Albright Discovers Puddles in Parchin

Google Maps image of Parchin, showing the dry landscape at over 5000 feet elevation. Note the extensive erosion patterns.

In March, Gareth Porter and I debunked claims that “diplomats” had fed to AP’s George Jahn. The diplomats asserted to Jahn that they had seen satellite photos depicting activity interpreted as attempts to clean the site at Parchin where they believe Iran has carried out work aimed at developing an explosive trigger device for a nuclear weapon.

Perhaps the biggest problem with the depiction of these activities as being aimed at cleaning the site is that, as I pointed out in the post linked above, it is virtually impossible to remove all traces of radioactive materials from a site where they have been used. The Iranians were very quick to point this out as well. No amount of cleaning will remove all of the residual radioactivity from the building or surrounding soil. I also pointed out in my post that no satellite photos purporting to show this cleaning activity had yet been made public.

Yesterday, David Albright and his Institute for Science and International Security dutifully stepped up to deliver what was intended as photographic proof. From Albright’s description:

 The new activity seen in the satellite image occurred outside a building suspected to contain an explosive chamber used to carry out nuclear weapons related experiments (see figure 1).  The April 9, 2012 satellite image shows items lined up outside the building.  It is not clear what these items are.  The image also shows what appears to be a stream of water that emanates from or near the building.  Based on new information that the IAEA received, the Agency asked Iran to visit this building at the Parchin site, but Iran has not allowed a visit.  IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano noted recently that the IAEA has “information that some activity is ongoing” at the Parchin site 1.  When asked if he was concerned that these activities could be associated with cleansing the site, Amano replied, “That possibility is not excluded…We cannot say for sure because we are not there.”  The items visible outside the building could be associated with the removal of equipment from the building or with cleansing it.  The stream of water that appears to emanate from the building raises concerns that Iran may have been washing inside the building, or perhaps washing the items outside the building.

The idea that Iran would want to wash the building or its contents, presumably in order to remove radioactive contamination from trigger-building experiments, and then just allow the wash water to run onto the ground surrounding the building is laughable on its face. As I noted in my March post, the Iranians pointed out that radioactive contamination can’t be eliminated from a site where such work has been carried out. Of course they would know that merely rinsing some of the radioactive material into the ground surrounding the building would do nothing to hide it from the sensitive detection equipment IAEA would bring to an inspection.

There are two potential explanations for the water seen in the photo labeled April 9, 2012. One is that this could simply be runoff from rain and the other is that this could be from the use of the explosive tank in the synthesis of nanodiamonds. The nanodiamond explanation of use of the explosive tank was first suggested in this post by Moon of Alabama.

Rain Theory

As noted in the photo at the top of this post, Parchin sits at an average elevation of 1570 meters (5150 feet). The landscape is obviously very dry and appears to be dominated by erosion patterns created by rainwater going down the mountainsides. Albright and ISIS have placed the large label for the suspect building in a strategic spot in the April photo, making it impossible to see if there is any water coming from “above” the site of the building in the orientation the photo is presented (also “above” in the apparent direction of flow of the water stream). This is especially important because of the dark line that can be seen around the smaller building at the top in the March photo. Is the dark line trenching around the small building at the top, meant to divert runoff?

The April 9, 2012 date for the photo with the water is important. At this site, historical weather data for Parchin can be found. On April 9 and for several days leading up to it, there is no appreciable rainfall reported. However, if the date on the photo is off by a few days, then rain can enter as a possible explanation. We see that rain began late in the evening of April 11, with 1.9 mm falling from late evening through the end of the day. On the 12th, it rained all day, with an additional 4.3 mm falling. Another 3.8 mm came on top of that through mid-morning on the 13th, but there was an opening in the 9:30 to 12:30 time frame when cloud cover decreased to 9%. A photo taken during that period very well could have shown runoff going through the area. Alternatively, more rain fell on the 13th, for a total of 5.8 mm that day and 12.0 mm for the 60 hours or so from late on the 11th through the 13th. Although this is only about a half inch, it could well lead to significant runoff in a high desert environment and could perhaps have been seen in a photo as late as the 14th, when it was clear. April is the highest rainfall month for Parchin, averaging 34 mm of rain for the month spread over an average of ten rainy days in the month.

Nanodiamond Theory

As Moon of Alabama pointed out, Vyacheslav Danilenko, whom David Albright and the IAEA accuse of helping Iran to develop an explosive trigger device, is best known for his work in the explosive creation of nanodiamonds. If the suspected large detonation chamber in the building being discussed here actually is being used in nanodiamond work, then it makes sense to take a look at what goes into such an explosion. From a figure caption in this paper in Nature Nanotechnology (free registration required for access), we get this recipe for what goes into the explosion tank:

To synthesize nanodiamonds, explosives with a negative oxygen balance (for example a mix of 60 wt% TNT (C6H2(NO2)3CH3) and 40 wt% hexogen (C3H6N6O6)) are detonated in a closed metallic chamber in an atmosphere of N2, CO2 and liquid or solid H2O.

A major component of what goes into the chamber when nanodiamonds are being synthesized is water. Once the solids have been taken out of the water after the blast, the water has no further use and quite likely would be drained. This would make for a very good explanation of what is seen in the April photo and would not represent any sort of attempt at hiding anything. It would merely be the use of the chamber as designed in line with Danilenko’s background.

