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Separating Truth from Fiction at Parchin: Neutron Activation Can’t Be Scrubbed Away

Neutrons passing through steel would occasionally collide with a cobalt-59 nucleus, producing easily detectable cobalt-60 if trigger experiments were carried out in the steel chamber at Parchin. (From a Wikimedia Commons illustration of the 1911 Rutherford experiment where alpha particles were sent through a thin gold foil.)

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. Read more

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. Read more

Albright Rushes to CNN With New Satellite Imagery Claims on Parchin After Debunking

Yesterday, in a post titled Rumored Satellite Imagery of Parchin “Clean-Up” Fails to Materialize, Claim Debunked, I pointed out both Gareth Porter’s debunking of the “Parchin is being cleaned up” claim and added further evidence against the claims that Parchin was being cleaned of evidence from work to develop a neutron trigger device.

It appears that David Albright of the Institute for Science and International Security was unable to remain silent in the face of my statement that satellite imagery to back up the claims that Parchin is being cleaned has not been produced for inspection. My post went up before 10 am yesterday, and at 6:05 pm, CNN’s Security Clearance blog put up a post with “new” claims from Albright about satellite imagery from Parchin. Albright’s news is that he claims to have identified the building where work on a high-explosives-based trigger for a nuclear weapon is alleged to be taking place.

Albright is now trying to move the story back to trigger device research being high-explosives based, while the AP’s George Jahn’s claims that Porter was debunking relate to a possible neutron trigger. As I pointed out in yesterday’s post, the concept of “cleaning” away evidence from work with a radioactive trigger device is nonsense, as traces of the radioactivity would still be left behind. The Iranians were also quick to point this out, as cited in the post.

CNN’s “scoop” from Albright:

In an exclusive interview with Security Clearance, David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security, said commercial satellite imagery shows a building on the sprawling Parchin military complex just south of Tehran that may be the location of a high-explosive test chamber.

 Albright, who is a former U.N. weapons inspector, and his colleague Paul Brannan said in an analysis provided to Security Clearance that the building is notable because it “is located on a relatively small and isolated compound within the Parchin military site and has its own perimeter security wall or fencing.  A berm can be seen between this building and a neighboring building.”

The CNN blog post then goes on to note that although Albright and ISIS have been scouring all the satellite images they can find, they can’t confirm the claims of cleaning activity at Parchin.

Over at Moon of Alabama, b has noted that the IAEA visited Parchin twice in 2005, but CNN cuts that down to one visit: “The IAEA has had only one, limited tour of Parchin. That was in 2005.”

Also, more importantly, CNN is back to ignoring the fact that the high explosives work at Parchin is truly dual use technology. It was also pointed out by b that creation of nanodiamonds is actually the specialty of the expert the Iranians have employed in their high explosives work. CNN allows an unnamed US official to ignore the nanodiamond application and lie outright that the high explosives work can only be weapons-related:

The senior U.S. official also said the evidence is clear from this site that Iran had pursued a weapons program. “There is no other reason to conduct explosion compression in the context of Iran other than nuclear testing. There is only one thing they could be trying to simulate and that is a nuclear explosion,” the official said.

It’s so nice that CNN will allow a “senior U.S. official who would not speak for attribution because of the sensitivity of the information” to promote lies that have already been disproven.

Rumored Satellite Imagery of Parchin “Clean-Up” Fails to Materialize, Claim Debunked

Back on March 7, AP’s Vienna correspondent George Jahn wrote that two diplomats, described as “nuclear experts accredited to the International Atomic Energy Agency” informed him that they had seen satellite imagery showing evidence of Iran trying to clean the disputed Parchin site of presumed radioactive contamination arising from work to develop a neutron trigger for a nuclear weapon. Writing yesterday for IPS News, Gareth Porter debunked Jahn’s claims. Porter’s conclusions are buttressed by the fact that David Albright’s ISIS, which Porter notes has published satellite imagery of the Parchin site since 2004 in its efforts to prove Iran is working on a nuclear weapon, has not published any imagery relating to the “clean-up” claims.

Jahn’s March 7 piece opens bluntly:

Satellite images of an Iranian military facility appear to show trucks and earth-moving vehicles at the site, indicating an attempted cleanup of radioactive traces possibly left by tests of a nuclear-weapon trigger, diplomats told the Associated Press on Wednesday.

But a bit later, Jahn does admit not all the “diplomats” he spoke to agreed on what the photos revealed:

Two of the diplomats said the crews at the Parchin military site may be trying to erase evidence of tests of a small experimental neutron device used to set off a nuclear explosion. A third diplomat could not confirm that but said any attempt to trigger a so-called neutron initiator could only be in the context of trying to develop nuclear arms.

