At long last, a conspiracy theory on Iran’s Parchin site has surfaced that is too crazy to have come from David Albright and his merry band at the Institute for Science and International Security. Recall that Iran has played the ISIS folks expertly on Parchin, giving them a series of interesting things to look at in satellite images of the site. Iran’s manipulations hit their high point when they covered a number of buildings in pink tarp, provoking an especially cute level of concern over just what those tarps might be hiding.
The folks at Debka.com, though, have put themselves firmly into the position of world leaders when it comes to Parchin conspiracy theories. You remember the Debka folks, they are the ones who initially claimed that Israel’s Iron Dome had successfully shot down two incoming missiles when it turns out that the explosions that were heard were actually just Iron Dome misfiring in the absence of any incoming fire earlier this month.
Here is Debka’s glorious new theory, which follows on their recounting of the recent news that Iran has actually moved faster than the initial schedule in the interim agreement with the P5+1 powers on removing its stock of 20% enriched uranium and that they will redesign the Arak reactor to produce less plutonium:
But only on the face of it: This scenario ignore Tehran’s duplicity and conveniently passes over the sudden spurt in Iran’s production of low, 5-percent grade enriched uranium and the covert smuggling of the surfeit to the Parchin military facility of near Tehran for its secret upgrade to 20 percent, a level which can be rapidly enriched to weapons grade.
So with one hand, Tehran has reduced its low-grade enriched uranium stocks, but with the other, has smuggled a sizable quantity of those stocks for further enrichment to a facility barred to nuclear watchdog inspectors.
DEBKAfile’s intelligence sources reveal that 1,300 kilos of low-grade material has been transferred to Parchin and 1,630 advanced centrifuges have been installed there for rapid upgrade work.
Okay, then. Even though every single report from the IAEA has shown that every bit of uranium enriched by Iran has been accounted for and that none has been diverted (see this article from 2012 fear-mongering that grudgingly admits no diversion of material), Debka now wants us to believe that since Iran is removing its stock of 20% enriched uranium, it is doing so as a way to hide their diversion of over a ton of uranium that has been enriched to 5%. Oh, and at the same time, they have secretly installed 1630 centrifuges at Parchin.
But then the Debka conspiracy really starts to fall apart. It appears that they are only claiming that Iran will use these 1600 secret centrifuges to enrich the 5% uranium to 20%, rather than taking it to weapons grade of more than 90%. If we use the standard figures of approximately 25 kg of weapons grade uranium for one bomb and the numbers in this article (where one ton of natural uranium feed leads to up to 130 kg of 5% uranium and then 5.6 kg of weapons grade material), then 1300 kg of 5% uranium could be enough for two bombs.
It’s a good thing Debka is only claiming that conversion from 5% to 20% enrichment would be carried out with these secret centrifuges at Parchin, because getting to weapons grade with so few centrifuges in any sort of reasonable time frame is problematic. If we consult this document from Albright’s group, Figure 1A (on page 5 of the pdf), we see graphs for the amount of time needed to get to 25 kg of weapons grade uranium under scenarios of various numbers of centrifuges and various amounts of 20% enriched uranium. With Debka’s new conspiracy, if they were positing breakout to weapons grade, then we need to start at zero 20% uranium available and look between the 1000 and 2000 centrifuge scenarios. For 1000 centrifuges, ISIS calculates just over 24 months to produce one bomb’s worth of material, while for 2000 centrifuges, that time drops to 14 months. Interpolating for 1600 centrifuges would give us about 20 months of secret work with these 1600 secret centrifuges using 1300 kg of material secretly hidden from a previously perfect mass balance of Iran’s enrichment work.
It’s no secret that I am hardly a fan of David Albright and his Institute for Science and International Security. He often has been the “go to” authority when countries hostile to Iran have chosen to leak selectively groomed information to put Iran in the harshest possible light. The countries leak the information to a select few journalists and then Albright is called in to provide his “analysis” of how evil Iran is and how determined they are to produce nuclear weapons.
