Aaron SteinConcentric Circles: Iran’s Compartmentalized Nuclear Program

Iran’s alleged nuclear-weapons research is in the news again, now that Iran has agreed to provide “information and explanations” to allow the International Atomic Energy Agency “to assess Iran’s stated need or application for the development of Exploding Bridge Wire detonators.”  (For background and discussion, see this post by Cheryl Rofer at Nuclear Diner.) Aaron Stein provides us with a look at how the work of academic researchers in Iran may have flowed into military nuclear applications. -Ed.

Sharif University after the Revolution

After the 1979 revolution, thousands of Western trained academics left Iran. After assuming power, Ayatollah Khomeini oversaw a so-called Cultural Revolution where universities were closed for three years between 1980-1983 and the curriculum was purged of content deemed to be antithetical to the tenets of the revolution. The mass exodus had a noticeable impact on the country’s scholarly output. In 1975, for example, Iranian scientists published 305 ISI-recognized publications in scholarly journals. In 1978, the number of journal publications grew to 450, before falling to 398 in 1979. In 1980, the number fell further 384. And, by 1985, Iranian academics only published 111 articles in academic journals. [1]

Shortly before the revolution, a group of physicists and mathematicians began to meet every Tuesday in Balbosar, a town in north Iran near the Caspian Sea, to conduct scholarly research. The Shah graciously picked up the tab. After the revolution, the group disbanded. Many left for positions in the West. Some went to Tehran and began to work at the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI). Others looked for work elsewhere in Tehran. The ones who stayed after the revolution continued to meet every Tuesday at the University of Tehran’s Institute of Physics. The bulk of the Tuesday group’s remaining members worked at Sharif University – the only university in Iran where the core members of the physics faculty remained after the revolution.

Iran formally authorized PhD programs in 1988/1989, after Reza Mansouri, an Austrian-trained physicist, convinced the education minister that Iran had the homegrown talent to do so. Sharif had been holding PhD-style seminars for interested students after the Cultural Revolution and was able to quickly formalize its program after it got the green light to do so from the education minister.

An Illicit Procurement Network?

In 1987, Iranian interlocutors met with S. Mohamed Farouq, a businessman representing A.Q. Khan, at his workshop in Dubai. Farouq provided Iran with a 15-page document describing the procedures for the reduction of UF6 to uranium metal and the machining of enriched uranium metal into hemispheres. He also gave them a list of European suppliers that manufacture the dual-use technology needed to develop the front end of the nuclear fuel cycle. Iran – unlike Libya – initially opted for the do-it-yourself centrifuge model and wanted to build its nuclear infrastructure on its own. However, in order to do so, they needed to import the specialized equipment needed to produce enrichment and conversion technology. Iran appears to have entrusted this task to Dr. Seyyed Abbas Shahmoradi-Zavareh, a former faculty member at Sharif University. As best as I can tell,  Shahmoradi was not part of the Tuesday group meetings, but was one of the core group of faculty that chose to stay at the university after the revolution. (I am happy to be proven wrong on this point.)

In December 1993, Mark Hibbs reported that the United States had grown suspicious about the items Sharif University was trying to purchase from European suppliers. The Germans agreed. An unnamed senior German export control official told Hibbs, “If an end-use statement says equipment is destined for Sharif University, the transfer will be categorically blocked.” (Mark Hibbs, “IAEA says it found no non-peaceful activity during recent visit to Iran,” Nucleonics Week, vol. 34, no. 50, 16 December 1993).

In March 1994, Hibbs reported that German Intelligence believed the “Physics Research Center (PHRC) at Sharif University [was] engaged in defense procurement, including procurement of ‘nuclear-related materials’.” (Mark Hibbs, “Sharif University Activity Continues Despite IAEA Visit, Bonn Agency Say,” NuclearFuel, 28 March 1994). We now know that the assessment was based on telex data documenting in detail the PHRC’s efforts to acquire imported vacuum equipment, magnets, a balancing machine, 45 gas cylinders each containing 2.2 kg of fluorine, and a uranium hexafluoride mass spectrometer – all of which could be used in the production of conversion equipment and centrifuges for enrichment. (To be fair, Shahmoradi could have wanted this equipment for the university’s physics department. Gareth Porter writes about the issue here. I am also sure he discusses this in his book, but I have not read it yet.)

The United States intelligence community makes makes clear that they believe that the weapons program was separate from the AEOI’s work at the TNRC, Kalaye, and then Natanz. The IC backdates the start of Iran’s covert nuclear weapons program to “at least the late 1980s.”  At least? As Jeffrey noted in this piece for Foreign Policy, the  intelligence community uses unique language when drafting National Intelligence Estimates. I presume that the IC used the words “at least” on purpose. I think the “at least” means that the US intelligence community has some level of “confidence” that there were discussions about weaponization before the PHRC procurement network got up and running in 1988/1989.

A Compartmentalized Program

According to my research, Iran made the decision to proliferate sometime after March 1984, but before the end of 1985. However, after making the decision to do so, the Islamic Republic faced a rather large problem – they had very few scientists capable of implementing a top-down directive to develop the front end of the nuclear fuel cycle. In fact, the only place with an intact physics faculty was Sharif University. Sharif was therefore a logical place for a potential proliferator – working outside of the aegis of the AEOI – to go to understand documents describing the manufacture, assembly, and operational processes for the P-1 centrifuge. Thus, if one assumes that the US is correct in its assertion about the start of Iran’s weapons program, Shahmoradi must have been a trusted confidant of someone higher up in the regime, who also happened to work at the right place at right time to support a separate enrichment program. However, it appears that the military program ran into trouble and eventually began to take its cues from the AEOI’s centrifuge research sometime in the early 1990s.

According to Iran, the AEOI’s testing of the P-1 took place at the Tehran Nuclear Research Center before being moved to the Kalaye workshop in 1995. Iran has admitted that it had trouble manufacturing centrifuge components on its own and did not introduce UF6 into the P-1 until sometime in 1999. Thus, it appears that the Khan list purchased in 1987 was given to the AEOI – who then developed their own procurement networks for components – and to Shahmoradi. (It is easy to see the basis for the 2007 NIE’s conclusions.) The two programs, however, appear to have both relied on the same facility to manufacture the centrifuge components. Thus, when the AEOI made progress in 1999, the military program also benefited.

In the late 1990s or early 2000 (who wants to bet it was sometime after the introduction of UF6 into the P-1 in 1999?), the PHRC was consumed by a larger entity, known as the AMAD plan. The AMAD plan’s executive director is Mohsen Fakhrizadeh (Mahabadi), who appears to have moved the focus of the weapons program away from procurement and towards weaponization. The weaponization allegations include cooperation with Vyacheslav Danilenko, a Ukrainian-born scientist who worked at a Soviet nuclear weapons lab on the production of nanodiamonds. Danilenko worked in Iran with Shahmoradi from 1996-2002 before returning to Russia. I hope to publish more on this in the future, but Danilenko is alleged to have provided Iran with the design information for a R265 shock implosion system – a multipoint unlensed system that uses a castable explosive mixture of TNT and RDX to generate a uniform shock wave to compress graphite to produce nanodiamonds.

