Tag Archives: Iran nuclear weapons

The Race for Nuclear Weapons Non-Proliferation

hydrophone. image from CTBTO

As nuclear blasts go, North Korea’s first test in 2006 was small. The detonation of an underground device produced an explosive force well below one kiloton (less than a tenth of the size of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945). Even so, the vibrations it caused were recorded half a world away in the centre of Africa. Advances in the sensitivity of seismic sensors and monitoring software are now good enough to distinguish between a distant nuclear detonation and, say, a building being demolished with conventional explosives, says Lassina Zerbo, head of the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Test-Ban-Treaty Organisation (CTBTO), the international organisation that seeks to enforce the agreement ratified, so far, by 163 nations.

The CTBTO operates 170 seismic stations worldwide, 11 underwater hydroacoustic centres detecting sound waves in the oceans, 60 listening stations for atmospheric infrasound (low-frequency acoustic waves that can travel long distances) and 96 labs and radionuclide-sampling facilities. More sensors are being installed. Crucially, however, the optimal number for global coverage was recently reached. It is now impossible, reckons Dr Zerbo, to test even a small nuclear weapon in secret anywhere on Earth. And on top of that, the United States Air Force runs a detection network that includes satellites that can spot nuclear-weapons tests.

It is better, though, to discover a secret weapons programme before testing. Once a country has a nuclear bomb or two, there is not much other governments can do to stop it from making more, says Ilan Goldenberg, a former head of the Iran team at the Pentagon. Plenty of states want such capabilities. The Defence Science Board, an advisory body to the Pentagon, concluded in a report last year that the number of countries that might seek nuclear weapons is higher now than at any time since the cold war. Those states include Saudi Arabia and other Sunni-Arab rivals of Iran, which in July, after long and tortuous negotiations, signed a nuclear deal with America and other nations to restrict its nuclear activities, and to allow enhanced monitoring and inspection of its facilities.

As the technologies to unearth work on clandestine nuclear weapons become more diverse and more powerful, however, the odds of being detected are improving. Innovation is benefiting detection capabilities, says Ramesh Thakur, a former UN assistant secretary-general. The products under development range from spy software that sifts through electronic communications and financial transactions to new scanners that can detect even heavily shielded nuclear material….

Software used for this type of analysis include i2 Analyst’s Notebook from IBM, Palantir from a Californian firm of the same name, and ORA, which was developed with Pentagon funds at Carnegie Mellon University in Pennsylvania. ORA has crunched data on more than 30,000 nuclear experts’ work and institutional affiliations, research collaborations and academic publications, says Kathleen Carley, who leads the ORA work at Carnegie Mellon. Changes, such as a halt in publishing, can tell stories: scientists recruited into a weapons programme typically cannot publish freely. Greater insights appear when classified or publicly unavailable information is sifted too. Credit-card transactions can reveal that, say, a disproportionate number of doctors specialising in radiation poisoning are moving to the same area.

The software uses combinatorial mathematics, the analysis of combinations of discrete items, to score individuals on criteria including “centrality” (a person’s importance), “between-ness” (their access to others), and “degree” (the number of people they interact with). Network members with high between-ness and low degree tend to be central figures: they have access to lots of people, but like many senior figures may not interact with that many. Their removal messes things up for everybody. Five or more Iranian nuclear scientists assassinated in recent years—by Israel’s Mossad, some suspect—were no doubt chosen with help from such software, says Thomas Reed, a former secretary of the United States Air Force and co-author of “The Nuclear Express”, a history of proliferation.

Importantly, the software can also evaluate objects that might play a role in a nuclear programme. This is easier than it sounds, says a former analyst (who asked not to be named) at the Pentagon’s Central Command in Tampa, Florida. Ingredients for homemade conventional bombs and even biological weapons are available from many sources, but building nukes requires rare kit. The software can reveal a manageable number of “chokepoints” to monitor closely, he says. These include links, for instance, between the few firms that produce special ceramic composites for centrifuges and the handful of companies that process the material.

A number of countries, including Japan and Russia, use network analysis. Japan’s intelligence apparatus does so with help from the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, which assists in deciding which “dual use” items that might have both peaceful and military purposes should not be exported. Such work is tricky, says a member of the advisory board (who also asked not to be named) to the security council of the Russian Federation, a body chaired by Vladimir Putin. Individual items might seem innocent enough, he says, and things can be mislabelled.