I also have been hammering hard on Robert Menendez’s Senate bill that calls for increased sanctions on Iran. As Ali Gharib noted immediately, the bill spells out conditions for the final agreement between Iran and the P5+1 group of countries that we know Iran will never agree to, so the bill guarantees that the new sanctions will eventually kick in, even if a final agreement is reached.
The New York Times is finally catching up to the points Gharib made almost exactly a month ago:
But where the legislation may have an effect, and why it so worries the White House, is that it lays down the contours of an acceptable final nuclear deal. Since administration officials insist that many of those conditions are unrealistic, it basically sets Mr. Obama up for failure.
White House officials zeroed in on three of the conditions: first, that any deal would dismantle Iran’s “illicit nuclear infrastructure”; second, that Iran “has not directly, or through a proxy, supported, financed, planned or otherwise carried out an act of terrorism against the United States”; and third, that Iran has not tested any but the shortest-range ballistic missiles.
“They’re basically arguing for a zero enrichment capacity, with a complete dismantling of Iran’s nuclear facilities,” said Daryl G. Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association. “That’s not attainable, and it’s not necessary to prevent Iran from getting a weapon.”
I was not at all prepared, though, for what the Times learned about how this abhorrent piece of legislation was crafted:
Proponents of the bill deny it would deprive Iran of the right to modest enrichment. They point to the qualifier “illicit” in the reference to nuclear facilities that must be dismantled, and they say the language on enrichment is intentionally vague to mollify both Republicans, who are reluctant to grant Iran the right to operate even a single centrifuge, and Democrats, who balked at signing on to a bill that would rule out all enrichment.
“There’s no language that says a centrifuge is prohibited or allowed,” said David Albright, an expert on Iran’s nuclear program at the Institute for Science and International Security, who helped Republicans and Democrats draft some of the technical wording.
The ambiguity, he said, reflected the fact that the lawmakers who sponsored the bill are “doing it in a bipartisan way, but they have disagreements on what the end state should look like.”
Oh. My. God.
To craft one of the most important bills in US foreign policy in over a decade, Menendez and his cronies turned to an “analyst” who has a long history of producing precisely the analysis that war hawks want. And he even has the gall to brag about how the weasel words that he crafted have different meanings depending on who is reading the bill.
I really have to just stop right here and let commenters fill in the rest for me. My health and sanity won’t let me think any further on the ramifications of David Albright writing legislation on US foreign policy toward Iran.
With the opportunity for significant progress in negotiating a peaceful settlement regarding Iran’s nuclear activities looking better than it has in a long time, I had intended to ignore the latest bleating over developments at Parchin. The complaints did even make their way into the New York Times earlier in the week, so they probably do deserve a response.
Here is how David Albright and pals frame the latest developments:
Recent commercial satellite imagery of the Parchin site in Iran shows the extent of new paving as well as the extent of other alternations undertaken at the site over the past year and a half starting in February 2012. Iran appears to be in the final stages of modifying the suspected high explosive test site at the Parchin complex, having recently asphalted large sections of the site. As noted in several of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA’s) quarterly Iran safeguards reports and in numerous ISIS satellite imagery reports on Parchin, asphalting and the other documented activities have significantly changed the site and impacted the ability of IAEA inspectors to collect environmental samples and other evidence that it could use to determine whether nuclear weapons-related activities once took place there. Asphalting an entire area in this manner would make it very hard to take soil samples and likely be effective at covering up environmental evidence of nuclear weaponization-related experiments.
Throughout this process of cat and mouse games with Iran over their work at the Parchin site, I have maintained that if the work Iran is accused of carrying out there did indeed take place, and if they have attempted clean-up procedures as accused, there still is a reasonable chance that appropriate sampling of the equipment and the area would detect vestiges of the radioactivity that cannot be removed. In addition to the interior of the suspect building and the blast chamber itself likely being made radioactive due to neutron activation throughout the entire thickness of the steel (and thus unable to be scrubbed), satellite imagery has been used to document what appeared to be potential wash water being allowed to run outside the building of main interest. There has been movement of some soil, but the likely deposition site of that soil has been documented in the satellite photos.