Iran is alleged to have tested the R265 with Tungsten substituted for uranium in 2003 and used a variety of diagnostic equipment to monitor the symmetry of the compressive shock wave. The timing suggests that Iran had the diagnostic equipment on hand before the August 14, 2002 NCRI revelations prompted Iran to begin to reevaluate its nuclear policy.  After the 2003 “halt order,” Fakhrizadeh is alleged to have kept his bureaucratic role in the weapons program, first with an entity known as the Section for Advanced Development Applications and Technologies (SADAT), which continued to report to MODAFL, and later, in mid-2008, as the head of the Malek Ashtar University of Technology (MUT) in Tehran. According to information given to the IAEA, in February 2011, Fakhrizadeh moved from MUT to an adjacent location known as the Modjeh Site, where he now leads the Organization of Defensive Innovation and Research (SPND). Shahmoradi – who reportedly had some role in the AMAD Plan – now works at Malek Ashtar  University. (In an indication that Shahmoradi continues to lecture about nanodiamonds, a student at MUT co-authored a paper on the “Influence of Cooling Medium on Detonation Synthesis of Ultradispersed Diamond” in 2009.)

The November 2011 Board Report notes that researchers at Shahid Behesti University and Amir Kabir University have published papers relating to the generation, measurement, and modelling of neutron transport. The Agency also found “other Iranian publications which relate to the application of detonation shock dynamics to the modelling of detonation in high explosives, and the use of hydrodynamic codes in the modelling of jet formation with shaped (hollow) charges.” The Agency makes clear that these publications have civilian applications, but also notes that they could used for the development of nuclear explosives. The same goes for nanodiamonds. The Agency has also been provided with information that SADAT  solicited assistance from Shahid Behesti University in connection with complex calculations relating to the state of criticality of a solid sphere of uranium being compressed by high explosives in 2005 – some two years after the “halt order.” The implication, therefore, is that Fakhrizadeh is continuing his weapons work.

Iran claims that some of the Alleged Studies documents are based on open-source research and thereby not indicative of a weapons program. The assertion is irrelevant. If Iran opted to compartmentalize its nuclear weapons work like the United States did during the Manhattan Project, than Iranian researchers asked to do certain computations – or design certain components for say a shock implosion system – probably had absolutely no idea that they were contributing to a clandestine weapons program.  In fact, like in the United States, the extreme secrecy could have been one of the reasons for the very slow pace of Iran’s nuclear development. (I suspect it is.) Moreover, if you are concerned that a leak will lead to an American led bombing campaign, I presume you would want to keep the number of people in the know about the scope of the weapons project to an absolute minimum. Thus, I suspect that even certain AMAD Plan employed researchers working on issues related to nuclear weapons were unaware of the work being done on other projects documented in the Alleged Studies documentation. (And, in a Catch-22, if Iranian professors/grad students all of a sudden stopped publishing on these issues, than some in the IC might take that as a sign of a weapons program. All of this is to say that Iran does suffer some unique problems related to its nuclear work that only transparency can resolve.)

The fact that Iranian scientists have published in international journals work that could be used to support a weapons program isn’t all that noteworthy. The more relevant question is how the work may have been used – and this leads one back to Fakhrizadeh. The evidence – while admittedly based on the Alleged Studies documents – suggests a highly compartmentalized weapons program that began in the 1980s. The military program’s link to Sharif University appears to have stemmed from the university’s unique position after the revolution and its retention of most of its physics faculty. Moreover, I think it would be unwise to assume that many people outside of a select number of high-level officials knew what Shahmoradi was really up to. Thus, in order to fully understand the program, Iran needs to be more forthright about the Alleged Studies, so that the international community can be assured that no weapons work is continuing. If Fakhrizadeh’s role in the program isn’t clarified, than questions about what he does all day will continue to be a source of considerable concern. I doubt he is playing solitaire all day. Sorry Jeffrey.


[1] Farhad Khosrokhavar, “Iran’s New Scientific Community,” in Contemporary Iran: Economy, Society, Politics ed. Ali Gheissari (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009); Farhad Khosrokhavar and M. Amin Ghaneirad, “Iran’s New Scientific Community,” Iranian Studies, Vol. 39, No. 2 (June, 2006), pp. 253-267.



  1. Red (History)

    This is very thrilling bit of fiction but contains no actual evidence nor refers to any actual evidence of weapons work, whilst at the same time deliberately conflating the development of an enrichment capability — something Iran was working on BEFORE the revolution too — with “proliferation.” Furthermore, the selective timeline is quite funny. You totally left out the other Mark Hibbs article which showed that Iran had attempted to develop its enrichment program in cooperation with the IAEA, only to be stymied by US interferrence with Iran’s legitimate and quite legal right to acquire whatever technology it wants “without discrimination” and “to the fullest extent possible” as stated by the NPT. That was when Iran had to go to AQ Khan. All of this is leftout and instead we’re treated to allegation after allegation after allegation

  2. Red (History)

    Also, in selectively leaving out the history of Iran’s enrichment program under the Shah, you present a rather weird explanation for the role of Sharif U. That institution was previously part of the AryaMehr University of Technology, which under the Shah, was in cooperation with MIT to train Iran’s nuclear scientist corp. So the fact that Iran’s nuclear efforts would continue there, has quite a mundane explanation: They were simply continuing the same program, set up under the Shah, with the cooperation, encouragement and assistance of the United States.

    I suggest you read Gareth Porter’s book.

    • stein (History)

      Thank you for the comment. I cover the MIT connection in great detail in my dissertation. For the blog post, I chose not to include the MIT connection – or evidence of a weapons program for that matter. As for the Shah era enrichment program, I would add the following: During the 1970s, the AEOI considered developing an enrichment facility, but abandoned the idea after deeming the project to be infeasible. Etemad and the Shah had concluded that their investment in Eurodif – and perhaps in the American enrichment facility in Ohio – would satisfy Iranian demand. However, the AEOI was watching the development of gas centrifuge and jet nozzle technology closely. Moreover, on 11 February 1976, Dr. Jeff Eerkens, an American expert on laser enrichment technology, wrote to the Shah directly with an offer to help Iran set-up a laser enrichment facility in Iran. Just two weeks later, Dr. Mojtaba Taherzadeh, the director of the TNRC, responded to the letter and expressed interest in cooperating with Eerkens. Like Eerkens, Taherzadeh worked in the U.S. defense industry and on the SNAP project to develop power sources for space satellites. Eerkens visited Tehran in 1976, where he met with Etemad, and Ehsanollah Ziai. During his visit, Eerkens and Ziai concluded an agreement for the AEOI to finance research into ISOSEP laser enrichment technology, which was based on Eerkens’ theoretical work and patented in the United States in December 1975.

      In summer 1977, Eerkens and Taherzadeh reached an agreement for the sale, “manufacture and delivery to Iran of the necessary equipment: four carbon monoxide lasers (LCL-516 model, 25W), and four irradiation chambers (LCR-350 model).” Eerkens also agreed to move to Tehran at a later date with the optical equipment for the lasers. After some review, the United States granted an export license for the equipment in June 1978 – just one month before the conclusion of the U.S.-Iran nuclear cooperation agreement. And, in November, Eerkens shipped the first installment of equipment; however, due to the political instability in the country, he did not ever travel to Iran with the optics for the lasers.

      I would then add this: On 17 May 1978, the United States presented Iran with a revised version of the draft 1976 nuclear cooperation agreement. The United States agreed to transfer LEU for the purposes of conversion and fuel fabrication in Iran, so long as such activities not exceed the needs of up to 10,000 MW. The United States also received the right to review the design of any reactor equipment, and operating records to ensure material accountancy, in order to prevent the diversion of fissile material. In short, Iran, during its negotiations with the US for a 123 agreement asked for the transfer of fuel fabrication technology. The US complied and even agreed to allow Iran to fabricate fuel rods from US provided fissile materials.

