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Monday, December 4, 2006

The Iranians Accelerate - Yediot Ahronot Report [With Photos]

The Iranians Accelerate

Ronen Bergman:
Yedioth Ahronot (In Hebrew)
Nov 10  06 (Shiva Yamim Supplement) Pages - 16-24.
This vital issue is likely to perturb every citizen in Israel: Within a certain period of time, Ali Khamenei, Mahmud Ahmadinejad, and the other senior members of the regime of the Ayatollahs will be able to press the red button and implement some of the terrifying declarations that are coming from Tehran if they decide it is the appropriate moment. So although no one can name the specific day on which this will happen, one thing is certain: Iran is not wasting a moment, nor abandoning any path en route to the nuclear finishing  line, and in the last few months has even been accelerating its activities.

Updated satellite photographs  acquired by ShivaYamim, published here for the first time, reveal unprecedented construction at  all nuclear sites in Iran. Among other things, the imagery reveals extensive construction work going on at the centrifuge site at Natanz, including tunnels and bunkers; significant progress in building the heavy-water reactor in Arak; production of UF6 gas in Isfahan which, according to intelligence reports, is supposed to be enough for two atom bombs; and worrying reports have also been received about advanced tests of a high-powered explosive that is designed for use in the fission mechanism.

In addition, if anyone still has any doubts about the seriousness of Iranian intentions, the satellite photos reveal the deployment of numerous antiaircraft missile batteries, in a way that is perhaps unprecedented, around the nuclear sites.  European intelligence information also points to the presence of Iranian scientists at the recent nuclear test in North Korea. All these things leave no room for doubt that Iran is closer than ever before to putting together the first Shiite atomic bomb.

International Hypocrisy

In the last three months, including during the war in Lebanon, satellite imagery analysts in the Israeli intelligence community, like their colleagues in the international community, have noted a number of changes at the nuclear sites in Iran. The spy satellites were focused on these sites and photographed them repeatedly. The pictures left no room for doubt: Iran is accelerating its nuclear program at a number of sites simultaneously. But that is not all. In the months in question, Iran launched a process of
deploying antiaircraft missile batteries around the nuclear sites and replacing the existing technology with Russian S-300 missiles, which are regarded as the most advanced.

Indeed, satellite imagery acquired by Shiva Yamim and specially analyzed for this article by Tim Brown, a US expert in interpreting military satellite imagery, reveal that the Iranians are making considerable and particularly rapid progress in producing a bomb. What also emerges is the extent to which the Iranians fear a possible attack on these sites. For example, no less than 26 antiaircraft positions were recently photographed around the centrifuge site at Natanz, which does not cover a particularly large area.  According to experts in Israel, there are few sites in the world that receive such dense protection.

It seems that the most annoying thing in the context of the Iranian nuclear program is the approach of the IAEA. Although Iran is caught lying over and over again; although it admits to actions that blatantly violate the Geneva  NPT Treaty; although there is a whole string of issues between it and the IAEA on which IAEA experts say that it has not provided even the beginning of satisfactory answers; although it repeatedly threatens to put a stop to the supervision; and although it bars the inspectors access to some of the sites, to experts, and to know-how -- IA EA Director Dr Muhammad al-Baradei, the Nobel Peace Prize recipient, insists on drafting a very watered-down of his conclusions and recommendations on the matter. True, even if the Egyptian Al-Baradei was firmer, the United States would still insist on putting together an international coalition to impose strict sanctions on Iran, but it is clear that more incisive statements from him, which are warranted by the facts, would provide the United States with operative ammunition and push Russia and China, which are close to Iran, into a corner. By acting the way he is doing, Al-Baradei is providing these countries with the excuse to continue to sit on the fence and do business with Iran behind everyone's back.

Take the site at Parchin, for example, where the Iranians are working on the warhead itself. According to information that has reached the West and been passed to the IAEA, a group of Iranian scientists, working under Department 105 of the local Ministry of Defense, are conducting experiments here on the
timed detonation of conventional high-powered explosives, called high explosives, which form the "explosive lens." The aim is to generate the beginning of a chain reaction that will lead to a nuclear explosion.  In order to create the desired effect, all the charges around the bomb's core must be exploded exactly at the same split second. Al-Barad'i's people, who are supposed to have the authority to visit any site they want, tried to get to Parchin a number of times but on each occasion they were warded off by Iranian intelligence. When the inspection finally took place, it was made in stringent conditions, with the inspectors not being allowed to go where they wanted.  Despite this, the inspectors found a high-speed camera designed to document timed explosions. Yet the Parchin issue receives only a muted mention from Al-Baradei, along with the comment that no suspicious findings were discovered except for a camera.