Data sources are diverse, so the work takes time. Intelligence often coalesces after a ship has left port, so foreign authorities are sometimes asked to board and search, says Rose Gottemoeller, undersecretary for arms control at America’s State Department. The speed of analysis is increasing, however. Software that converts phone conversations into computer-readable text has been “extremely helpful”, says John Carlson, a former head of the Australian foreign ministry’s Safeguards and Non-Proliferation Office.

Would-be nuclear states can also reduce their networks. North Korea helped to keep its centrifuge facility secret by using mostly black-market or domestically manufactured components. Iran is also indigenising its nuclear programme, which undermines what network analysis can reveal, says Alexander Montgomery, a political scientist at Reed College in Portland, Oregon. Iran mines uranium domestically and has produced centrifuge rotors with carbon fibre, instead of importing special maraging steel which is usually required.

A big computer system to make sense of all this would help, says Miriam John, vice-chairman of the Pentagon’s Threat Reduction Advisory Committee. Which is why the Pentagon is building one, called Constellation. Dr John describes it as a “fusion engine” that merges all sorts of data. For instance, computers can comb through years of satellite photos and infra-red readings of buildings to detect changes that might reveal nuclear facilities. Constellation aims to increase the value of such nuggets of information by joining them with myriad other findings. For example, the whereabouts of nuclear engineers who have stopped teaching before retirement age become more interesting if those people now happen to live within commuting distance of a suspect building.

Yet photographs and temperature readings taken from satellites, even in low Earth orbit, only reveal so much. With help from North Korea, Syria disguised construction of a nuclear reactor by assembling it inside a building in which the floor had been lowered. From the outside the roof line appeared to be too low to house such a facility. To sidestep the need for a cooling tower, water pipes ran underground to a reservoir near a river. The concealment was so good the site was discovered not with remote sensing but only thanks to human intelligence, says Dr Tobey, the former National Security Council official. (Israel bombed the building in 2007 before it could be completed.)

Some chemical emissions, such as traces of hydrofluoric acid and fluorine, can escape from even well-built enrichment facilities and, with certain sensors, have been detectable from space for about a decade, says Mr Carlson, the Australian expert. But detecting signs of enrichment via radiation emissions requires using different sorts of devices and getting much closer to suspected sources.

The “beauty” of neutrons and alpha, beta and gamma radiation, is that the energy levels involved also reveal if the source is fit for a weapon, says Kai Vetter, a physicist at the University of California, Berkeley. But air absorbs enough radiation from uranium and plutonium bomb fuel to render today’s detectors mostly useless unless they are placed just a few dozen metres away. (Radiological material for a “dirty bomb” made with conventional explosives is detectable much farther away.) Lead shielding makes detection even harder. Not one of the more than 20 confirmed cases of trafficking in bomb-usable uranium or plutonium has been discovered by a detector’s alarm, says Elena Sokova, head of the Vienna Centre for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation, a think-tank.

Ground-based detectors are becoming more sensitive….. Detectors still need to be close to whatever it is they are monitoring, which mostly restricts their use to transport nodes, such as ports and borders. The range the detectors operate over might stretch to about 100 metres in a decade or so, but this depends on uncertain advances in “active interrogation”—the bombardment of an object with high-energy neutrons or protons to produce other particles which are easier to pick up. One problem is that such detectors might harm stowaways hiding in cargo.

That risk has now been solved, claims Decision Sciences, a Californian company spun out of the Los Alamos National Laboratory in America. It uses 16,000 aluminium tubes containing a secret gas to record the trajectory of muons. These are charged particles created naturally in the atmosphere and which pass harmlessly through people and anything else in their path. However, materials deflect their path in different ways. By measuring their change in trajectory, a computer can identify, in just 90 seconds, plutonium and uranium as well as “drugs, tobacco, explosives, alcohol, people, fill in the blank”, says Jay Cohen, the company’s chief operating officer and a former chief of research for the United States Navy. The ability to unearth common contraband will make the machine’s $5m price tag more palatable for border officials. A prototype is being tested in Freeport, Bahamas.

