The Declining Credibility of the IAEA
Yesterday, I pointed out that the IAEA is preparing to release a report on potential development of nuclear weapons in Iran almost exactly two years after the departure of Mohamed ElBaradei as its leader. As discussed in that post, one of the key pieces of evidence that is anticipated to be discussed in the report is a large steel container in which explosions are carried out. The claim will be that this chamber is being used to test the use of conventional explosives as a trigger device for a nuclear weapon.
Even before the official report comes out, there are now serious questions about the credibility of the claims on the steel tank. In a post yesterday at Moon of Alabama, b informs us that there is a likely very different use of the conventional explosive technology and the steel chamber where the explosions are carried out. A key to unraveling this mystery was an examination of the area of expertise for the Russian scientist cited as the source of the explosive technology in the Washington Post’s “scoop” of the expected content of the IAEA report. From the Moon of Alabama post:
Dr. Vyacheslav Danilenko is a well known Ukrainian (“former Soviet”) scientist. But his specialties are not “weapon” or “nuclear” science, indeed there seems to be nothing to support that claim, but the production of nanodiamonds via detonations (ppt). According to the history of detonation nanodiamonds he describes in chapter 10 of Ultrananocrystalline Diamond – Synthesis, Properties, and Applications (pdf) he has worked in that field since 1962, invented new methods used in the process and is related with Alit, an Ukrainian company that produces nanodiamonds.
Some years ago Iran launched a big Nano Technology Initiative which includes Iranian research on detonation nanodiamonds (pdf). Iran is officially planing to produce them on industrial scale. It holds regular international conferences and invites experts on nanotechnology from all over the world. It is quite likely that famous international scientists in that field, like Dr. Danilenko, have been invited, gave talks in Iran and cooperate with its scientists.
Producing nanodiamonds via detonations uses large confined containers with water cooling, for which Danilenko seems to have a patent. The Ukrainian company he works with, Alit, shows such a detonation chamber on its webpage as does the picture above from the French-German nano-research company ISL. The detonation nanodiamond explanation thereby also fits with another allegation from the IAEA report:
So it turns out that the most likely use of the “bus-sized steel container” is the production of nanodiamonds. As b points out in an update, that explanation now has reached the Guardian (though without citing Moon of Alabama, I would note):
Previous IAEA reports have said Iran appears to have received foreign assistance in its experiments with advanced explosive devices, and the Washington Post named Vyacheslav Danilenko, a Russian former atomic scientist, as a key advisor, who is said to have given lectures and contributed papers on explosives at Iran’s now defunct Physics Research Centre, which had ties to the country’s nuclear programme.
Danilenko did not reply to emails seeking comment, but sources close to the IAEA said he told its inspectors that he believed his advice was being used for civilian purposes. He is now carrying out research for a Czech-based company which uses explosives to make tiny diamonds for industrial uses.
It will be very interesting to read the actual IAEA report and to see how much, if any, space is given to a discussion of Danilenko’s career and research interests. If his work on production of nanodiamonds is not mentioned, that will be a very serious blow to the credibility of the report. Concentrating only on the potential weapons use of a technology, especially when it has been brought to Iran by a scientist with a noted history in a peaceful use of the same technology, would demonstrate a lack of balance that would essentially render the report useless.
Sadly, IAEA already has issued another worthless report. Last week, Joby Warrick reported in the Washington Post (in a story that I didn’t find until this morning) that an IAEA “discovery” of what was claimed to be a centrifuge site for uranium enrichment in Syria was actually a factory for the spinning of cotton:
After a four-year search for hidden atomic facilities in Syria, U.N. officials appeared this week to have finally struck gold: News reports linked a large factory in eastern Syria to a suspected clandestine effort to spin uranium gas into fuel for nuclear bombs.
But after further probing by private researchers, Syria’s mystery plant is looking far less mysterious. A new report concludes that the facility and its thousands of fast-spinning machines were intended to make not uranium, but cloth — a very ordinary cotton-polyester.
“It is, and always has been, a textile factory,” said one of the researchers, Jeffrey Lewis, a nuclear policy expert at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies and publisher of the blog Arms Control Wonk.
The reports, citing Western diplomats and former U.N. officials, said aerial images of the factory were being intensely studied by the U.N. nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, which has been scouring Syria for evidence of other hidden atomic facilities.
So the IAEA “discovers” a centrifuge site that in less than a week is debunked as a textile factory. And now, even before its report is released, the IAEA’s claims on an explosive trigger device may well be an equally misdiagnosed facility for production of nanodiamonds.
But if technical failure is not enough, it would appear that political forces are all too eager to fit this potentially flawed report into the ongoing anti-Iran stance the US has been promoting. From a CNN article from yesterday:
White House spokesman Jay Carney said Monday that while he did not “want to get ahead of the report, I do expect it will echo our concerns. And I think that the fact that Iran continues to misbehave, if you will, is something that concerns not just the United States, but the broader international community. And that international community, because of the actions we have taken, is now focused on pressuring Iran. … You can be sure that we will continue to work to pressure Iran, to isolate Iran.”
The IAEA report comes on the heels of recent U.S. allegations of an Iranian plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to Washington and could strengthen the U.S. case for tougher measures against Iran.
Carney is confident the report “will echo our concerns”. That is probably just an unfortunate choice of language, but it sure sounds like the “concerns” drive the report. Also note how deftly CNN then follows up the “Iran continues to misbehave” wording from Carney with a reference to the Scary Iran Plot. The way in which the IAEA report fits into this CNN article makes the IAEA appear to be just one more tool that the US is using in its propaganda campaign. That is a sad departure from an organization that is meant to be an independent watchdog relying on accurate technical assessments and complete investigations.