Throughout all of this activity, the satellite photos have provided a record from which a team would know the most likely sites to sample if they wish to know how much radioactivity may have been washed out of the building. This latest accusation that paving the site over with asphalt would make sampling harder simply rings hollow. A team that has been allowed access to the site would hardly find a layer of asphalt to be a significant obstruction if they are determined to sample the locations that satellite imagery has told them should be an informative location for sampling.
Paving the area with asphalt actually has the potential to preserve the site for sampling in the future. Although Parchin is in desert with little rainfall, percolation of water through the soil would remain as one the largest factors making sampling less informative over time. Asphalt paving has been used (pdf) to seal areas against movement of radioactivity through soil: Continue reading
On January 7, I noted that the Washington Post’s Joby Warrick had allowed the neocon think tank Foundation for the Defense of Democracies to frame his discussion of the newest round of sanctions set to take effect against Iran. It now is clear that the article from Warrick was meant to prepare the ground for the unveiling, one week later, of David Albright’s new working group developed precisely for the purpose of furthering the neocon position on Iran sanctions. By taking on additional policy members in this working group, Albright is now branching out from his usual area of commentary on technical issues (where Moon of Alabama has dubbed his Institute for Science and International Security the “Institute for Scary Iran Stories“) all the way into policy and now promotes the full neocon position that Iran is dangerously close to having a nuclear weapon and therefore sanctions must be ratcheted up further.
Note how the press release from the working group opens:
Warning that time is running out as Iran accelerates its nuclear program, the non-partisan Project on U.S. Middle East Nonproliferation Strategy called on President Obama to use current U.S. sanctions laws to implement a “de facto international embargo on all investments in, and trade with, Iran (other than provision of humanitarian goods)” before Iran achieves “critical capability” – the point at which it could produce enough weapon-grade uranium (or separated plutonium) for one or more bombs so rapidly that neither the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) nor Western intelligence agencies could be able to detect the move before it was too late to respond.
Let’s unpack the lies just in that opening sentence.
First, the group chooses to label itself as “non-partisan”. Nothing could be further from the truth. Of the five co-chairs of the group, two have direct ties to the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, which SourceWatch documents to be a primary force for the furtherance of neocon views, describing it as both a think tank and a lobbying organization. Mark Dubowitz, the Executive Director of the foundation, is one of the working group co-chairs and was the one chosen by Warrick to voice the neocon position earlier in January. Another co-chair is Orde Kittre, described in the press release as a Professor of Law at Arizona State University. The press release fails to note that Kittre also is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. Co-chair Leonard Spector is listed as Deputy Director of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies. I see that he has been a featured speaker by the “non-partisan” AIPAC. The final co-chair besides Albright is Michael Yaffe of the National Defense University, whose own biography (pdf) notes: “In the immediate aftermath of the attack on September 11, 2001, he served as a coordinator on the counter-terrorism task force in support of “Operation Enduring Freedom.”” With a lineup composed of Albright and four people hand-selected for backgrounds likely to promote neocon positions, this working group is nothing close to non-partisan.
Next, the flat statement that Iran now “accelerates its nuclear program” is so misleading as to border on falsehood as well. Iran is expanding its enrichment capability, but there also are indications that portions of the 20% enriched uranium Iran is producing are being converted into chemical forms that are harder to submit to further enrichment to weapons grade. Further, the US stated in its 2007 National Intelligence Estimate that Iran ceased all nuclear weapons work in 2003. That NIE has been a target for neocons ever since, but there has been no definitive evidence provided that Iran has re-started weapons work or that it intends to enrich uranium beyond 20% to the 90%+ level required for weapons. All of the fear-mongering over Iran being able to have a weapon soon relies on a major step forward in enrichment for which there is zero evidence that Iran has either the capability or desire.