      As for your contention that the US offered to help Iran with gas centrifuge work, I would only point out that the US classified the technology in 1960. And, as for the Mark Hibbs article you are referring to, I can only assume you mean his article from 1983, where he reports on Iran’s efforts to restart its conversion work in 1983. The article points to an Iranian decision to start conversion experiments – which they did in 1981 using French technology – but says nothing about enrichment. As early as 1981, the AEOI began to experiment with uranium conversion and reduction. Conversion refers to the further purification of uranium yellowcake for enrichment or fuel fabrication. The Islamic Republic chose to take yellowcake (U3O8) and convert it to ammonium uranyl carbonate (AUC – Most states convert from U3O8 into ammonium diurnate, or ADU). The AUC is then converted into uranium dioxide (UO2), then to uranium tetraflouride (UF4), and then uranium hexafluoride (UF6). The actual start of the conversion experiments (1983) coincided with Reza Amrollahi’s January 1983 announcement that “Isfahan had succeeded for the first time to begin operating in one of its most advanced laboratories.” And, it is at this time that Iran approached the IAEA for help. However, after being rebuffed, the Islamic Republic began to withhold information from the Agency about its conversion and enrichment program.

      In 1998, Iran reported to the IAEA that it had converted imported U3O8 – which had been exempted from IAEA safeguards – into ADU and then into UO2 at a uranium conversion laboratory (UCL) at the Isfahan Nuclear Research Center. Iran later declared that it closed the UCL at Isfahan in 1987 (Iran had concluded an agreement with China for a Uranium Conversion Facility). Yet, while Iran did declare some work in 1998, it had chosen to keep most of its work secret, until the IAEA began to investigate the program in late 2002/ early 2003. In February 2003, Iran admitted to having conducted undeclared conversion and reduction experiments at Jabr Hayan multipurpose laboratory (JHL) at the Tehran Nuclear Research Center in the 1990s. Iran used 1.8 tons of undeclared uranium that it imported from China in the form of UF6 (1000 kg), UF4 (400 kg) and UO2 (400 kg) for these experiments. Iran had initially sought to downplay its conversion experiments, telling the IAEA that “it had not carried out any research and development or testing, even on a laboratory scale, of other more complex processes (e.g. conversion of UO2 to UF4 and conversion of UF4 to UF6) using nuclear material.”

      However, after the IAEA found evidence of depleted UF4 in samples of waste taken at JHL, Iran acknowledged in August 2003 having conducted UF4 conversion experiments on a laboratory scale during the 1990s at the Radiochemistry Laboratories using depleted uranium that it had previously declared to the Agency as process loss. Moreover, as part of these experiments, Iran admitted to having used 45 kg of the Chinese UF4 for dissolution, purification using pulse columns and the production of uranium metal. While the process could have weapons applications – notably the separation of plutonium from uranium using pulse/d columns – Iran likely undertook these experiments to purify UF6 for enrichment tests.

      These experiments moved in parallel to the development of the country’s enrichment program. Anyways, in 2003, Iran initially declared that its conversion experiments were meant to prepare Hex for enrichment in another country, before being returned to Iran for fuel fabrication (In other words, exactly what the Shah had planned). Iran changed its declaration in 2003, after the Agency found enriched uranium particles. With that said, I agree with you that the push for a domestic enrichment program was spurred, at least in some small way, by US efforts to block Iran’s program. If one were to play devil’s advocate, one could point to the failure of the Committee on Assurances of Supply (CAS) in 1987 as the reason for the hastening of enrichment work in or around the same time. In fact, that is what Soltaneih told me when I interviewed him last year.

      Hope that fills in the gaps. Cheers

    • Cyrus (History)

      This may interest you http://www2.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/nukevault/ebb268/doc25b.pdf – it details Iran’s plans for the Esfahan Nuclear Technology Center, which as the 2003 Mark Hibbs article makes clear, was intended to develop not just conversion but the entire fuel cycle, something that Iran had long ago set out to master, and made no secret of it before or after the revolution. Note that this document was dated 1977. Iran did not give up on the idea of enrichment.

      Even if the US didn’t cooperate with Iran’s enrichment program per se, the French certainly did and with full US knowledge, so the point Red was making still stands: Iran’s enrichment program, far from being something started in secret by the Islamic Revolutionary government for nefarious purposes, actually predated the revolution and was founded by the US-backed Shah, with the knowledge if not the active participation of the US and other powers which are now claiming it is a threat.

      And according to multiple IAEA reports, the previously undeclared activities by Iran had no relation to a weapons program and involved no diversion of nuclear material for nonpeaceful uses; and furthermore all the outstanding questions with respect to Iran’s past nuclear activities were deemed resolved by the IAEA pursuant to the Iran-IAEA Modalities Agreement to Iran’s favor; apart from the “Alleged Studies” (which the US has thus far prevented the IAEA from sharing fully with Iran) so really the list of Iranian failures to “timely declare” otherwise perfectly legal activities which occurred as a result of US interference and had no relation to weapons, has no real relevance to anything.

      Far from keeping its ambitions in enrichment a secret, Iran formally declared its completion of its conversion facility to the IAEA in 2000, and had invited IAEA officials to even visit its uranium mines in the mid-1990s, as well as announcing the discovery of uranium and plans to use it on national radio multiple times in the early and mid-1980s.

      The point is that the entire thesis of a “secret” nuclear program started by the new regime is simply false. And there is still no actual evidence of weaponization because thus far the IAEA has said repeatedly that apart from allegations from a stolen laptop computer, they don’t have any. In fact, they were quite upset about it.
      “The IAEA is not making any judgment at all whether Iran even had weaponisation studies before because there is a major question of authenticity of the documents” – ElBaradei.

      And nothing’s changed since then… except of the occasional fib like the “AP Graph” or the “Kamm Scam” or the Danilenko claims about “explosive chambers” documents that were promoted as proof positive of Iranian nukes but which turned out to be miserable forgeries.

      So what are we bottom line talking about? Where’s the “threat”? Where’s the proof of anything nefarious going on? Why all the spilled ink, shirt-rending and hair-pulling over Iran joining 1 out of 14 nations that can enrich uranium or 1 out of 4 nations on the planet that have the “capability” make nukes? The answer is simple: the “Iranian nuclear threat” was pretextual as was “Iraqi WMDs” and meant as a cover for a POLITICAL policy of imposed regime-change, and has nothing actually to do with any actual proliferation. That’s what’s really going on, that’s the context. Only now the Obama admin has dropped the ‘zero enrichment’ demand that was used to kill off talks in the past. We’ll see to what end.

  3. b (History)

    “Danilenko is alleged to have provided Iran with the design information for a R265 shock implosion system ”

    Where is the evidence for that?

    Albright’s piece tries to connect (and confuse) two very different issues, Danilenko’s explosions that are used for diamonds (and possible other uses) and the R265 sketch from AQ Khan, which the IAEA never connected.

    Those are two different issues and there is no public evidence that Danilenko ever had to do with the R265. He claimed his work was solely on diamonds.

    • George William Herbert (History)

      The alleged R265’s implosion shaping technology is distinctively and uniquely the implosion shaping technology Danilenko used elsewhere (known now from public release of prior work). It’s the same thing, and unlike any other nuclear weapon implosion wave shaping used elsewhere.

      He may have claimed that he gave it to them only for detonation nanodiamonds production, but either that is cover fiction or they directly adapted it themselves without telling him.

    • Johnboy (History)

      GWH: “The alleged R265′s implosion shaping technology is distinctively and uniquely the implosion shaping technology Danilenko used elsewhere (known now from public release of prior work).”

      OK, I see nothing objectionable, leading, or misleading about that sentence. However…..

      GWH: “It’s the same thing, and unlike any other nuclear weapon implosion wave shaping used elsewhere.”