One major problem with taking the tack of accusing Iran of trying to develop a neutron trigger is that until now, the loudest accusations relating to the Parchin site have centered around development of a high-explosives based trigger.  See, for example, this post where I discuss claims from Benjamin Netanyahu, David Albright and Joby Warrick that high explosives work was aimed at a trigger rather than production of nanodiamonds.

But another huge problem with the claim of Iran trying to clean the site is the impossibility of clean-up itself. Jahn even inadvertently gives us a clue:

Iran has previously attempted to clean up sites considered suspicious by world powers worried about Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.

Iran razed the Lavizan Shian complex in northern Iran before allowing IAEA inspectors to visit the suspected repository of military procured equipment that could be used in a nuclear weapons program. Tehran said the site had been demolished to make way for a park, but inspectors who subsequently came to the site five years ago found traces of uranium enriched to or near the level used in making the core of nuclear warheads.

A spokesman for Iran’s Foreign Ministry clearly explained that such evidence cannot be completely removed : Read more

While Obama Urges Caution, Netanyahu, McConnell, IAEA Fan Anti-Iran Rhetoric, Iran Takes Positive Diplomatic Steps

President Obama and his administration have spent the last week trying to point out the extreme downside to an attack by Israel on Iran’s nuclear sites. Unfortunately, Obama’s words of caution are getting little play while Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell made appearances before the war-hungry mob at AIPAC to make the case for an attack now. In the meantime, Iran took positive diplomatic steps that are likely to be overlooked, reversing a death-sentence conviction on an accused US spy and committing to an IAEA visit to the disputed Parchin site.

As seen in the video above, IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano made public statements associated with his appearance before the Board of Governors.  From his prepared remarks:

As my report on Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement and Relevant Provisions of Security Council Resolutions in the Islamic Republic of Iran makes clear, the Agency continues to have serious concerns regarding possible military dimensions to Iran’s nuclear programme.

In January and February, a senior Agency team held two rounds of talks in Tehran with Iranian officials aimed at resolving all outstanding issues in connection with Iran’s nuclear programme. Despite intensive discussions, there was no agreement on a structured approach to resolving these issues. Iran did not grant access to the Parchin site during the visits, as requested by the Agency. Iran provided an initial declaration on the issues listed in the Annex to my November 2011 report, although it did not address the Agency’s concerns in a substantive manner. During the visits, the Agency also submitted questions on Parchin and the possible role of a foreign expert.

Iran’s Ambassador to the UN agency Ali Asghar Soltanieh dismissed Amano’s report as “only a summary of his earlier report“. Today, Soltanieh announced that Iran remains prepared to define the conditions under which IAEA will be allowed access to Parchin: Read more

Iran Moves Toward Opening Parchin to IAEA; Warrick Surprisingly Disrupts Israel’s “Zone of Immunity” Argument

In a long interview with RT, Iran’s envoy to the IAEA, Ali Asqar Soltaniyeh, explained yet again that Iran’s position is that the team from the IAEA that visited Iran earlier this month was not the appropriate set of inspectors to visit the Parchin site. The IAEA has accused Iran of using this facility to develop technology for explosive triggers that could be used in a nuclear weapon. Iran was working under the impression that this group was meant for negotiations aimed setting ground rules for upcoming inspections.

Working along those lines, Soltaniyeh told RT that Iran has not ruled out a future IAEA visit to Parchin:

The IAEA delegation that visited Tehran recently was comprised of experts on legal, political and technical issues and not inspectors, Soltaniyeh said in an interview with Russian RT television.

The group visited Iran for negotiations on reality and framework of mutual cooperation, he said.

Iran does not rule out the access of IAEA to its military sites such as Parchin but this depends on some preconditions which IAEA should meet, Soltaniyeh said.

Weakening his own argument somewhat, Soltaniyeh went on to tell RT that Iran had offered to allow the IAEA team to inspect a different site at which the IAEA had accused Iran of carrying out high explosives work:

“I just want to tell you that last week, perhaps this is the first time I am telling you, we, in fact, offered the agency to go to another site which the director general in his report has referred to as a large scale high-explosive test. We offered, but the team was instructed by the director general to go back to Vienna. Therefore we don’t have any hesitation that every activity we have has nothing to do with nuclear weapons.”

In the video, Soltaniyeh also points out that IAEA inspectors did visit Parchin twice in 2005, as we were reminded earlier by Moon of Alabama.

In a somewhat related, but entirely unexpected move, Joby Warrick has moved off his role of transcribing only information that paints Iran in a bad light to provide information that removes one of the primary justifications Israel has been advancing as the basis for a unilateral attack on Iran. Earlier this month, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak introduced the concept of a “zone of immunity” that Iran could enter wherein their final progress toward a nuclear weapon could not be disrupted:  Read more