The biggest falsehood in the opening of the press release, though, is that the existing and expanded Iran sanctions don’t extend to humanitarian goods. As I pointed out in the January 7 post, there already are reports of critical medical shortages as a result of the sanctions, so claiming that ratcheting up the sanctions even further can be done along with the “provision of humanitarian goods” is pure bunk. I had noted back in October the economic devastation of Iranian citizens by the sanctions and also linked to a report in January on the possible impact of the sanctions on recent acute air pollution in Tehran. The Iran sanctions are a humanitarian disaster of huge proportions and any claim that only Iran’s government is affected is an outright lie.
The timing of Albright’s release of the working group’s findings also is not a coincidence. Today, the IAEA and Iran are meeting, with a primary focus on finalizing the framework that would allow IAEA access to the Parchin site which Albright has been claiming Iran has cleansed of decade-old work to develop an explosive trigger device. Also, Iran and the P5+1 group are very close to re-starting their negotiations, so the neocons are afraid that peace just might break out despite their best efforts to promote a war in Iran.
Despite the best efforts of those who want a military attack on Iran to paint Iran as hiding attempts to develop a nuclear weapon, cooler heads appear to be prevailing as yesterday’s talks in Tehran produced reports of a likely agreement and a follow-up meeting between the IAEA and Iran in only a month. One of the most important signs of progress is that the AP’s George Jahn, who has served as a conduit for many of the most flimsy charges against Iran even gave space at the end of his report today to provide an alternate viewpoint that calls most of his reporting for the past year into significant question.
From Reuters, Fred Dahl (who at times has dabbled in the same rumor-mongering as Jahn, but not as blatantly) reports on the progress made yesterday:
The U.N. atomic agency failed to gain access to a military site in talks with Iran this week but expects to reach a deal in January to resume a stalled nuclear probe, the chief U.N. inspector said after returning from Tehran on Friday.
Even though the International Atomic Energy Agency was not allowed to see the Parchin complex during Thursday’s visit to the Iranian capital, IAEA team leader Herman Nackaerts said progress had been made in the meeting.
“We expect to finalize the structured approach and start implementing it then shortly after that,” he said, referring to a framework agreement that would enable the IAEA to restart its investigation into suspected atomic bomb research in Iran.
“We had good meetings,” Nackaerts added. “We were able to make progress.”
It is not just the IAEA who characterized the meeting as productive. From PressTV, we also get positive news from the Iranian side of the meeting:
Earlier, Iran’s Ambassador to the IAEA Ali-Asghar Soltanieh told Press TV that Tehran and the UN nuclear body agreed at the end of the one-day meeting to hold a next round of talks in January.
“This round of talks was constructive and good progress was made,” Soltanieh added.
Adding to the possible momentum generated yesterday, both the Reuters article linked above and this Fars News piece from Iran report that a new round of the P5+1 talks also could be taking place soon.
But perhaps the most encouraging news of all comes from what appears in today’s report from the AP’s George Jahn, who has been at the center of controversy many times during the last year because of the way he publishes “leaked” material coming from countries that favor military action in Iran and who want to disrupt diplomatic negotiations. In today’s story, he does recite some of his litany of charges against Iran and the claims that work at the Parchin military site may have been carried out to develop an explosive trigger device for a nuclear weapon. He also relates that David Albright emailed to AP a “series of commercial satellite photographs of the Parchin site” detailing activities at the site that Albright and Jahn have been hyping as aimed at “cleansing” the site of radioactive signatures of the trigger development work. Presumably, Albright had to email the photos to Jahn because Jahn is not able to find them on Albright’s website where he posted them along with a “they’re still at it” type of “analysis” earlier this week.
However, after giving space for more information from Albright, Jahn makes the remarkable move of providing an alternate viewpoint from an authoritative source [emphais added]:
But a former IAEA inspector questioned what the information shown on the satellite photos actually mean.
“This ‘sanitization story’ is an old wives’ tale,” said Robert Kelley, in an email Friday to the AP. “It is clear from examination of the satellite images that there is no concerted effort to disguise possible uranium contamination outside the building.”