An analysis of the satellite photos published here reveals that extensive construction work has also been going on in Parchin recently. The photos reveal a series of underground tunnels and digging whose enormous scale is indicated by the amounts of earth dug up. The photos also show the area to which IAEA inspectors were not permitted access: special chambers that are used to test the assembly of a nuclear warhead's explosives. Identical chambers were photographed over the years close to facilities where the Soviet Union developed and manufactured its nuclear warheads. [passage omitted]

Spy 450 Km High

Until 1999, the satellite photos attached to this article were the wet dream of anyone without access to one of the Western intelligence agencies. Until then, high-quality imagery was the sole preserve of intelligence officials who controlled spy satellites.  There were a few civilian satellites, but they took poor-quality photographs.

In 1999, the Ikonos satellite was launched. Ikonos was the first commercial spy satellite. The system was built by Lockheed-Martin, and it is operated by Space Imaging. Ikonos, which is today called GeoEye, can identify objects on the ground that are 1 meter in size or larger so long as they are far from other objects and possess unique visual characteristics.

In 2002, the DigitalGlobe satellite was launched into space, and it cruises 450 km above the Earth. The satellite is capable of identifying objects 60 cm and upward in size -- a capability equal to the
most advanced military spy satellites. DigitalGlobe was used for these photos, and it also provided the photos in 2002, at the request of Yedi'ot Aharonot, that showed the uranium-enrichment facility in Isfahan.

The analysis of the photos for Yedi'ot Aharonot was undertaken by Tim Brown, who is regarded as one of the best-known interpreters of satellite imagery in the United States. In 1999, Brown, who works as an analyst on many television programs in the United States, together with John Pike, founded
Global Security, a company that runs the Public Eye satellite-imagery analysis project.

Brown serves as a senior researcher for, the site operated by the company, which is regarded as one of the most popular and high-quality site in the world on military, intelligence, and
nonconventional weapon issues.

Plutonium Bomb

The main requirements in producing a plutonium bomb are uranium, a heavy-water reactor, heavy water, and a separation facility. The preparation involves the radiation of metal-wrapped uranium rods in channels immersed in heavy water to start a chain reaction and generate electricity. A new
material, called plutonium, is generated in this process. In effect, plutonium is the waste produced, and in order to continue generating electricity, it must be cleaned from the rods. Note that the plutonium is
not thrown away. It must be removed from the rods in a chemical process called separation, and this is done in a separation facility. It is from the plutonium that the core of an atom bomb can be produced.

The final stage involves fashioning the material into a spherical shape and assembling it in a special apparatus, a "bomb lens," which will generate the start of a chain reaction. The chain effect is achieved by means of the simultaneous explosion of many explosive charges assembled around the sphere.

Enriched Uranium Bomb

The main requirements in producing an enriched uranium bomb are raw uranium, fluoride, and centrifuges. The preparation involves reactors for raw, natural uranium, and through a not particularly complex chemical process, the uranium is turned into a material called "yellow cake," a compound of
uranium and fluoride. After that, in a process called "conversion," the "yellow cake" is turned into UF6 gas.

At the enrichment stage, which is the hardest and most important of all, the gas is fed into the centrifuges which are connected in what is called a "cascade."  Note: If a total of 3,000 centrifuges are connected to each other, a sufficient amount of bomb-quality enriched uranium is produced. The
enriched gas is converted into a solid material in a simple chemical process, and the core of a bomb is manufactured from it.

The final stage is exactly the same as that in the plutonium bomb process.


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  • I think that you need a heavy water reactor to convert the Uranium to Plutonium which is what is used in an implosion bomb, like 'Fat Man'. That's what the Soviets are building for Iran. A gun-tube bomb just requires U-235 which is what you get from the centrifuge enrichment process.

    The gun-tube bomb is heavier, the Plutonium bomb can be better packaged to fit on missiles.


    By Blogger bill, At December 6, 2006 12:52:00 AM GMT+00:00  

  • Hi,
    The Soviets are NOT bulding a heavy water reacter. The heavy water reactor is the "little" one that the Iranians are building "for research" at Natanz, and it is separate from the electricity generation reactor at Busheir that the Soviets are building. A similar reactor to the Natanz one was used by India to make their bomb if I am not mistaken and the one they tested was a Plutonium implostion device.

    Some details are here:

    By Blogger News Service, At December 7, 2006 1:49:00 AM GMT+00:00  

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