      Whoah! Let’s back up a bit!

      George appears to have taken a (quite breathtaking) leap of faith, going as he has from
      “This is Danilenko-tech” (which it is)
      “This is nuclear WEAPONS-tech”
      in one mighty leap.

      Bad enough, I suppose, but then George simply piles blithe supposition upon unfounded assertion with this…

      GWH: “He may have claimed that he gave it to them only for detonation nanodiamonds production, but either that is cover fiction or they directly adapted it themselves without telling him.”

      Or, indeed, he may have given it to them for nanodiamond production, whereupon they…. produce nanodiamonds with it.

      After all, George hasn’t **actually** provided any evidence that the Iranians misused that technology; he merely knows-this-because-he-knows i.e. he has faith that this is so.

      Faith-based knowledge has its place, but not everywhere, and certainly not here.

    • George William Herbert (History)

      I used “alleged” for an important and precise reason. I have no particular insight into the source or validity of the R265 design. That design, about which some details have leaked, is alleged to have come from the now-allegedly-terminated pre-2003 Iranian nuclear bomb program.

      These are statements of fact. It is not proof that the R265 design actually came from the Iranian program. I am not in posession of any better information than the press or other open investigators to determine the truth of the origins of R265. Two competing theories are inside Iran’s weapons program, or a foreign intelligence frame-up job. At no point have I ever denied the two competing origin theories or stated I have any factual way of proving one.

      The remaining issues are:

      1. Does the leaked R265 match the detonation wave focusing mechanism Danilenko used repeatedly and admitted supplying to Iran? A: Unambiguously yes. The descriptions and mechanism of action directly match. This is a technical explosives engineering conclusion and not subject to any reasonable educated technical counterarguments in public or private to date.

      2. Is the leaked R265 design like any deployed nuclear weapon explosive lens / wave-shaping system known? A: No. It provides an unlensed multipoint implosion system which requires relatively thick explosives layers to even out the detonation fronts and a thick pit outer layer, which make for a much heavier system than others use. It does not provide a true spherical implosion wave. US experts have apparently toyed with similar designs (details still classified) but this is not the mechanism known western weapons or alleged Russian weapons use.

      3. And is the leaked R265 credibly a nuclear weapon design that could work? A: Yes. Several independent open researchers, including myself, have performed R265 based systems simulations with widely varying methods and assumptions, and can make a simulated workable weapon matching the leaked information. I believe Ara posted his summary results here on ACW.

      These results do not directly address the fundamental question as to whether R265 came from Iran or a western intelligence agency frame -up.

      They do amount to an internally consistent story regarding a possible Iran origin. They do match the Parchin test chamber leaks. They do match Iranian IRBM warhead designs.

      My opinion – which is just that – is that I have a hard time believing that a western intelligence agency would leak a viable nuclear weapon design to the public just to frame Iran. Such would be incredibly dangerous and irresponsible. But, that is not proof, I have no proof, and I have never claimed otherwise.

      Various other people and politicians and press have explicitly or implicitly asserted that conclusion as fact. There may be other unpublished information which answers it. I have not seen it.

  4. Cyrus (History)

    George William Herbert, do you have any proof of your assertions? Are we here to tell each other tall tales?

  5. yousaf (History)

    I appreciate the open discussion allowed in the comments section.

    I don’t see any Safeguards or NPT violations in trying to acquire enrichment technology.

    This is not a great state of affairs, but is a weakness of the NPT & CSAs — a weakness that 3rd world diplomats introduced on purpose when hammering out the NPT & CSAs.

    It is really too bad that the NPT permits fuel cycle technology. Technically, the NPT and CSAs permit enrichment even to weapons grade, so long as it is done under safeguards.

    e.g. your quote:
    “In 1987, Iranian interlocutors met with S. Mohamed Farouq, a businessman representing A.Q. Khan, at his workshop in Dubai. Farouq provided Iran with a 15-page document describing the procedures for the reduction of UF6 to uranium metal and the machining of enriched uranium metal into hemispheres. He also gave them a list of European suppliers that manufacture the dual-use technology needed to develop the front end of the nuclear fuel cycle. Iran – unlike Libya – initially opted for the do-it-yourself centrifuge model and wanted to build its nuclear infrastructure on its own. However, in order to do so, they needed to import the specialized equipment needed to produce enrichment and conversion technology. Iran appears to have entrusted this task to Dr. Seyyed Abbas Shahmoradi-Zavareh, a former faculty member at Sharif University. ”


    Yes, it is interesting that Iran may have tried to do that, if indeed that history is correct — I have no sources to check it against, but we can assume it is true for the purposes of argument.

    But the point is: so long as Iran did not divert nuclear material to weapons uses it is not legally problematic.

    It is a concern, but it is not a legally substantial concern.

    I think the maximum that Iran can be accused of is indulging in nuclear weapons _research_ — something that is consistent with the NPT and CSAs, so long as no diversion takes place.

    What is more interesting is that, according to Mark Hibbs, the IAEA was initially more than happy to help Iran with its pilot enrichment efforts:


    Iran’s nuclear program was kicked off in the 1950s with the full encouragement and support of the United States, under president Eisenhower’s Atoms for Peace program. In 1983, after the Islamic revolution, Iran went—in an overt way—to the IAEA to get help in setting up a pilot uranium enrichment facility. And the IAEA was then quite receptive to the idea. According to an authoritative account by Mark Hibbs in Nuclear Fuel, “IAEA officials were keen to assist Iran in reactivating a research program to learn how to process U3O8 into UO2 pellets and then set up a pilot plant to produce UF6, according to IAEA documents obtained by Nuclear Fuel.” But, according to Hibbs, “when in 1983 the recommendations of an IAEA mission to Iran were passed on to the IAEA’s technical cooperation program, the U.S. government then ‘directly intervened’ to discourage the IAEA from assisting Iran in production of UO2 and UF6. ‘We stopped that in its tracks,’ said a former U.S. official.”

    So when Iran’s open overture to the IAEA was stymied politically, they used more covert means to set up their enrichment facilities. Enrichment facilities by their nature can be dual-use, of course, but they are certainly not disallowed under the NPT. Iran’s allegedly “covert” or “sneaky” behavior may thus have been a response to the politicization at the IAEA documented in Hibbs’ Nuclear Fuel article.”


    Also, please see:




    In the spirit of reconciliation, the P5+1 states and the IAEA could admit to having used unorthodox procedures, partly motivated by political considerations, in handling Iran’s case. They should now support passage of a new Security Council resolution that annuls the past UN nuclear sanctions, and better captures the current reality of what a realistic end-state of Iran’s nuclear program would look like. Reforming the IAEA’s management structure and funding streams should also be seriously considered to improve the professionalism of the Agency. Bringing in a new IAEA chief who is seen as more apolitical than the current one could also be very helpful. Given its historical misuse, the IAEA should also revisit whether it will continue to accept intelligence from third parties, especially non-NPT member states.

    If the UN, in consultation with member states, expands the IAEA’s mandate to include not just inspections but also investigations in signatory nations, then the IAEA budget and personnel should be correspondingly increased. Currently, there are only two staff members at the IAEA with backgrounds in nuclear weapons. This may be sufficient to fulfill the Agency’s traditional inspections role, but is not enough to reliably carry out thorough nuclear-weapons investigations worldwide, as the Agency seems increasingly called upon to do.

    In the longer term, possibly the best way to stop the propagation of dual-use nuclear technology would be to implement a revamped “NPT 2.0” that explicitly discourages the propagation of nuclear fuel-cycle and nuclear power technology and does not set up false expectations in signatory states.