Other groups are also working on muon detectors, some using technology developed for particle physics experiments at the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland. Another approach involves detecting neutrinos, which are produced by the sun and nuclear reactors, and seeing how they interact with other forms of matter. The NNSA and other organisations are backing the construction of a prototype device called WATCHMAN in an old salt mine (to shield it from cosmic rays and other interference) in Painesville, Ohio. It will be used to detect neutrinos from limited plutonium production at a nuclear power station 13km away. Such a system might have a 1,000km range, eventually. But even that means it would require a friendly neighbour to house such a facility on the borders of a country being monitored.

Once nuclear facilities have been discovered, declared or made available for inspection as part of a deal, like that signed with Iran, the job of checking what is going on falls to experts from the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The equipment available to them is improving, too. The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission has built a prototype hand-held spectrometer for determining if traces of uranium collected on a cotton swab and blasted with a laser emit a spectral signature that reveals enrichment beyond that allowed for generating electricity. Within three years it will provide an unprecedented ability to assess enrichment without shipping samples back to a lab, says Raoul Awad, director-general of security and safeguards at the commission.

Laser scanning can also reveal other signs of enrichment. A decade ago inspectors began scanning intricate centrifuge piping with surveying lasers. A change between visits can reveal any reconfiguration of the sort necessary for the higher levels of enrichment needed for bombmaking. Secret underground facilities might also be found by wheeling around new versions of ground-penetrating radar.

The remote monitoring of sites made available to inspectors is also getting better. Cameras used to record on videotape, which was prone to breaking—sometimes after less than three months’ use, says Julian Whichello, a former head of the IAEA’s surveillance unit. Today’s digital cameras last longer and they can be programmed to take additional pictures if any movement is detected or certain equipment is touched. Images are encrypted and stamped with sequential codes. If technicians at a monitored facility delete any pictures, the trickery will be noticed by software and the inspectors informed.

Such technology, however, only goes so far. The IAEA cannot inspect computers and countries can veto the use of some equipment. It does seem that inspectors sent to Iran will get access to Parchin, a site near Tehran where intelligence agencies say tests related to nuclear-weapons making took place. (Iran denies it has a military programme.) But even the best tech wizardry can only reveal so much when buildings have been demolished and earth moved, as in Parchin.

Could nuclear weapons be built in secret today? …. A senior American State Department counter-proliferation official (whose asked to remain anonymous), however, says that it is not impossible…Companies, including a General Electric consortium, are making progress enriching uranium with lasers . If this becomes practical, some worry that it might be possible to make the fuel for a nuclear bomb in smaller facilities with less fancy kit than centrifuges

Monitoring nuclear weapons: The nuke detectives, Economist Technology Quarterly, Sept. 5, 2015, at 10

Natanz, Fordow, Parchin: the Nuclear Capability of Iran

Anti-aircraft guns guarding Natanz Nuclear Facility, Iran. Image from wikipedia

One [of the problems] is the ambiguity about what rights the Iranians will have to continue nuclear research and development. They are working on centrifuges up to 20 times faster than today’s, which they want to start deploying when the agreement’s [the currently negotiated agreement between Iran and United States/Europe]  first ten years are up. The worry is that better centrifuges reduce the size of the clandestine enrichment facilities that Iran would need to build if it were intent on escaping the agreement’s strictures.

That leads to the issue on which everything else will eventually hinge. Iran has a long history of lying about its nuclear programme. It only declared its two enrichment facilities, Natanz and Fordow, after Western intelligence agencies found out about them. A highly intrusive inspection and verification regime is thus essential, and it would have to continue long after other elements of an agreement expire. Inspectors from the IAEA would have to be able to inspect any facility, declared or otherwise, civil or military, on demand…

For a deal to be done in June 2015, Iran will have to consent to an [intrusive] inspection regime. It will also have to answer about a dozen questions already posed by the IAEA about the “possible military dimensions” of its nuclear programme. Yet on March 23, 2015Yukiya Amano, the agency’s director, said that Iran had replied to only one of those questions. Parchin, a military base which the IAEA believes may have been used for testing the high-explosive fuses that are needed to implode, and thus set off, the uranium or plutonium at the core of a bomb, remains out of bounds. Nor has the IAEA been given access to Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, the physicist and Revolutionary Guard officer alleged to be at the heart of the weapons development research. The IAEA’s February 19, 2015 report on Iran stated that it “remains concerned about the possible existence…of undisclosed nuclear-related activities…including activities related to the development of a nuclear payload for a missile.”