Update: The IAEA report has now been released. It can be accessed here (25 page pdf) on the ISIS website (David Albright’s organization).
If Iran has been working on a bomb (and I think that likely), by this time they should be completely ready to go except for the fissle material.
However, their fissle material is currently at 20% (at most) and even if they started going to bomb grade today it would take about a year before they had enough for a bomb. Assuming they had enough working centrifuges.
IMO we’re already beyond the point where you can take out their program by air. Oh, you might delay it. But not for long. You’ll have to send in commandos to personally destroy each unit. And then you’ll have to blacksite a whole bunch of engineers and scientists to prevent Iran from simply restarting. And you’ll have to close schools to prevent them from educating more engineers and scientists.
Boxturtle (Meanwhile, Iran is striking back with deep cover terrorists)
No time to lose for AIPAC, for their war we don’t need in a place we don’t do well, so our kids can die for their wet dreams. It will be very interesting to see how co-opted IAEA has become by the WH, but let’s not forget that the DPRK was able to go nuclear under their noses.
Mining the Straits is easier and more devastating. And harder to clean up.
According to the guardian, Iran has actually developed a two point implosion system. This is a VERY advanced design and would enable Iran to make a device small enough to fit on one of their rockets.
And it means that Iran would need much less U235 per warhead.
Boxturtle (Assuming that the info on the 2 point system is not based on assumptions)
@rugger9: I can’t find the darn link, but IIR it was Janes that described the mine clearing drones that could be launched via a torpedo tube.
I think Iran could place every mine they have in the Straits and we’d have it cleaned up in less than a week.
Boxturtle (And we’d be shooting at their minelayers, so I doubt they’d get many down)
Wondering what a nanodiamond actually was and what they are used for, I consulted the oracle of Wikipedia. Only to find an article that credits the very atomic-sounding Dr. Danilenko as being one of the pioneers in the field. So, if the authors of the IAEA report did so much as Google the scientist’s name, they’d certainly come up with his name in connection with the use of big explosive chambers to make a commercial grade diamond that is used in polishing compounds, motor oils and potentially as a delivery agent for cancer drugs. Though, of course (though somehow not mentioned in a Wikileaks article last revised on October 28), nuclear triggering devices apparently also are made from nanodiamonds, right? OK then.
I think this comment, from anti-proliferation expert Joseph Cirincione, is telling.
“According to the guardian, Iran has actually developed a two point implosion system. This is a VERY advanced design and would enable Iran to make a device small enough to fit on one of their rockets. ”
That is not “according to the Guardian” but according to the Guardians description of “alleged studies” that were found on the Laptop Of Death the U.S. handed to the IAEA years ago.
And thanks to Jim for picking up my story!
@b: My pleasure, great work. What do you think of the centrifuge/textile mix-up?
As a long time (relatively speaking) reader of your posts, I must comment that I enjoy reading your posts and that they compliment this site well. I do hope you can continue to be a regular with BMAZ and Emptywheel.
The IAEA report has now been released. There is an update in the post with a link to where it can be downloaded.
Off to do some reading…
@Jim – What do you think of the centrifuge/textile mix-up?
I was the one who suggested at ACW to “ask the Germans, they will know” which let the German journalist to go and ask and find.
Okay, here are the relevant paragraphs from the report. Remarkably, “nanodiamonds” does appear there, but the IAEA seems to shrug off that explanation. From pages 19 and 20 of the pdf:
So, much as they hate to admit it, nanodiamond work can explain Danilenko’s presence in Iran. And the big steel tank has been in the ground a very long time. IAEA visited the site twice without finding either the tank or anything else of concern.
Especially note also that the bulk of the information IAEA received on this topic of the high explosives trigger device work came from a single “Member State”. It seems like they could just drop the charade and admit this is info the US spoonfed them.
Just to state the obvious, if an IAEA report can be credibly debunked within a week, it doesn’t say much for the thoroughness or impartiality of its research and editorial staff.
@earlofhuntingdon if an IAEA report can be credibly debunked within a week, it doesn’t say much for the thoroughness or impartiality of its research and editorial staff.
If I publish something that can be credibly debunked within a week I believe that says a lot of my thoroughness or impartiality.
I care about what I publish and I go to the ground of issues. If something I researched and said is debunked I publicly eat crow over it. Happened, done that.
I, and my readers, think that is the way to go.
What makes you thing that NOT doing so would “not say much for the thoroughness or impartiality of its research and editorial staff”?
To me it says a lot about their moral integrity. Why do you think that such morality, keeping to the truth, doesn’t apply to the IAEA?
@Jim White: Were they unaware of the rather significant fact that Danilenko has written a book on nanodiamonds, or did they choose to omit it?
Depends upon the minelayers, they’d probably use fishing boats, it really doesn’t take much to lay them.
As we already know about drones, perfection and precision aren’t their forte. The thing to remember is that you have to get ALL of the mines, and that will take time. Even a week will cause havoc on the energy supply in the EU, et al.
@rugger9: How many big ships (aircraft carriers, tankers) would they have to sink to block the Straits of Hormuz? And just how would the wrecks be raised and removed from the straits in the midst of a shooting war?
You only have to block the shipping channels. Everywhere else you’re not going to have much to worry about: no one really wants their tanker (or their destroyer) to run aground.
This is the kind of intel that only an undeserved Peace Prize can buy.
i have read your comment several times,
i think you completely misunderstood earl of huntingdon’s prior comment,
and i think you misunderstood it in a simple-minded way that should be embarrassing to you.
reread it, please, and consider posting an apology.
@b I agree with orionATL You misunderstood.