Kelley said the activities at Parchin reflected “a construction project, not a demolition effort,” adding: “This is clearly not a sanitization.“
Seeing his last year of work on behalf of war mongers dismissed as “an old wives’ tale” and then including it in his report had to hurt Jahn. He is due a bit of respect for reporting it, even if he did hide it at the very end of his report.
As I have noted many times, there is a prescribed, choreographed sequence for getting reports of “cleanup” activities at Iran’s Parchin site into the US news media. First, “diplomats” release information (arising from intelligence agencies or the IAEA) to George Hahn of AP or Fredrik Dahl of Reuters, and then David Albright emerges within just a few hours with an “analysis”, usually including satellite imagery. The choreography and imagery reached a comedic highpoint when Iran covered a number of buildings at the Parchin site with pink tarps last summer. Once Albright provides his viewpoint, various US media chime in to tell us how devious the Iranians are being with this military site that might house work that could somehow, one day, sort of help Iran produce a nuclear weapon.
Now, however, the cycle appears to have been broken. Late Wednesday, Fredrik Dahl published an article where he reported that a “closed-door” IAEA briefing had disclosed that satellite images of Parchin dated November 7 found new piles of dirt. Whether due to the Thanksgiving holiday or a lack of enthusiasm after the embarrassment of the pink tarp photos, Albright has not yet followed up by publishing these all-important photos of the piles of dirt.
Here is Dahl’s report:
Iran has been hauling dirt to a military site U.N. nuclear inspectors want to visit, Western diplomats said on Wednesday, saying the findings were based on satellite images and they reinforced suspicions of a clean-up.
They said the pictures, presented during a closed-door briefing for member states of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), suggested Iran was continuing to try to hide incriminating traces of any illicit nuclear-related activity.
The allegations come a few days after the IAEA said in a report on Iran that “extensive activities” undertaken at the Parchin site since early this year would seriously undermine its inquiry, if and when inspectors were allowed access.
The third and final points about removal of external pipework from the containment vessel building and about a depositing of new earth where earth was removed are new observations and ones that were not previously reported by ISIS. (See previous ISIS imagery analysis on the apparent sanitization activities at Parchin here.) Iran undertook sanitization activities, including the removal of earth and deposit of new earth, at Lavisan Shian in 2004. These activities are suspected to be related to Iran hiding evidence of efforts of the Physics Research Center, a military entity linked to parallel military nuclear activities that was sited there until the late 1990s.
On the date that the IAEA provided for restricted distribution its latest report on Iran, Albright was already aware that new imagery showed the additional fill dirt being brought to the Parchin site, and yet more than ten days later, and nearly a week after being prompted by Dahl, Albright still has not given us the dirt photos. If he doesn’t come around soon, Albright will be in danger of being left out of the noise amplification loop and in the future new photos will bypass him and go directly to Barbara Starr.
Update: Ha ha ha ha. I guess George Jahn was feeling left out. He just published a diagram proving that the Iranians can calculate the yield of an atomic weapon. Quick! Prepare the fainting couch! Even Albright wasn’t too impressed with this one, as quoted by Jahn:
David Albright, whose Institute for Science and International Security is used by the U.S. government as a go-to source on Iran’s nuclear program, said the diagram looks genuine but seems to be designed more “to understand the process” than as part of a blueprint for an actual weapon in the making.
I’m sure Barbara Starr will be along shortly to tell us how frightened we should be by this diagram.
Breathlessly calling today’s story an “AP Exclusive“, George Jahn sticks to his usual routine of depending on “diplomats” to leak information on Iran and then using David Albright to cast the information in a way calculated to make it look as though Iran has made new, major breakthroughs in efforts to develop a nuclear weapon. Today’s effort is more transparent than a pink tarp, with Jahn’s article itself finally getting around to noting that everything claimed to be an “exclusive” in the article was already noted in IAEA’s November, 2011 report.
The U.N. atomic agency has received new intelligence that Iran has moved further toward the ability to build a nuclear weapon by advancing its work on calculating the destructive power of an atomic warhead, diplomats tell The Associated Press.