Excerpts from, The Iran Nuclear Talks: Not Yet the Real Deal, Economist, Apr. 4, 2015, at 43

Freezing the Inevitable: the Iranian Nuclear Program

Nuclear_fission

Below are the key parameters of a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) regarding the Islamic Republic of Iran’s nuclear program that were decided in Lausanne, Switzerland. These elements form the foundation upon which the final text of the JCPOA will be written between now and June 30,  2015and reflect the significant progress that has been made in discussions between the P5+1, the European Union, and Iran. Important implementation details are still subject to negotiation, and nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. We will work to conclude the JCPOA based on these parameters over the coming months.

Enrichment

Iran has agreed to reduce by approximately two-thirds its installed centrifuges. Iran will go from having about 19,000 installed today to 6,104 installed under the deal, with only 5,060 of these enriching uranium for 10 years. All 6,104 centrifuges will be IR-1s, Iran’s first-generation centrifuge.

Iran has agreed to not enrich uranium over 3.67 percent for at least 15 years.

Iran has agreed to reduce its current stockpile of about 10,000 kg of low-enriched uranium (LEU) to 300 kg of 3.67 percent LEU for 15 years.

All excess centrifuges and enrichment infrastructure will be placed in IAEA monitored storage and will be used only as replacements for operating centrifuges and equipment.

Iran has agreed to not build any new facilities for the purpose of enriching uranium for 15 years.

Iran’s breakout timeline – the time that it would take for Iran to acquire enough fissile material for one weapon – is currently assessed to be 2 to 3 months. That timeline will be extended to at least one year, for a duration of at least ten years, under this framework.
Iran will convert its facility at Fordow so that it is no longer used to enrich uranium

Iran has agreed to not enrich uranium at its Fordow facility for at least 15 years.

Iran has agreed to convert its Fordow facility so that it is used for peaceful purposes only – into a nuclear, physics, technology, research center.

Iran has agreed to not conduct research and development associated with uranium enrichment at Fordow for 15 years.

Iran will not have any fissile material at Fordow for 15 years.

Almost two-thirds of Fordow’s centrifuges and infrastructure will be removed. The remaining centrifuges will not enrich uranium. All centrifuges and related infrastructure will be placed under IAEA monitoring.

Iran will only enrich uranium at the Natanz facility, with only 5,060 IR-1 first-generation centrifuges for ten years.

Iran has agreed to only enrich uranium using its first generation (IR-1 models) centrifuges at Natanz for ten years, removing its more advanced centrifuges.

Iran will remove the 1,000 IR-2M centrifuges currently installed at Natanz and place them in IAEA monitored storage for ten years.

Iran will not use its IR-2, IR-4, IR-5, IR-6, or IR-8 models to produce enriched uranium for at least ten years. Iran will engage in limited research and development with its advanced centrifuges, according to a schedule and parameters which have been agreed to by the P5+1.

For ten years, enrichment and enrichment research and development will be limited to ensure a breakout timeline of at least 1 year. Beyond 10 years, Iran will abide by its enrichment and enrichment R&D plan submitted to the IAEA, and pursuant to the JCPOA, under the Additional Protocol resulting in certain limitations on enrichment capacity.

Inspections and Transparency

The IAEA will have regular access to all of Iran’s nuclear facilities, including to Iran’s enrichment facility at Natanz and its former enrichment facility at Fordow, and including the use of the most up-to-date, modern monitoring technologies.

Inspectors will have access to the supply chain that supports Iran’s nuclear program. The new transparency and inspections mechanisms will closely monitor materials and/or components to prevent diversion to a secret program.

Inspectors will have access to uranium mines and continuous surveillance at uranium mills, where Iran produces yellowcake, for 25 years.

Inspectors will have continuous surveillance of Iran’s centrifuge rotors and bellows production and storage facilities for 20 years. Iran’s centrifuge manufacturing base will be frozen and under continuous surveillance.

