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).





Many years ago, Jim got a BA in Radiation Biophysics from the University of Kansas. He then got a PhD in Molecular Biology from UCLA and did postdoctoral research in yeast genetics at UC Berkeley and mouse retroviruses at Stanford. He joined biosys in Palo Alto, producing insect parasitic nematodes for pest control. In the early 1990’s, he moved to Gainesville, FL and founded a company that eventually became Entomos. He left the firm as it reorganized into Pasteuria Biosciences and chose not to found a new firm due a clash of values with venture capital investors, who generally lack all values. Upon leaving, he chose to be a stay at home dad, gentleman farmer, cook and horse wrangler. He discovered the online world through commenting at Glenn Greenwald’s blog in the Salon days and was involved in the briefly successful Chris Dodd move to block the bill to renew FISA. He then went on to blog at Firedoglake and served a brief stint as evening editor there. When the Emptywheel blog moved out of Firedoglake back to standalone status, Jim tagged along and blogged on anthrax, viruses, John Galt, Pakistan and Afghanistan. He is now a mostly lapsed blogger looking for a work-around to the depressing realization that pointing out the details of government malfeasance and elite immunity has approximately zero effect.
23 replies
  1. BoxTurtle says:

    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)

  2. rugger9 says:

    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.

  3. BoxTurtle says:

    @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)

  4. What Constitution says:

    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.

  5. emptywheel says:

    I think this comment, from anti-proliferation expert Joseph Cirincione, is telling.

    Wow. The hype around the IAEA report is nearing hysteria. This report is likely to greatly disappoint with recycled intel.

  6. b says:


    “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.

    read here:

  7. Skilly says:


    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.

  8. b says:

    @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.

  9. Jim White says:

    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:

    43. Information provided to the Agency by the same Member State referred to in the previous paragraph describes the multipoint initiation concept referred to above as being used by Iran in at least one large scale experiment in 2003 to initiate a high explosive charge in the form of a hemispherical shell. According to that information, during that experiment, the internal hemispherical curved surface of the high explosive charge was monitored using a large number of optical fibre cables, and the light output of the explosive upon detonation was recorded with a high speed streak camera. It should be noted that the dimensions of the initiation system and the explosives used with it were consistent with the dimensions for the new payload which, according to the alleged studies documentation, were given to the engineers who were studying how to integrate the new payload into the chamber of the Shahab 3 missile re-entry vehicle(Project 111) (see Section C.11 below). Further information provided to the Agency by the same Member State indicates that the large scale high explosive experiments were conducted by Iran in the region of Marivan.

    44. The Agency has strong indications that the development by Iran of the high explosives initiation system, and its development of the high speed diagnostic configuration used to monitor related experiments, were assisted by the work of a foreign expert who was not only knowledgeable in these technologies, but who, a Member State has informed the Agency, worked for much of his career with this technology in the nuclear weapon programme of the country of his origin. The Agency has reviewed publications by this foreign expert and has met with him. The Agency has been able to verify through three separate routes, including the expert himself, that this person was in Iran from about 1996 to about 2002, ostensibly to assist Iran in the development of a facility and techniques for making ultra-dispersed diamonds (“UDDs” or “nanodiamonds”), where he also lectured on explosion physics and its applications.

    45. Furthermore, the Agency has received information from two Member States that, after 2003, Iran engaged in experimental research involving a scaled down version of the hemispherical initiation system and high explosive charge referred to in paragraph 43 above, albeit in connection with non-nuclear applications. This work, together with other studies made known to the Agency in which the same initiation system is used in cylindrical geometry, could also be relevant to improving and optimizing the multipoint initiation design concept relevant to nuclear applications.


    49. Other information which the Agency has been provided by Member States indicates that Iran constructed a large explosives containment vessel in which to conduct hydrodynamic experiments. The explosives vessel, or chamber, is said to have been put in place at Parchin in 2000. A building was constructed at that time around a large cylindrical object at a location at the Parchin military complex. A large earth berm was subsequently constructed between the building containing the cylinder and a neighbouring building, indicating the probable use of high explosives in the chamber. The Agency has obtained commercial satellite images that are consistent with this information. From independent evidence, including a publication by the foreign expert referred to in paragraph 44 above, the Agency has been able to confirm the date of construction of the cylinder and some of its design features (such as its dimensions), and that it was designed to contain the detonation of up to 70 kilograms of high explosives, which would be suitable for carrying out the type of experiments described in paragraph 43 above.

    50. As a result of information the Agency obtained from a Member State in the early 2000s alleging that Iran was conducting high explosive testing, possibly in association with nuclear materials, at the Parchin military complex, the Agency was permitted by Iran to visit the site twice in 2005. From satellite imagery available at that time, the Agency identified a number of areas of interest, none of which, however, included the location now believed to contain the building which houses the explosives chamber mentioned above; consequently, the Agency’s visits did not uncover anything of relevance.

    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.

  10. earlofhuntingdon says:

    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.

  11. b says:

    @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?

  12. rugger9 says:

    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.

  13. lysias says:

    @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?

  14. P J Evans says:

    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.

  15. orionATL says:


    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.

Comments are closed.