And then, of course, we need Albright to add just the right spin:
“You want to have a theoretical understanding of the working of a nuclear weapon that is then related to the experiments you do on the various components,” said David Albright, whose Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security is a frequent go-to source on Iran for Congress and other U.S. government branches. “The two go hand-in-hand.”
Such computer mock-ups typically assess how high explosives compress fissile warhead material, setting off the chain reaction that results in a nuclear explosion. The yield is normally calculated in kilotons.
Now that we have been properly scared into believing there is new and damning evidence against Iran, let’s see what Jahn finds when he goes back to the November, 2011 IAEA report:
The IAEA first outlined suspicions in November that Iran was working on calculating the yield of a nuclear weapon, as part of a 13-page summary of Iran’s suspected nuclear weapons work that it said was based on more than 1,000 pages of research and intelligence from more than 10 member nations.
It said then that “the modeling studies alleged to have been conducted in 2008 and 2009 by Iran … (are) of particular concern,” adding that the purpose of such studies for calculating anything other than nuclear explosion yields is “unclear to the agency.”
Albright, of the Institute for Science and International Security, said such computer-run modeling is “critical to the development of a nuclear weapon.”
So Jahn admits that this “new” information is basically just a re-run of what was stated in November by the IAEA. I guess Jahn and his handlers decided that not enough attention had been paid to this particular nugget of information, and so a new “exclusive” was needed in order to focus more attention on it. That is a very brave move after being punked so badly by the pink tarps.
At least Jahn got one sentence correct:
Any new evidence of Iranian research into nuclear weapons is likely to strengthen the hand of hawks in Israel who advocate a military strike on Iran.
Next week, perhaps Jahn and Albright can provide analysis of all Google searches from Iran on “nuclear weapons”. I’m sure Jahn’s “diplomat” friends can provide those for us.
On May 15, I pointed out that the claims associated with the cartoon published by George Jahn of AP purporting to depict a high explosives chamber used by Iran at Parchin (this is a new link for the cartoon, the AP link in the May 15 post no longer works for me) and in a report by David Albright claiming that Iran has taken actions aimed at cleansing the Parchin site were rendered baseless by the likelihood that if the accused work on a neutron initiator for a nuclear weapon had indeed been carried out at Parchin, then the chamber would be rendered radioactive throughout the thickness of its steel by the process of neutron activation. Yesterday, Albright published even more photos of the Parchin site that he claims document further cleansing activity and in the discussion section of his report he finally addressed the issue of neutron activation. In order to make the issue of neutron activation go away, Albright is now proposing that the uranium deuteride presumed to be present in the explosion would produce too low a flux of neutrons to produce appreciable neutron activation of the chamber’s steel, even though Jahn is claiming that the Iranians placed a neutron detector outside the chamber, presumably to measure the neutron flux that passed through its steel walls.
Here is the relevant portion of a 2009 report by Albright describing the neutron initiator:
If the data in this document are correct and the descriptions of the work are accurate, then this report appears to be describing a plan to further develop and test a critical component of a nuclear weapon, specifically a neutron initiator made out of uranium deuteride (UD3), which when finished (and subsequently manufactured) would most likely be placed at the center of a fission bomb made from weapon-grade uranium. This type of initiator 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.
Albright goes on to describe the issue of producing neutrons and measuring their production:
The measurement of the neutrons emitted by this UD3 source would be the hardest measurement Iran would need to make in developing a nuclear weapon. This assumes that Iran believes it cannot do a full-scale nuclear test, although it would be expected to do a “cold test” of the full device as a way to gain confidence the nuclear weapon would perform as expected. . . The timing of the explosion and resulting shock waves would need to be perfect in order to get enough fusion to create a spurt of neutrons in a reliable manner at exactly the right instant. The experiment itself is very difficult to do. There are relatively few neutrons emitted in a brief period of time and there is a lot of noise from the electronics that interferes with the neutron measurements.