All centrifuges and enrichment infrastructure removed from Fordow and Natanz will be placed under continuous monitoring by the IAEA.

A dedicated procurement channel for Iran’s nuclear program will be established to monitor and approve, on a case by case basis, the supply, sale, or transfer to Iran of certain nuclear-related and dual use materials and technology – an additional transparency measure.

Iran has agreed to implement the Additional Protocol of the IAEA, providing the IAEA much greater access and information regarding Iran’s nuclear program, including both declared and undeclared facilities.

Iran will be required to grant access to the IAEA to investigate suspicious sites or allegations of a covert enrichment facility, conversion facility, centrifuge production facility, or yellowcake production facility anywhere in the country.

Iran has agreed to implement Modified Code 3.1 requiring early notification of construction of new facilities.

Iran will implement an agreed set of measures to address the IAEA’s concerns regarding the Possible Military Dimensions (PMD) of its program.

Reactors and Reprocessing

Iran has agreed to redesign and rebuild a heavy water research reactor in Arak, based on a design that is agreed to by the P5+1, which will not produce weapons grade plutonium, and which will support peaceful nuclear research and radioisotope production.

The original core of the reactor, which would have enabled the production of significant quantities of weapons-grade plutonium, will be destroyed or removed from the country.

Iran will ship all of its spent fuel from the reactor out of the country for the reactor’s lifetime.

Iran has committed indefinitely to not conduct reprocessing or reprocessing research and development on spent nuclear fuel.

Iran will not accumulate heavy water in excess of the needs of the modified Arak reactor, and will sell any remaining heavy water on the international market for 15 years.

Iran will not build any additional heavy water reactors for 15 years.

Sanctions

Iran will receive sanctions relief, if it verifiably abides by its commitments.

U.S. and E.U. nuclear-related sanctions will be suspended after the IAEA has verified that Iran has taken all of its key nuclear-related steps. If at any time Iran fails to fulfill its commitments, these sanctions will snap back into place.
 
The architecture of U.S. nuclear-related sanctions on Iran will be retained for much of the duration of the deal and allow for snap-back of sanctions in the event of significant non-performance.

All past UN Security Council resolutions on the Iran nuclear issue will be lifted simultaneous with the completion, by Iran, of nuclear-related actions addressing all key concerns (enrichment, Fordow, Arak, PMD, and transparency).

However, core provisions in the UN Security Council resolutions – those that deal with transfers of sensitive technologies and activities – will be re-established by a new UN Security Council resolution that will endorse the JCPOA and urge its full implementation. It will also create the procurement channel mentioned above, which will serve as a key transparency measure. Important restrictions on conventional arms and ballistic missiles, as well as provisions that allow for related cargo inspections and asset freezes, will also be incorporated by this new resolution.

A dispute resolution process will be specified, which enables any JCPOA participant, to seek to resolve disagreements about the performance of JCPOA commitments.

If an issue of significant non-performance cannot be resolved through that process, then all previous UN sanctions could be re-imposed.

U.S. sanctions on Iran for terrorism, human rights abuses, and ballistic missiles will remain in place under the deal.

Phasing

For ten years, Iran will limit domestic enrichment capacity and research and development – ensuring a breakout timeline of at least one year. Beyond that, Iran will be bound by its longer-term enrichment and enrichment research and development plan it shared with the P5+1.

For fifteen years, Iran will limit additional elements of its program. For instance, Iran will not build new enrichment facilities or heavy water reactors and will limit its stockpile of enriched uranium and accept enhanced transparency procedures.

Important inspections and transparency measures will continue well beyond 15 years. Iran’s adherence to the Additional Protocol of the IAEA is permanent, including its significant access and transparency obligations. The robust inspections of Iran’s uranium supply chain will last for 25 years.

Even after the period of the most stringent limitations on Iran’s nuclear program, Iran will remain a party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which prohibits Iran’s development or acquisition of nuclear weapons and requires IAEA safeguards on its nuclear program.

