Experts say they fear nuclear bomb blueprints may be on sale on the world black market following disclosure of a Swiss smuggling investigation.
The Swiss government, believed to be acting under U.S. pressure, recently revealed that it had secretly destroyed around 30,000 documents from the home and computer of a Swiss engineer suspected of being a key figure in the nuclear smuggling ring run by Pakistani scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan. The network is known to have trafficked nuclear materials and knowledge to Iran, Libya and North Korea and it is feared that there may still be other copies of the documents on the black market, reported The Guardian Saturday.
"We know that copies were made. ... Both U.S. intelligence and the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N. nuclear watchdog) had been pursuing this with great urgency and diligence. But what happened to the other copies that (Swiss engineer Urs Tinner) made? It is worrisome that there are other plans floating around somewhere out there," Mark Fitzpatrick at the British-based International Institute of Strategic Studies told The Guardian.
2. Russia Scraps Another Batch of Topol Systems Under START-1 Treaty
(for personal use only)
Russia has dismantled another six outdated Topol mobile ballistic missile systems under a major international treaty on strategic arms reduction, the Strategic Missile Forces said in a statement on Thursday.
"We scrapped six outdated Topol mobile systems. This is the second such procedure conducted this year," the statement said.
The first batch of six Topol systems this year was scrapped between March 17 and 26.
All of the systems were based in the Udmurt Republic in the eastern Urals.
The Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START-I) was signed by the United States and the Soviet Union on July 31, 1991, five months before the Union collapsed, and remains in force between the U.S., Russia, and three other ex-Soviet states.
Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine have since disposed of all their nuclear weapons or transferred them to Russia, and the U.S. and Russia have reduced the number of delivery vehicles to 1,600, with no more than 6,000 warheads. The treaty is set to expire December 5, 2009.
Topol (SS-25 Sickle) is a single-warhead intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), approximately the same size and shape as the U.S. Minuteman ICBM.
The first Topol missiles became operational in 1985, and at the time the START I Treaty was signed, the Soviet Union had some 290 Topol ICBMs deployed.
Although the service life of the SS-25 was extended to 21 years after a series of successful test launches last year, the missile will be progressively retired over the next decade and be replaced by a mobile version of the Topol-M (SS-27 Sickle B) missile.
The Strategic Missile Forces press service earlier said 36 mobile Topol ICBMs were dismantled in 2007 under close monitoring by U.S. inspectors.
1. IAEA Meets to Discuss Iran's Alleged Nuclear Weapons Work
(for personal use only)
The UN atomic watchdog will meet this week to discuss what its inspectors term "alarming" indications that Iran may have been working to build a nuclear bomb until just a few years ago.
The 35-member board of governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency is scheduled to hold its regular summer board meeting at the watchdog's headquarters from Monday to Friday.
Topping the agenda will be the latest report by IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei on the agency's long-running investigation into Tehran's controversial nuclear drive.
Iran insists its atomic programme is entirely peaceful, but western countries, and the United States in particular, are convinced the Islamic republic is covertly seeking to build a nuclear bomb.
In the sternly-worded report, circulated to board members last week, the IAEA expressed "serious concern" that Iran is hiding information about alleged weaponisation work, as well as defying UN demands to suspend uranium enrichment.
At the centre of the IAEA's concerns is intelligence suggesting Iran may have been looking into high explosives of the sort used in implosion-type nuclear bombs, and exploring modifications to missiles consistent with making them capable of delivering a nuclear weapon.
Iran has repeatedly dismissed the intelligence as fake and fabricated.
But the intelligence, gathered from as many as 10 different countries, was compelling enough to warrant concern about the true nature of Iran's atomic programme, said the IAEA's head of safeguards Olli Heinonen.
"Substantive explanations are required from Iran," the report insisted.
The alleged weaponisation work "remain a matter of serious concern. Clarification of these is critical to an assessment of the nature of Iran's past and present nuclear programme."
Compared with previous reports, ElBaradei's latest one appears to be taking a much tougher line against Tehran, experts have said, an interpretation backed up by Iran's somewhat irate response.
In Tehran on Wednesday, Iran's new parliament speaker Ali Larijani warned the country could review its relations with the UN watchdog.
In preparation for next week's board meeting, Heinonen briefed diplomats on the technical aspects of the report on Thursday.
And the picture he painted was a "deeply troubling one", said one diplomat who attended the meeting.
Heinonen himself had even expressed "alarm" that Iran has in its possession a document describing the process for making what could be the core of a nuclear weapon, a western diplomat said.
The 15-page document describes the process of machining uranium metal into two hemispheres of the kind used in nuclear warheads.
Iran has told the IAEA that it received the document back in 1987 along with design information for the so-called P1 centrifuges used to enrich uranium.
Tehran insists it did not request the uranium metal document.