    Expecting too much from the Iran nuclear talks is likely going to result in their failure. Secretary of State John Kerry has asked Iran to prove its nuclear program is exclusively peaceful. This is an almost impossible demand for any inherently dual-use technology. Kerry’s request is also impossible to square with the Joint Plan of Action’s statement that after the final deal, “the Iranian nuclear programme will be treated in the same manner as that of any non-nuclear weapon state party to the NPT.” Certainly, no one can currently verify whether Brazil or Argentina’s nuclear program is purely peaceful. In all, there are 53 other states like Iran for which the IAEA’s “evaluations regarding the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities [… remain] ongoing.”

    • stein (History)

      No problem Yousaf. Always enjoy a good debate.

      I find the continued references to the Hibbs article to be a bit odd. It refers to conversion, but not enrichment. Certainly one can say the experiments implied an interest in enrichment, but that is not always the case. In Turkey, for example, they perform small-scale milling, conversion, and fuel fabrication operations. I talked to a bunch of nuclear officials who have dealt with Ankara in the past and they have repeatedly expressed an interest in fabricating fuel – either from thorium or natural uranium – but have not expressed any interest in enrichment. Ankara wont rule it out, but they have said they have “no plans” to enrich and have even supported the idea of a regional fuel center. Anyways, back to Iran. The best source of their nuclear decision-making, in my opinion, comes from these two documents: http://lewis.armscontrolwonk.com/files/2012/08/Rahbord.pdf and http://lewis.armscontrolwonk.com/files/2012/08/Rowhani_Interview.pdf. It is like Rouhani unplugged on the issue.

      I also find the NPT discussion – while tangentially related – to be a little bit off topic. I am not going to argue that Iran has a legitimate gripe with the way it has been treated, but I think the main issue here is the PMD file. One can certainly take issue with the Alleged Studies documentation, but they do show a concerted effort to develop all of the technologies necessary to deliver and detonate a nuclear weapon. Thus, for me, the issue isn’t enrichment – I think one can detect diversion in a timely manner to reassure skeptical US policymakers (Now that time differs if you live in say Tel Aviv or Riyadh, but I will argue it from an American perspective) -but how the enrichment program appears to have been linked to a weapons program. Again, that is based on the Alleged Studies documents.

      And here, in my opinion, is where the two issues become linked again – Regardless of the outcome of the current negotiations, Iran is going to have an enrichment program. So, if you want to lessen the tension, one has to figure out a way to reassure a very skeptical international community that all of those questionable experiments have ended. In order to do so, I think Iran has to resolve the PMD issue. In many ways, the issue of what Iran did during the 1980s vis-a-vis enrichment/conversion is irrelevant now. I think what is more relevant is that IAEA, in the November 2011 Board Report, described the documents – when combined with their own investigation – as credible.

      As for ENTEC and the reference to the 1977 document, there is a lot more information out there about the plans for the facility. The plan for Entec was to have five divisions, with the two most important being reactor physics and metallurgy. The other three divisions were intended to study fuel fabrication, uranium chemistry, and desalinization. The plan for the Isfahan nuclear research center, according to Etemad, was to use the facilities to train power plant engineers, for research on power reactors, “particularly breeder reactors”, and for experiments to “familiarize [Iran] with the fuel cycles.” Iran was particularly interested in being “able to manufacture the fuel elements of the light water power stations and to learn how to handle uranium and plutonium (Hence Etemad’s repeated interest in the breeder. Another AEOI scientist told me they were interested in MOX as well). The team reported that the facility was intended to act as a pilot plant for all aspects of the fuel cycle, except for enrichment. In the original plans, for example, the metallurgy division was tapped to study “materials to be used in reactors and other facilities, in which radioactive substances are manipulated.” The distinction is important. With that said, as I noted above, Iran was watching the development of gas centrifuge, jet nozzle, and laser enrichment closely and never did rule it out during the 1970s. They simply chose to elevate fuel fabrication over enrichment at that time. However, the intense focus on what Iran said in the 1970s vis-a-vis enrichment sorta misses the point – the concern in the US was reprocessing. And this is where we had our disagreements with the French and Germans.

      I think it is important to note the parallels between Entec’s interest in conversion during the Shah’s time – i.e. the reference in the Hibbs article – and the decision in 1981 to start it up again. BTW, that only happened because Dr. Reza Khazaneh convinced AEOI direct Sahabi that it was worth continuing work at the site after the revolution. Anyways, I actually think this raises questions – If you have two Shah era facilities that continued with Shah era work after the revolution – ENTEC and TNRC – why would you build another facility, Lavizan Shian, that allegedly conducted many of the same tasks? Again, this leads me back to the PMD issue. I am not alone in this regard. And, in all cases, this walk through history – while always very interesting – has little to do with the PMD issue.

    • yousaf (History)

      I guess I was not splitting hairs on that — my point was (as posted to your turkeywonk site also), that the IAEA was receptive to helping Iranian work on conversion/enrichment/fuel cycle stuff.

      The reason it was is that the NPT, as written, encourages the proliferation of nuclear power related technology. (Maybe not as practiced now, but as written in 1968)

      The referral to Hibbs’ nuclear fuel article is also made to show that the US intervened and used political influence to change the IAEA’s decision making.

      It is a clear cut case of politicizing the IAEA. That is why I refer to it often.

      There is nothing wrong with NPT member states doing enrichment or conversion or whatever, so long as nuclear material is not diverted to making bombs.

      The US view is here:


      On July 10, 1968, then-Arms Control and Disarmament Agency Director William Foster testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee about the NPT. In response to a question regarding the type of nuclear activities prohibited by Article II of the NPT, Foster said:

      “It may be useful to point out, for illustrative purposes, several activities which the United States would not consider per se to be violations of the prohibitions in Article II. Neither uranium enrichment nor the stockpiling of fissionable material in connection with a peaceful program would violate Article II so long as these activities were safeguarded under Article III. Also clearly permitted would be the development, under safeguards, of plutonium fueled power reactors, including research on the properties of metallic plutonium, nor would Article II interfere with the development or use of fast breeder reactors under safeguards.” [emphasis added]

      So not only does the NPT not interfere with the inherent right of nations to pursue nuclear fuel-cycle activities, but the official US government view was that such activities are explicitly permitted under the NPT.

      As Mark Hibbs recently explained: “…like Iran, countries negotiating 123 agreements, including Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Vietnam, refused to have Washington dictate and limit their future nuclear technology choices. Some protagonists in debates on Iran and broader nuclear policy insist there is no “right” to enrich. Yet, if this were self-evidently true, it would not have been a big deal for the UAE to have agreed not to undertake enrichment.”

      About the PMD file: it is (largely) outside both the mandate and the expertise of the IAEA to examine it:


      The IAEA is not a *weapons* _investigation_ Agency: it is a nuclear materials inspections agency — it simply lacks the technical skills to do nuclear weapons related investigations.

      This is not an insult to the IAEA: it is a statement of fact.

      If the UN, in consultation with member states, expands the IAEA’s mandate to include not just inspections but also investigations in signatory nations, then the IAEA budget and personnel should be correspondingly increased.

      Currently, there are only two staff members at the IAEA with backgrounds in nuclear weapons.

      This may be sufficient to fulfill the Agency’s traditional inspections role, but is not enough to reliably carry out thorough nuclear-weapons investigations worldwide, as the Agency seems increasingly called upon to do.

      If any of the PMD file can be shown to be authentic and if Iran can be shown the evidence it is being charged with, and if the IAEA has the mandate and technical skills to investigate it then it may bear further examination.

