After a disappointing ending to yesterday’s final session of the P5+1 talks in Moscow, we now must deal with even more of the cat and mouse game Iran is playing at Parchin. I have posted on this issue a number of times, so I won’t go back into the complete details of what is going on, but the primary issue here is that the West has accused Iran of carrying out work at the Parchin military site that is aimed toward developing a trigger for a nuclear bomb. Specifically, Iran is accused of using a high explosives chamber to research the use of uranium in high explosions to generate the neutrons needed to trigger a nuclear bomb. “Western diplomats”, aided by gullible reporters and especially by David Albright of the Institute for Science and International Security are now claiming that Iran is trying to scrub the site of evidence from this work.
The problem is that it is impossible to scrub evidence of this sort of work. As I showed in this post, if Iran actually carried out the work for which they are accused, the steel chamber where the explosions occurred and all of the structural steel in the surrounding building would be radioactive due to neutron activation. This would not be surface contamination of the steel but would be distributed throughout the entire thickness of the steel. Therefore, if Iran carried out the accused work, the only way to hide the evidence would be to destroy the steel tank and the building in which it is housed.
In a game of cat and mouse, Iran destroyed buildings nearby the building in which the steel tank is said to be housed and did extensive earthmoving work in outlying areas away from the building. Albright dutifully took that bait and said this work was evidence of cleansing activity and did not mention that the chamber and its surrounding building were still standing and should still carry all of the radioactive earmarks of the accused activity.
Today, Albright has taken the next round of bait offered up by Iran. More earthmoving activity is seen in new photos and there are even new puddles to go along with the first puddles Albright found.
It appears that the hopeful signals being sent out by Iran yesterday ahead of the visit by IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano have been followed through. Speaking to reporters after his return to Vienna this morning, Amano announced that Iran and the IAEA have reached agreement on how to move forward on inspection of Iran’s nuclear activities.
Of particular importance, Amano describes the agreement as part of a structured approach, which seems to fit Iran’s insistence that any agreement would lay out in advance the framework for how and where inspections are to take place. From Bloomberg:
“There was an important development on the structured approach document on which we have been working since January,” IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano said today in Vienna after returning from Tehran, where the deal was reached yesterday. “The decision was made to conclude and sign an agreement.”
The accord will be signed “quite soon,” Amano told journalists, without giving a date or details. The agreement comes as negotiators head to Baghdad for a second round of negotiations tomorrow over Iran’s nuclear program.
The New York Times has more key details, including the fact that inspection of the Parchin facility will be part of the agreement:
Mr. Amano’s visit to Tehran on Monday was his first to Iran since his appointment in 2009. Mr. Amano’s trip here, announced unexpectedly on Friday, was part of what diplomats in Vienna called an effort centered on persuading Iran to allow inspections of a site the agency suspects has been used for secret tests for triggering mechanisms that could be used in a nuclear weapon. Iranian officials have ridiculed those suspicions and contended that the site, called Parchin, was sufficiently inspected by the agency in 2005.
Diplomats in Vienna said an investigation of the Parchin site was “not the only game in town” in the negotiations on the so-called structured approach.”
Asked about the Parchin site specifically, Mr. Amano said: “I have raised this issue of access to Parchin and this issue will be addressed as a point of the implementation of the structured approach document.”
Significantly, the suggestions that Iran has attempted to clean the Parchin site have not made it into any of the articles I have seen announcing this agreement. Continue reading
Both Marcy, here, and b, over at Moon of Alabama, have roundly criticized the cartoon released on Sunday by AP’s George Jahn purporting to depict a chamber at Iran’s Parchin site where various groups accuse Iran of carrying out work aimed at an explosive trigger device for a nuclear weapon. David Albright, working through his Institute for Science and International Security, has been near the forefront in most of these accusations, with one of his accusations coming out in December of 2009 (pdf). As described in his 2009 piece, Albright accuses Iran of attempting to replicate A.Q. Khan’s uranium deuteride (UD3) initiator for a bomb, which “works by the high explosives compressing the nuclear core and the initiator, producing a spurt of neutrons as a result of fusion in D-D reactions. The neutrons flood the core of weapon-grade uranium and initiate the chain reaction.”
Prior to the release of the cartoon, Albright had claimed on May 8 that he had detected activity aimed at “cleansing” the Parchin site. I debunked that claim the next day, by pointing out that all traces of radioactivity cannot be washed away and that Albright’s claims would mean that the waste water carrying the radioactivity was allowed to drain freely onto the grounds surrounding the building, where the radioactivity could be found without much effort. Albright repeats those claims in Jahn’s article accompanying the cartoon, and he brings in another expert to support his claims that residue from testing a trigger device could be scrubbed:
A cleanup “could involve grinding down the surfaces inside the building, collecting the dust and then washing the area thoroughly,” said David Albright, whose Institute for Science and International Security in Washington looks for signs of nuclear proliferation. “This could be followed with new building materials and paint.
“It could also involve removing any dirt around the building thought to contain contaminants,” Albright said in a statement emailed to selected recipients. “These types of activities could be effective in defeating environmental sampling.”
Fitzpatrick, the other nuclear nonproliferation expert, also said a cleanup could be effective.
“In the past, the IAEA has been able to catch out Iran by going to a building that Iran tried to clean and they still found traces of uranium,” he said. “And Iran learned from that and they learned that ‘boy you have to scrub everything really clean; get down into the drains and grind away any possible residue.”
Earlier in the article, Fitzpatrick (who is Mark Fitzpatrick, director of the Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Program of the International Institute for Strategic Studies) mentions that Iran is specifically accused of using uranium in the explosives research. Also, the article claims that the equipment associated with the chamber includes “a neutron detection system outside the explosion chamber to measure neutron emissions”.
Albright and Fitzpatrick completely overlook a very important basic aspect of the nuclear physics involved here. If they really are going to claim that uranium is being used and that bursts of neutrons capable of initiating a nuclear reaction are the goal of the experiments, then the neutrons originating from the uranium and from the neutron bursts would result in neutron activation of the steel container itself. Continue reading