Parameters for a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action Regarding the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Nuclear Program, Press Release, US Department of State, April 2, 2015

The Love for Nuclear Energy: Saudi Arabia

Iran and Saudi Arabia on map. Image from wikipedia

…[T]e government of Saudi Arabia is feeling anxiety over the evident progress in nuclear talks between the United States and Iran. Indeed, as Riyadh’s regional rival moves closer to receiving international recognition for its nuclear program, the kingdom’s own nuclear aspirations seem to have stalled completely: a proposed U.S.-Saudi nuclear agreement has been at a standstill for six years. And the stalled talks are only one of several issues that have hurt the relationship between Riyadh and Washington in recent years.

The U.S.-Saudi nuclear talks were initiated in 2008, when then Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her Saudi counterpart, Prince Saud al-Faisal, signed a Memorandum of Understanding on Nuclear Energy Cooperation. At the time, many observers expected that the two countries were forging a new pillar for their 80-year-long strategic partnership. Indeed, Saudi Arabia soon announced its intention to build 16 nuclear power plants (at an estimated cost of $112 billion), which would have made it the world’s largest civilian nuclear program and generated tens of thousands of high-paying jobs for the kingdom’s growing population. Riyadh has justified its nuclear ambitions by pointing to the country’s dependence on oil and gas exports, which constitute 80 percent of national revenue; if Saudi Arabia could meet its own growing energy demands through nuclear energy, it wouldn’t have to curtail its sale of oil on the international market.

But before Saudi Arabia enjoys its first watt of nuclear energy, it needs to find partners who are willing to help build its nuclear infrastructure—and at the moment, the United States doesn’t seem willing to play that role. Washington has said that it would first need to reach an agreement with Riyadh on adherence to the Atomic Energy Act of 1954, a U.S. law that regulates nuclear commerce—and those efforts have stalled over the question of whether Saudi Arabia would be subject to the so-called Gold Standard provision that would proscribe Riyadh from enriching uranium or reprocessing plutonium.

Riyadh is unsurprisingly incensed at any suggestion that it wouldn’t be accorded the same right to enrich uranium that the United States effectively granted to Iran under the interim agreement between those two countries. Sources familiar with the negotiations say that Riyadh has argued that the Gold Standard represents an unacceptable infringement on its national sovereignty, emphasizing that the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, of which Saudi Arabia is a signatory, stipulates that countries have a right to develop peaceful nuclear energy.

The White House has so far seemed reluctant to offer any compromise….Complicating matters is the fact that Israel is likely to oppose any nuclear deal with Saudi Arabia that doesn’t adhere to the Gold Standard and will pressure its allies in Washington to do the same. (Israel tacitly approved the 2009 nuclear deal between the United States and the UAE, which was compliant with the Gold Standard.)

Saudi Arabia, should it fail to reach an understanding with Washington, might instead choose to partner with either France or Russia to develop its nuclear program. Last January, during a state visit by French President François Hollande to Riyadh, the French company Areva, the world’s largest nuclear firm, signed a Me moandums of Understanding with five Saudi companies that aim to develop the industrial and technical skills of local companies. Similarly, the CEO of Russia’s Rosatom, Sergei Kiriyenko, announced in July that Russia and Saudi Arabia expect to sign an agreement on civilian nuclear cooperation later this year. If Saudi Arabia follows through on these agreements, it would be to the detriment of U.S. companies—and, perhaps, the broader U.S.-Saudi strategic partnership.

At present, a compromise between Saudi Arabia and the United States seems unlikely…. [But] One promising precedent is the U.S.-Vietnam nuclear agreement of 2014, which allowed Hanoi to obtain any nuclear reactor fuel that it needs for its reactors from the international market, rather than produce the material itself—a model that was dubbed the Silver Standard. This arrangement would likely be acceptable to Riyadh, as it is consistent with the agreement that Rice and Faisal signed in 2008. It’s unclear, however, whether it would be acceptable to Congress. U.S. politicians who claim to fear “Saudi nukes”—or the prospect that Riyadh’s nuclear program could fall into the hands of Islamist extremists—are unlikely to accept anything short of the Gold Standard.