      To date, it is random (not nuclear-material) stuff that has not stood up to technical scrutiny anyway, is outside the IAEA mandate and skill-set, and Iran has not been confronted with all of the evidence.

      I am more than happy to discuss any of this further.

      BTW, I have another comment from before still stuck for moderation — would appreciate if you’d post that as it bears upon the current discussion.

      Thanks again — always good to openly air out these issues with knowledgeable people.

    • Cheryl Rofer (History)

      Small point, but not trivial: In the November 2011 IAEA report on Iran, the one with the supplement on PMD, the IAEA says that it has additional information beyond that in the “laptop of death.” Obviously they don’t use that phrase, but if you read the supplement carefully, they have collected additional information.

      As to the point that “the IAEA has no weapons experts,” it is possible to learn quite a bit about weapons design from the open literature and in other ways. The inspectors train at Los Alamos, and I would not be surprised if there were some learning there too, without the passage of classified information.

      In fact, if the only way to learn about nuclear weapons were by being a weapons designer, discussion here at ACW would be greatly impoverished!

    • yousaf (History)

      You are right it is a small point.

      Whether or not it is trivial or not depends on whether the rest of the non-laptop evidence in authentic information or forgeries or whether in fact it has any relation to nuclear materials.

      Given past IAEA unprofessionalism, mistakes, incompetence and political bias one can come to one’s own conclusions about its non-triviality.

    • yousaf (History)

      And I did not say: “the IAEA has no weapons experts,”

      I said it has (approx) two (2).

      It is not clear they are on the Iran beat, as Iran is allowed some say over the nationality of inspectors.

  6. yousaf (History)

    “The November 2011 Board Report notes that researchers at Shahid Behesti University and Amir Kabir University have published papers relating to the generation, measurement, and modelling of neutron transport. The Agency also found “other Iranian publications which relate to the application of detonation shock dynamics to the modelling of detonation in high explosives, and the use of hydrodynamic codes in the modelling of jet formation with shaped (hollow) charges.” ”

    Ferenc and I looked into some of the stuff that is evidently associated with these alleged bomb codes and such (according to the Associated Press):


    Also so, re. the alleged neutron initiators:



    “What about the three indications that the arms project may have been reactivated?

    Two of the three are attributed only to two member states, so the sourcing is impossible to evaluate. In addition, their validity is called into question by the agency’s handling of the third piece of evidence.

    That evidence, according to the IAEA, tells us Iran embarked on a four-year program, starting around 2006, to validate the design of a device to produce a burst of neutrons that could initiate a fission chain reaction. Though I cannot say for sure what source the agency is relying on, I can say for certain that this project was earlier at the center of what appeared to be a misinformation campaign.

    In 2009, the IAEA received a two-page document, purporting to come from Iran, describing this same alleged work. Mohamed ElBaradei, who was then the agency’s director general, rejected the information because there was no chain of custody for the paper, no clear source, document markings, date of issue or anything else that could establish its authenticity. What’s more, the document contained style errors, suggesting the author was not a native Farsi speaker. It appeared to have been typed using an Arabic, rather than a Farsi, word-processing program. When ElBaradei put the document in the trash heap, the U.K.’s Times newspaper published it.

    This episode had suspicious similarities to a previous case that proved definitively to be a hoax. In 1995, the IAEA received several documents from the Sunday Times, a sister paper to the Times, purporting to show that Iraq had resumed its nuclear-weapons program in spite of all evidence to the contrary. The IAEA quickly determined that the documents were elaborate forgeries. ”


    So, some of the alleged studies stuff are likely forgeries — and the others are not shown to Iran, so it is ‘secret evidence’ that hardly anyone could be expected to respond to.

    Also, re. the Polonium in the news lately:


    And the EBWs:


    I haven’t seen anything that is publicly available that looks authentic or a real concern.

    Here is what the ex-UK ambassador to the IAEA says about the PMD stuff:



    A still more serious charge is that Israel has engaged in the forgery and fabrication of intelligence.

    Since early 2008 the case against Iran has rested mainly on material stored on a laptop. The material came into US hands in 2004, and was passed to the IAEA in 2005. For two and a half years IAEA officials regarded the material as dubious and made no use of it. It was only in 2008 that they started to press Iran to answer for it. …

    ….despite the IAEA reporting in early 2008 that Iran had resolved all the concerns that had arisen out of IAEA investigations in the preceding years.

    In 2008 Israel passed to the IAEA intelligence suggesting that, years earlier, Iran had conducted nuclear weapon detonation tests at its Parchin military site. Then in 2009 Israel supplied “evidence” that Iran had resumed weapons-related research post-2003.

    ….Those sanctions have hurt Iranians and have damaged European and Asian economies.

    The supposed refusal to cooperate has also served to justify maintaining UN demands that were first made of Iran before the 2007 NIE, when it seemed reasonable to consider Iran’s nuclear program a threat to peace, but which became inappropriate after the 2007 NIE and once the IAEA had reported the resolution of all its pre-2008 concerns.”

    …..All talk of an “Iranian nuclear threat” is therefore premature. Consequently, the draconian measures implemented by the US and its allies to avert that threat are unreasonable and unwarranted.


    Again, that is the former UK amb to the IAEA who is intimately aware of much of the alleged evidence as he was in Vienna on station when the relevant discussions were taking place.

    Dr Jim Walsh, a research associate at MIT, has an excellent suggestion about what to do with Iran’s “PMD” file – as paraphrased by Mark Hibbs:

    “If the nuclear activities were in the past, I don’t care. It’s dead, and it’s regretful, but let’s do a deal with Iran that moves forward.”

    That seems wise given the lack of professionalism at the Agency and its evident political bias.

  7. yousaf (History)


    you say:

    “Iran is alleged to have tested the R265 with Tungsten substituted for uranium in 2003 and used a variety of diagnostic equipment to monitor the symmetry of the compressive shock wave.”

    This is not technically valid.





    ISIS has propagated the technically ill-informed suggestion that tungsten could have been used as a surrogate for unenriched uranium in such tests.

    There are at least two problems with that scenario:

    (1) Tungsten is a very hard brittle material that melts at over 3400 C. In fact it is virtually impossible to melt tungsten and cast it into precise shapes and it is almost impossible to machine. So tungsten precision parts are made by pressing very pure tungsten powder in very precise molds so that the resulting shapes don’t need to be machined.

    If someone is using tungsten as a surrogate for testing uranium bomb parts they must be very precise in dimensions so this procedure must be used. It is a major industrial development project in its own right.

    Furthermore, tungsten has very different mechanical properties from uranium in every regard except for density.

    So it is a lousy surrogate for uranium in a test relevant to possible nuclear weaponization studies.

    *****The results of such a test will be largely meaningless.*****

    (2) Tungsten is not a nuclear material and, unlike uranium, there is no need for Iran to declare what it is doing with tungsten, so there would be no legal safeguards issue even if Iran were to have done implosion tests with tungsten or other non-fissile material.

    Before delving into further technical issues regarding the Parchin site in Iran, let’s examine the related mishandling and misreporting of the IAEA’s environmental sampling in Syria, since it is relevant to judging the IAEA’s competency, impartiality and professionalism in such environmental sampling.

    • Cheryl Rofer (History)

      This is precisely the kind of comment that could not be made here if nuclear weapons design were strictly the province of weapons designers.

    • George William Herbert (History)

      The properties which most matter are its shock velocity and compression parameters and the various Hugonoit plane relationships. U-u (shock velocity vs particle velocity), P-v (pressure vs specific volume), P-u. For higher compression systems, the Fermi Gas equations for that material.