It should be noted here that although Albright is discussing a “cold test”, that means the test is carried out without the weapons grade uranium which the initiator sets off in the nuclear explosion. The uranium deuteride is still present as the primary part of the initiator and is producing the neutrons which are to be measured. Although Albright does claim that few neutrons are produced in the explosion in the latter part of the description, he refers to a “spurt” of neutrons that “flood” the weapons grade uranium in the earlier portion. The fact remains that in such an experiment, significant quantities of uranium are present and there would be neutrons released into the steel of the chamber the entire time the uranium is present, not just during the brief explosion.
As further support for the uranium deuteride initiator being the primary focus of the narrative promoted by Albright and Jahn, it should be kept in mind that Jahn mentions that the chamber is “equipped with” “a neutron detection system outside the explosion chamber to measure neutron emissions”. Jahn goes on to quote another expert who posits the use of uranium in the experiments with explosives: Continue reading
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.
For a brief period yesterday afternoon, initial news reports had me thinking that perhaps proof had finally emerged that Iran has indeed carried out work on a nuclear weapon and was taking actions in an attempt to hide the after-effects of that work. As new details emerged, however, it became more clear that an elaborate game of cat and mouse is being played out between Iran and those who accuse them of weapon development, but overall there still seems to be no conclusive proof that weapon development at the controversial Parchin site has been carried out.
That is a pattern that has played out several times now. “Diplomats” provide anonymous information to a reporter in Vienna on new accusations about nuclear weapon development work in Iran. The first version of the story put out by the reporter contains only a vague accusation but is delivered with a sensationalized headline suggesting that new and important evidence supports the conclusion that Iran is carrying out work at Parchin aimed at developing a neutron trigger device for a nuclear weapon . Subsequent expansion of the article reveals that the “evidence” is much weaker than initially portrayed and that technical details tend to contradict the accusations for the large part.
Until yesterday, that pattern had played itself out three times since March, each with George Jahn of AP playing the role of the reporter in Vienna. First, there was the claim in March that Iran was trying to clean the Parchin site to remove evidence of work on a trigger device. It took several weeks after the initial claim, but finally a satellite image purporting to show evidence of “washing” the building at Parchin was produced in early May when David Albright displayed satellite images showing puddles in the parking lot outside the suspect building. Of course, Albright’s claim of “washing” away the radioactivity is ludicrous, as traces would remain, especially if the wash water is simply allowed to pool in the parking lot of the building. Albright and Jahn did not give up, however, and Jahn subsequently came up with a cartoon depicting the chamber (it’s even the same color as the real chamber!). The huge hole in those accusations, though, is that if the accused neutron trigger work with uranium were indeed being carried out at Parchin, then the process of neutron activation would have resulted in both the structural steel of the chamber itself and most likely the structural steel of the building housing the chamber being radioactive throughout the thicknesses of the steel. This would mean that Albright’s claims that Iran could “cleanse” the chamber and the building by grinding and washing surfaces were impossible. Instead, in order to clean the site:
The only way that Iran would be able to hide evidence of work on a neutron trigger device at Parchin would be to dismantle and remove the entire chamber. It most likely would be necessary to raze the entire building as well, since the structural steel in the building surrounding the chamber also likely would have been made radioactive by the neutrons.
Jahn’s third sensational headline followed by less sensational details related to the finding of traces of uranium enriched to 27% rather than 20% at the enrichment site at Qom instead of at Parchin, but this still fits the overall pattern.
Another aspect of attempts to clean evidence of work with radioactivity is removal of the upper layers of soil.
Yesterday, Fredrik Dahl of Reuters took over George Jahn’s role as the reporter in Vienna to release a sensational headline only for the real story to fall short of the accusations (apologies to Jahn for my initial–now deleted–tweets on this revelation, which I attributed to him when I reacted first to the headline and only later noticed the story was from Dahl and not Jahn). I have counted at least five versions of Dahl’s story as it was updated through the day yesterday and this morning. Here is complete article as it appeared in its initial form: Continue reading