Excerpt, By Sigurd Neubauer,Saudi Arabia’s Nuclear Envy, Foreign Affairs, Washington Should Help Riyadh Keep Up With Tehran

Iran Nuclear Talks: the Khamenei Card

Gas centrifuge cascade. Image from wikipedia

On July 7, 1014 as critical nuclear negotiations got underway in Vienna between Iran, the United States, Europe, Russia and China, Khamenei (Iranian Supreme Leader) started talking hard numbers.  The Supreme Leader’s remarks were unprecedented both because they represented a blatant intervention from his perch in Tehran in the super-sensitive talks in Vienna, and because they relayed confidential technical details that had not been aired publicly before by Iranian officials.

The moment could not be more critical. An agreement is supposed to be reached before July 20, 2014 that will rein in the threat of Iran acquiring nuclear weapons and end or curtail the Western sanctions that have put so much pressure on Tehran. Failure to reach an accord will add yet more potentially apocalyptic uncertainties to the Middle Eastern scene…

The Supreme Leader started talking about SWUs, which it is fair to say few Iranians, or for that matter Americans, Europeans, Russians or Chinese ever have heard of.  In this context the acronym stands for “separative work units,” which relates directly to Iran’s ability to enrich uranium to levels that might feed into nuclear weapons. SWU defines the capability derived from the number of uranium-enriching centrifuges and their efficiency. For example one thousand AR1 centrifuges with the efficiency of 0.9 translates into 900 SWU, whereas 225 AR2 centrifuges with an efficiency of 4 translates into 900 SW…

“They want us to be content with 10,000 SWUs,” he said. That is, he estimates the bottom line the West will accept. “But they have started from 500 and 1000 SWUs,” he added. “Our people say that we need 190,000 SWUs,” he went on. That’s a big spread to try to close.  Khamenei then raised the problem of American and European objections to the more-or-less bomb-proof underground facility Iran has built at Fordo, where much of its enrichment goes on. “They emphasize Fordo because they cannot get to it,” said Khamenei. “They say you must not have a place which we cannot strike. Isn’t this ridiculous?”

Last December [2013] Khamenei said publicly he would not interfere in the negotiations and would leave the details to the diplomats. Now it appears he is playing a more shadowy game, either dictating terms to the Iranian team in Vienna or, perhaps, providing them the cover they need to stand firm.

A source close to the negotiations told IranWire that the numbers Khamenei cited are precisely what American negotiators have put on the table, and constitute one of the confidential topics being discussed over the past few months. Two days before Khamenei spoke, Under Secretary of States for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman, the senior American negotiator, said that Iran must end up with a fraction of the centrifuges it currently runs, but she did not cite any numbers.

The source said that Khamenei’s statements are technically significant, and are in line with the terms of the negotiations, which deal with SWUs rather than the number of centrifuges as such.

According to a European diplomat who is a member of his country’s nuclear negotiating team, the accuracy of the numbers leaked by Khamenei is both astonishing and worrisome, because he is limiting publicly the concessions that might be made by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s team….

It is clear Khamenei wants to leave no doubt about his regime’s red lines in the negotiations…  But Khamenei doesn’t see this crisis only in terms of nukes. For the West, he says, the nuclear issue “is just an excuse” to pressure Iran, he said. “If it is not the nuclear issue they will come up with another excuse—human rights, women’s right, etc.”

Excerpts from Reza HaghighatNejad, Iran Supreme Leader Spills the Nuke Talk Secrets, Daily Beast, July 9, 2014

Iran Cooperates with the IAEA on its Nuclear Program: May 2014

Negotiations about Iran's nuclear program

The  International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) quarterly report made available tp the public  on May 2014 

Main Developments

• Iran has implemented the six initial practical measures that it agreed with the Agency in
November 2013 in relation to the Framework for Cooperation and both parties have agreed on the next   seven practical measures to be implemented by Iran by 15 May 2014, including one measure related to  the information contained in the Annex to the Director General’s November 2011 report.

• On 24 November 2013, the E3+3 [China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States] and Iran agreed on a Joint Plan of Action (JPA). The JPA took
effect on 20 January 2014, and the Board of Governors endorsed the Agency undertaking monitoring   and verification in relation to the nuclear-related measures.