      (Anyone serious at this needs to at least buy Cooper’s “Explosives Engineering” textbook…).

    • yousaf (History)

      But the fact that it was made at ACL ages ago, yet still not recognized by ISIS and the IAEA as a weakness in their allegations, demonstrates the need for better experts there, including if possible, actual weapons designers — in case the IAEA’s mandate is extended by member nations to weapons’ investigations, and not merely nuclear material inspections/accountancy as is the case now.

    • George William Herbert (History)

      I wish I had the pointer to the ArmsControlLaw site article some time ago.

      Yousaf, I want to point out a couple of things. There are various reasons to do full spherical and hemispherical implosion system tests. The light breakout one you suggested, in describing why a hemispherical test with a pit would make no sense, is only part of the possible picture.

      Hemispherical tests are used because they’re easier to do (half the materials) and easier to get access to results (watching from the “missing side”). What you look for and with what test system depends on the implosion system.

      Other testing for modified (partial cut-away) full spherical systems is done as well, but hemispherical is very useful.

      The light break-out imaging you referred to, which essentially optically measures the detonation wave arrival at the inside of the explosives layer, is very useful for systems intended for high precision spherical implosion waves. Any early bright spots or late dark spots indicate asymmetry.

      However, this system is (again, allegedly and according to the leaks, which constitute the totality of what I “know” about it) nonlensed and does not desire true spherical implosion symmetry. It’s pseudosymmetrical, in that multipoint initiation via the folded path system should be uniform at a large number of points at the outer edge. Each of which will start a spherical inwards-travelling detonation wave. Ignoring for a moment the possibility of shockwave interactions causing “jetting” like effects at points of collision, we can approximate this as the merger of a field of expanding spherical waves, starting at points on an outer sphere, reaching inwards towards the inner sphere.

      If we simplify this as a “square pattern”, then any 4 adjacent points of initiation will “break out” of the inner sphere at the same time, but there will always be a “dark spot” directly in between them, as the waves traveling along the longer hypotenuse haven’t reached the inner sphere yet. Similarly for triangular patterns, at a “dark spot” directly at the center of the triangle, but with different geometry details. This all is easy to explain with a flat sheet initiated at arbitrary points, harder to do on a spherical shell, but the idea is easy.

      Given the built-in asymmetry, the most important data you will learn off a test of a system like this is the behavior of the hollow tamper layer, how symmetrical its implosion is, given that the detonation wave reaches it in an intentionally un-smooth manner. This sort of thing you can photograph with very high speed cameras, or you do a pin-ball array sort of test with a hemisphere instead of a pseudosphere. You also have to account for edge losses (just use the data from the “center” of the hemisphere, not the edge along the cut plane…).

      This also would be where using the same tamper material as you expect to use in the real bomb would be most important. So, for a DU or NU tamped HEU fissile core bomb, you’d very much want a DU or NU simulated tamper along with your pin-ball array. Similarly, for a W tamped HEU core, you’d want a W simulated tamper shell, for a Be tamped one a Be test shell, etc. How it responds in detail to the uneven detonation wave, how smooth its arrival at the inner fissile pit position is, these are the key details you need to know. Another tamper’s acceleration profile with the uneven detonation arrival will be completely different.

      The internal shockwave velocity vs the particle velocity in the tamper simulated shell is of key importance… Along with other behaviors, depending on thicknesses of tamper, gap to the fissile pit, etc.

    • yousaf (History)

      Thanks for the info.

      Yes, you should feel free to wander over to ACL: lots of interesting and accurate posts there.

      What you mention is interesting but changes none of what was concluded: The W is not useful as a surrogate for U.

      And if Iran did do stuff with W, then it is not a safeguards issue.

      If people want to make doing tests with W a possible safeguards issue, they have to re-write the CSA and the NPT.

      Bottom line: the NPT and CSAs allow a nuclear weapons capability.

      Yes, the situation sucks.

  8. yousaf (History)

    FYI, Colleague offers some thoughts on PMD issues here:


  9. nukeman (History)

    Tungsten has played an integral part of the US nuclear program since the early 1940s. One of the first discussions of the use of tungsten carbide as a tamper for the U-235 gun assembly occurred during mid 1944. A series of reports were produced by Los Alamos on integral experiments that discussed tamper reflection and distributions and tungsten played a key role in those experiments. A 1947 document states that “ten tungsten carbide rings, thirteen inches in diameter, were produced this month. In 1949 a series of memos came out regarding tungsten polythene requirements for the weapons program.

    Monthly classification bulletin no. 19 from 1958 has an entire section devoted to the research and development of tungsten in the weapons program. Fact c. states that tungsten is used in weapons. During the 1960s tungsten played a role as a tamper for use in implosion devices sued in the US PNE program. Declassified fallout data on tungsten isotopes is available starting from early 1960. A 1965 Mound memorandum discusses uranium-235, uranium-233 and plutonium-239 device subassemblies with a tungsten shell.

    The role tungsten played in fallout is discussed in a number of journal articles written by US and Russian authors. Analysis of the 1968 Schooner test which used tungsten as a tamper was again done by US and Russian researchers. The Russian articles were very detailed in their analysis and a simple search of the open scientific literature would have found and other articles. The chief author of one of the Russian articles is Yu. Israel who wrote a famous book on fallout analysis entitled “The Gamma Emission of Radioactive Fallout.”

    • yousaf (History)

      ” tungsten carbide as a tamper ”

      Fine. Not Tungsten.

      And Not Tungsten as proxy for U, OK?

      And any IAEA member state can do whatever it feels like with Tungsten as it is not a “nuclear material”

      There are actual laws and treaties and agreements that cover all this.

      This is a good site to learn about them:


    • George William Herbert (History)

      The question never was whether Tungsten has been used in weapons – WC was in Little Boy, yes. And it’s a likely secondary tamper/ablator material, along with uses elsewhere. The open literature on fast prompt fission critical mass calculations and tests uses W as one of the standard materials they tested and calculated all over, and those choices tended to be weapons-use related.

      The question is, is the suggestion that one might test a HEU weapon with W as a surrogate material.

      As to that question, the shockwave behavior and shock compression of W and U are different. The usual surrogate material for HEU is DU or natural uranium. One can imagine designs for which the differences were not that severe, but the only real point there would be to disguise the test residue as being uranium-related. If it was say fired in a sealed container, without dispersed material, then there’s no point in testing with anything but DU or NU.

      So, possibly one could imagine a weapon test with surrogate material, for a moderate range of possible weapon designs, with low fidelity.

      One could easier imagine testing other components, such as the implosion system symmetry and energy transfer, without intending to exactly model the pit. That sort of testing, without it being directly of a whole HEU weapon, could use a surrogate material quite easily. It would obviously be weapon RELATED – there are essentially no non-nuclear applications for spherical implosion systems, Danilenko’s ficton aside. But the treaties are grossly negligent at adequately defining what’s a weapon component and what’s a physics test.

  10. nukeman (History)

    Most of the Iranian research on the explosive compaction of tungsten was published openly in journals and presented at conferences during the mid2000 to late 2000s range. Two research teams were involved in these studies, one from the Department of Mechanical Engineering, K.N. Toosi University and the other from the Department of Metallurgy Engineering, Amir Kabir University. Two of these articles on this research were published in Farsi and I will send Aaron Stein copies to be made available to anyone interested. One of the researchers (Ali Mehdipoor Omrani)who was involved in those studies is now at the Faculty of materials and Manufacturing Science, Malek Ashtar University where he is involved in armor penetration studies.