Not mentioned in Albright’s analysis of the building, however, is an interesting apparent change in the roofline through the three photos presented. In the 2011 photo, we see a bright white line along the right side of the suspect building. Note that in this photo, the roof is symmetrical, extending equally to the left and right from the high point. In the March, 2012 photo, however, it appears that the roof to the right side of the high point has been extended out to cover the white line seen in 2011. Although this photo is from a slightly lower angle, the idea of the roof being extended toward the right is supported by the roof looking definitely wider on the the right side of the high point than it is on the left. The white line from 2011 may be a sidewalk, a pipeline for draining the tank or even a concrete footing for the later addition to the building. In the April photo, however, the roof is back to being symmetrical and the extended part of the building, along with the white line, appear to be gone and replaced by the “items lined up outside the building” as labeled by Albright.

At any rate, Albright and ISIS are simply not credible in their claim that water at the Parchin site is evidence of attempts to “cleanse” it. A real attempt at removing all radioactive material would entail razing the building and removing all the soil to a depth of many feet. Any attempt to wash away radioactivity would at least entail catching all of the water and removing it from the site, not allowing it to run into the surrounding soil where the radioactivity would be easy to find.

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.
10 replies
  1. MadDog says:

    Shorter Albright: “I can authoritatively conclude it’s raining when I piss into the wind.”

  2. Jim White says:


    Iran’s Foreign Ministry Spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast says claims of a US security institute about Tehran trying to clean up the Parchin site resemble a “joke.”

    “This institute is a bit inexperienced. If it had more experience it would have known nuclear activities, the way they claim, could not be cleaned and they are joking with our nation,” Mehmanparast said Wednesday.

  3. P J Evans says:

    I figured it was another push towards attacking Iran, probably to make its more distant neighbors happy. That sounds even more likely now – I don’t think Albright is qualified as an expert in this area.

  4. GulfCoastPirate says:

    Does an org like ISIS with ‘Science’ part of its name not have any scientists working for it?

    So what does everyone think about Bibi’s calling off the elections? I have to think the defense and security officials in Israel have decided an attack on Iran isn’t going to happen.

  5. orionATL says:

    here is scott ritter’s take on albright, one i would summarize as conman and publicity seeker.

    albright’s special business skill seems to be finding nuclear bombs where none exist, be it iraq or iran.

    i would hazard the guess that finding nuclear bombs where none exist could be a very lucrative business, especially where israeli/american money might be available.

    scott ritter:

    “… In his résumé Albright prominently advertises himself as a “former U.N. weapons inspector.” Indeed, this is the first thing that is mentioned when he describes himself to the public… Now, this is not uncommon. I do the same thing when describing myself, noting that I was a former U.N. weapons inspector in Iraq from 1991 to 1998. I feel comfortable doing this, because it’s true and because my résumé is relevant to my writing. In his official ISIS biography, Albright details his “U.N. inspector” experience as such: “Albright cooperated actively with the IAEA Action Team from 1992 until 1997, focusing on analyses of Iraqi documents and past procurement activities. In June 1996, he was the first non-governmental inspector of the Iraqi nuclear program. On this inspection mission, Albright questioned members of Iraq’s former uranium enrichment programs about their statements in Iraq’s draft Full, Final, and Complete Declaration.”

    Now, as I have explained previously, I cooperated actively between 1992 and 1998 with the IAEA Action team, covering the same ground that David Albright claims to have. I do not doubt his assertion that he was in contact with the IAEA during the period claimed; I just doubt the use of the word actively to describe this cooperation. Maybe Albright was part of a top-secret “shadow” inspection activity that I was unaware of. I strongly doubt this. In 1992, when Albright states he began his “active cooperation” with the IAEA, he was serving as a “Senior Staff Scientist” with the Federation of American Scientists. That same year Albright, in collaboration with Frans Berkhout of Sussex University and William Walker of the University of St. Andrews, published “World Inventory of Plutonium and Highly Enriched Uranium,” 1992 (SIPRI and Oxford University Press). From March 1991 until July 1992, Albright, together with Mark Hibbs, wrote a series of seven articles on the Iraqi nuclear weapons programs for the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. The final three articles of this series, entitled “Iraq’s Bomb: Blueprints and Artifacts,” “Iraq: It’s all over at Al Atheer” and “Iraq’s shop-till-you-drop nuclear program,” were in part based upon information provided to Albright and Hibbs by the IAEA in response to questions posed by the two authors. So far as I can tell, this is the true nature of David Albright’s “active cooperation.” Far from being a subject-matter expert brought in by the IAEA to review Iraqi documents, Albright was simply an outsider with questions…”

  6. Jim White says:

    @GulfCoastPirate: From the bio at his site:

    Albright received a Masters of Science in physics from Indiana University in 1980, a Masters of Science in mathematics from Wright State University in 1977, and a Bachelor of Science from Wright State University in 1975. In addition to the Outstanding Alumni Award, Albright also received an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Wright State University in 2007.

    Kinda strange to wind up with two Masters degrees like that. Have to wonder if the Masters in physics was an exit degree after failing to progress in a Ph.D. program. That kind of thing happens in the sciences.

    Full disclosure: my BA is in Radiation Biophysics from Kansas (1979) and my Ph.D. is in Molecular Biology from UCLA (1983), followed by postdoctoral work at UC Berkeley in Genetics and Stanford in Cancer Biology.

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