Enrichment of UF6 above 5% U-235 is no longer taking place at [Fuel Enrichment Plant (FEP) at Natanz] FEP and [Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant] FFEP. The amount of  nuclear material that remains in the form of UF6 enriched up to 20% U-235 is 160.6 kg. A proportion   of this material is being downblended and the remainder is being converted to uranium oxide.

• Enrichment of UF6 up to 5% U-235 continues at a rate of production similar to that indicated in   the Director General’s previous report. No additional IR-2m or IR-1 centrifuges have been installed at  FEP, FFEP or [Pilot Fuel Enrichment Plant] PFEP (production area). The amount of nuclear material that remains in the form of UF6   enriched up to 5% U-235 is 7609 kg.

• An updated Design Information Questionnaire (DIQ) for the IR-40 Reactor has been provided   to the Agency. No additional major components have been installed at this reactor and there has been  no manufacture and testing of fuel for the reactor.

• Managed access has been provided to the Agency to centrifuge assembly workshops, centrifuge rotor production workshops and storage facilities….

74. While the Agency continues to verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear material at the   nuclear facilities and [locations outside facilities most of them in hospitals] LOFs declared by Iran under its Safeguards Agreement, the Agency is not in a  position to provide credible assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities   in Iran, and therefore to conclude that all nuclear material in Iran is in peaceful activities.  75. Iran has implemented, within the specified three-month period, the six initial practical measures   contained in the Annex to the Framework for Cooperation. The Agency is analysing the information  provided by Iran and has requested additional clarifications of some of this information.

Excerpts from Implementation of the NPT Safeguards  Agreement and relevant provisions of Security Council resolutions in the  Islamic Republic of Iran : Report by the Director General, GOV/2014/10, Feb. 20, 2014

How Iran Defeated the Sanctions: the Chinese Connection

nantaz

A Chinese citizen faces U.S. criminal charges that he conspired to export to Iran products that could be used in that country’s nuclear program, the U.S. Justice Department.  Sihai Cheng supplied thousands of parts that have nuclear applications to Eyvaz, a company involved in Iran’s nuclear weapons program, in violation of U.S. sanctions on Iran, federal prosecutors said.

Sihai Cheng of Shanghai and Seyed Abolfazl Shahab Jamili of Tehran allegedly plotted between 2009 and 2011 to send pressure measuring sensors, or transducers, ordered from MKS Instruments Inc. in Andover, USA, to Eyvaz Technic Manufacturing Co., a Tehran-based business that has supplied parts to Iranian nuclear facilities.  Transducers are used in commercial products, but can also be used in gas centrifuges to convert natural uranium into a form suited for nuclear weapons, the indictment states.

Prosecutors said MKS Instruments sent the transducers to China without knowing they were ultimately bound for Iran.

In February 2009, Jamili wrote to Cheng that Eyvaz Technic was seeking to obtain a type of transducer. Eyvaz has “supplied parts for Iran’s development of nuclear weapons,” the indictment states.  After receiving the 2009 e-mail, Cheng allegedly plotted with unidentified coconspirators at MKS-Shanghai, a wholly owned Chinese subsidiary of MKS in Andover, to set up front companies to pose as the intended recipients of the materials, which were ordered from the Andover office.  In addition, MKS-Shanghai employees listed other legitimate Chinese companies as recipients in purchase orders sent to Andover, authorities said.  More than 1,000 orders for MKStransducers with a combined value of over $1.8 million were placed between April 2009 and January 2011, the indictment said. Once the parts arrived in China, Cheng had them shipped to Eyvaz, the Iranian company accused of supplying material for Iran’s nuclear enrichment facilities.

Prosecutors wrote that MKS in Andover “unwittingly assisted MKS-Shanghai in fraudulently obtaining an export license for a large quantity of pressure transducers.”  Authorities say there is evidence MKS products reached the Natanz nuclear enrichment facility in Iran, which began operating thousands of gas centrifuges as early as 2007.  “Publicly available photographs of Natanz [with then President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad] show numerous MKS pressure transducers attached to Iran’s gas centrifuge cascades,” the indictment says.

Excerpt from Chinese national indicted in US over exports to Iran,  Reuters, Apr. 4, 2014 and from Travis Andersen and Jennifer Smith,Men accused of sending nuclear supplies to Iran, Boston Globe, Apr. 5, 2014