evidence, that demolishing the buildings would be less incriminating than an open inspection with the building intact.

  6. Mohammad (History)

    It may be useful to remind everyone that probably no country, especially one under the threat of invasion, is willing to risk showing its sensitive conventional military facilities to IAEA inspectors as-is, even if there’s no nuclear-related work happening. That may be a plausible explanation for the supposed clean-up work.

    Also, Jeffrey wrote in the post that
    When the IAEA took environmental samples from vacuum equipment that had been stored at the site, it found uranium particles with enrichment levels of 36 and 54 percent. (Iran claimed the equipment had been contaminated by the supplier, widely reported as Pakistan.)

    It’s noteworthy that IAEA investigated Iran’s claims and found them to be consistent with the evidence. Here’s the DG reported in GOV/2008/4:
    10. […] As its explanation of how the contamination had come about, Iran said that, in 1998, an individual who was testing used centrifuge components from Pakistan at the laboratory at Vanak Square for the AEOI (GOV/2004/34, para. 31) had asked the vacuum service of the university to come and repair a pump. Iran stated that some items of the vacuum equipment mentioned above were used for this repair activity and that, when these items were eventually brought back to the university, they spread uranium particle contamination.
    11. To assess the information provided by Iran, the Agency spoke with the individual from the Vanak Square laboratory and the vacuum technician from the university who had carried out the repairs. The Agency was also shown the pump that had been repaired using the equipment concerned. The Agency made a detailed analysis of the signatures of the contamination of the equipment and compared them with those of the swipe samples taken from the centrifuge components in Iran which had originated in Pakistan. The Agency concluded that the explanation and supporting documentation provided by Iran regarding the possible source of contamination by uranium particles at the university were not inconsistent with the data currently available to the Agency. The Agency considers this question no longer outstanding at this stage. However, the Agency continues, in accordance with its procedures and practices, to seek corroboration of its findings and to verify this issue as part of its verification of the completeness of Iran’s declarations.