    Information of the the actual design of the R265 multipoint initiation system has not been published however I am in the process of reviewing an openly published obscure Russian reference that discusses this detonation system. After verifying that this is indeed the R265 system I will made the details available to those interested.

    • yousaf (History)

      That’s great to know.

      Also, since Tungsten is not a “nuclear material” it is irrelevant to any legal issues.

      Here is the CSA:


      “on all source or special fissionable material in all
      peaceful nuclear activities within the territory of Iran, under its jurisdiction or carried out under its
      control anywhere, for the exclusive purpose of verifying that such material is not diverted to nuclear
      weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.”


      But, yes, it is certainly interesting to talk about what Iran did with Tungsten in the completely open literature.

    • Cyrus (History)

      A key term not to be missed in the Iran CSA is the word “exclusive” in “for the exclusive purpose of verifying that such material is not diverted to nuclear weapons…”

      EXCLUSIVE as in Amano cannot later claim, quite falsely, in a footnote to the IAEA report on Iran, that the IAEA Board had “endorsed” the view that the IAEA can ALSO insist on wide-ranging fishing expeditions and demands for access well beyond what the CSA allows.

      Even under the CSA, the inspections are supposed to be kept to a minimum so as to not interfere with nuclear work. Yet today somehow despite this, Iran is expected to provided information and access far beyond the NPT obligations, and all the while also expected to foresake any benefit from the same treaty.

      While you wonks are arguing about “surrogate fidelity” of mysterious substances that may or may not have been used in experiments that may or may not have happened and may or may not have been any of the IAEA’s business, you’re sort of missing the bigger POLITICAL picture here.

    • George William Herbert (History)

      Cyrus wrote:
      While you wonks are arguing about “surrogate fidelity” of mysterious substances that may or may not have been used in experiments that may or may not have happened and may or may not have been any of the IAEA’s business, you’re sort of missing the bigger POLITICAL picture here.

      The larger political picture is ALWAYS in play. As has been noticed elsewhere, the endgame here may well be that Iran does not admit what it did before, and the IAEA and UN Security Council and the Western nations don’t keep asking as long as they have credible belief that it’s over. Not everyone agrees with that, there’s a significant minority who feel that lack of transparency of prior activity makes trust going forwards problematical.

      The key TECHNICAL point here – which is still subject to unwarranted dispute – is whether the R265 / Parchin chamber / Laptop of Doom picture adds up to a nuclear weapon and nuclear weapon inert test program or not.

      This is being used by Iran, certain of its sympathizers, and a number of critics in the west to try and claim that there never really was a program, that this is all a big misinterpretation, etc.

      Despite Robert Kelly’s public criticism, the picture does consistently add up to a viable weapon design, test program, etc. The critics are grasping for straws, the Iranians are looking for cover.

      However, that does not resolve the INTELLIGENCE problem, which is whether the R265 “package” (design + program + Parchin + laptop) is true or not, authentically Iranian or presumably a foreign plant.

      It is possible that this was a viable design + test program + Danilenko link “forged” by a foreign power, who had found out Danilenko was in Iran and knew what he worked on and had a suspicious looking building they could blame. I don’t find that likely, but I doubt anyone posting on this forum can prove the matter either way (though a number of readers probably can).

      I find it more likely it’s real and authentic, but can’t prove that.

      The TECHNICAL aspects are important in assessing the INTELLIGENCE problem – a truly non-viable forgery would have exposed the whole thing as a transparent forgery attempt. Some people are still clinging to that being so. That doesn’t mean it’s not a really good forgery attempt, but it’s not trivially wrong.

  11. yousaf (History)
  12. Olli Heinonen (History)

    GWB wrote: ..it’s real and authentic, but can’t prove that.

    Important part of the IAEA assessment in is checking of the veracity of information, which is not a simple process.

    Just for the sake of argument, let us look at some calculations related to a possible design of a missile re-entry vehicle. Such calculations could take a benefit of specific software, which might have several versions in the market. For the sake of convenience the designer may have used in his/her presentations screen print outs or tables generated by the version of the software, which was produced before 2003. Let us then assume that there was a video from a workshop, which was claimed to produce some components for that same re-entry vehicle. Such an video may have again in it information that it was not only shot before year 2003, but it is actually shot in a workshop in that particular town, and street where the alleged workshop according to the documentation exists. From these videos you may find the persons, who actually manufactured the parts and in some other information guys, who did some of the calculations. If they turn out to be persons, who on those days likely worked in the places indicated in the documentation, you have one more piece of interest indicating that work was likely done before 2003. It goes without saying that these are just examples and additional “tests” were done e.g. for the calculations.

    I do not recall that ElBaradei put any of the documents to a trash heap in this particular matter. However, we did not act in any of the items unless there were reasonable reasons to believe that they were relevant to the verification mission and that they passed independent tests described above. These delays or non-use of information certainly lead to speculations and talks by people – in the IAEA or even missions – not directly involved with the matters. This is certainly some times disturbing, but it is the price to be paid for a due technical examination process.

    • yousaf (History)


      thanks for your comment:

      “some calculations related to a possible design of a missile re-entry vehicle”

      Do you believe that examining missile-related research is within the mandate and expertise of the IAEA?

      For reference, here is the CSA:


      “on all source or special fissionable material in all
      peaceful nuclear activities within the territory of Iran, under its jurisdiction or carried out under its
      control anywhere, for the ******exclusive purpose****** of verifying that such material is not diverted to nuclear
      weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.”

  13. yousaf (History)

    BTW, Peter Jenkins former UK ambassador to the IAEA has a new piece out:


    “The latest IAEA report suggests that Iran is in full compliance with its Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty safeguards obligations…”

    • shaheen (History)

      The comment by Jenkins is dishonest. Nowhere does the latest IAEA report say that Iran is in “full compliance” with it safeguards obligations. Words matter.

  14. Olli Heinonen (History)

    Yousaf wrote : Do you believe that examining missile-related research is within the mandate and expertise of the IAEA?

    IAEA Board and the UN Security resolutions are instructions, which the Secretariat follows. In addition, Iran has agreed to remove the ambiguities, and to this end we had a Work Plan, and now Iran and the IAEA are to take a small next step with the issue of Exploding Bridge Wires.

    The IAEA has quite good ways and means to tackle questions, which you raised. The Secretariat relies to the expertise of its Member States by bringing experts, consultants etc to the House when needed. You might be aware that most of the IAEA booklets, recommendations, guidelines etc are being produced that way. In this particular case, similar approach has been followed. Some of the experts, on these and other relevant safeguards topics have been even participating in meetings in Iran. Unfortunately, the process came to halt in September 2008.

    • yousaf (History)

      As I mention in my Reuters piece above the UNSC resolutions over-reached.

      More details can be found here:


      Since, as Peter Jenkins says in his latest LobeLog piece Iran is now in compliance, these nuclear-instigated Chapter 7 UNSCRs should be removed.

      But let’s pretend that the UNSCRs were legitimately applied (which they were not).

      Even so, the IAEA should have informed the UNSC that the IAEA does not have the skill-set in house to do such and, more importantly, has no legal basis for getting involved with things not related to nuclear materials.

      The IAEA even admitted to this: “absent some nexus to nuclear material the Agency’s legal authority to pursue the verification of possible nuclear weapons related activity is limited.”


      So,just because the UNSC wrongly tasks the IAEA with things the IAEA has no business or expertise investigating, after wrongly applying Chapter 7 sanctions, does not mean the IAEA should eagerly step to the plate and pretend it can or should do this work.

      Some more honesty, and less politicization would go a long way towards curing the ills at the Agency. And the problems are not only in the Safeguards section. For a broader picture see the latest post at “Atomic Reporters”.