But the IAEA argues it needs to understand the precise role of the document to be able to determine the true nature of Iran's nuclear activities.
Iran's ambassador to the IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, rubbished the intelligence.
The fact that none of the documentation had any official stamp marking it as confidential or top secret and numerous other discrepancies were proof that the intelligence was "forged and fabricated," Soltanieh said.
Western countries such as the United States remain unconvinced by such statements, however, and insist the onus is on Tehran to actively disprove the allegations rather than simply dismiss them as untrue.
"As (Heinonen's) briefing showed us, there are strong reasons to suspect that Iran was working covertly and deceitfully, at least until recently, to build a bomb," said the US ambassador to the IAEA, Gregory Schulte.
1. North Korea Almost Ready for Nuclear Declaration
Angela Moon, Reuters
(for personal use only)
North Korea is almost done with preparations to make a long-overdue declaration of its nuclear programs, a South Korean envoy said on Sunday.
The declaration is part of a broader multilateral deal under which North Korea, which detonated an atomic device in October 2006, has agreed to abandon all its nuclear programs in exchange for economic and diplomatic incentives.
"The U.S. needs more time, while North Korea's preparations are almost done," Seoul's chief negotiator to nuclear talks, Kim Sook, told a press briefing after meetings with his U.S. and North Korean counterparts over the past few days in Beijing.
Earlier last month, the top U.S. negotiator with Pyongyang, Christopher Hill, said North Korea appeared close to making the declaration.
The declaration was held up also partly because of the North's reluctance to answer U.S. suspicions that it transferred nuclear technology to other countries, notably Syria, and had a secret program to enrich uranium for weapons.
Once the declaration has been produced, the United States is expected to drop North Korea from its terrorism blacklist and end sanctions imposed under the U.S. Trading With the Enemy Act.
North and South Korea, the United States, China, Japan and Russia have been involved in long-running "six-party" talks aimed at curtailing North Korea's nuclear plans, a process that intensified after Pyongyang's 2006 nuclear weapon test.
Pyongyang raised tensions on Friday by firing three short-range missiles off its west coast.
A similar launch in March riled regional tensions and was seen by analysts as a display of anger at Washington and South Korean President Lee Myung-bak's new conservative government in Seoul.
1. IAEA to Visit Syria to Probe Atom Reactor Claim
Mark Heinrich and Karin Strohecker
(for personal use only)
A U.N. nuclear watchdog team will visit Syria from June 22-24 to pursue an investigation into U.S. intelligence alleging that Damascus secretly built an atomic reactor, the agency's chief said on Monday.
The reported reactor site was destroyed in an Israeli air raid last September and Washington handed over intelligence to the International Atomic Energy Agency in April for verification purposes. Syria has denied any covert nuclear arms project.
"It has now been agreed that an agency team will visit Syria during the period 22-24 of June. I look forward to Syria's full cooperation in this matter," IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei told a meeting of the agency's 35-nation Board of Governors.
He did not say whether Syria, which had not responded for months to IAEA requests for access, would allow U.N. investigators to examine the al-Kibar site in the country's remote northeast desert.
Diplomats said earlier the IAEA would not send investigators to Syria without guarantees they could inspect the bombed area.
A Western diplomat said the Vienna-based U.N. watchdog, which also has a long-running investigation into Iran's nuclear program, wanted to visit not just al-Kibar but two other sites with possible nuclear dimensions.
ElBaradei had said on May 7 that he hoped to be able to shed light "in the next few weeks" on whether the Syrian facility was a nuclear reactor that should have been declared to the IAEA under Damascus's Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) obligations.
Syria, an ally of Iran, has rejected as fabricated U.S. intelligence pointing to an almost completed graphite reactor erected with the help of North Korea, which left the NPT in 2003 and test-detonated a nuclear device in 2006.
Commenting on the planned IAEA investigative mission, a senior Western diplomat told Reuters: "The board expects Syria to provide full cooperation and access and we hope to have a report from ElBaradei for the next board meeting in September."
ElBaradei again chided the United States and Israel for waiting until last month to share intelligence with the IAEA.
"It is deeply regrettable that information concerning this installation was not provided to the agency in a timely manner and that force was resorted to unilaterally before the agency was given an opportunity to establish the facts," he said.
"Nonetheless, I should emphasize that Syria, like all states with comprehensive (nuclear) safeguards agreements, has an obligation to report the planning and construction of any nuclear facility to the agency," he said.
"We are therefore treating this information with the seriousness it deserves and have been in discussions with the Syrian authorities ... to verify, to the extent possible at this stage, the veracity of the information available."
Damascus, whose only declared nuclear facility is an old research reactor under IAEA monitoring, has said Israel's target was only a disused military building that had no nuclear link.
Washington said the reactor had been designed to yield plutonium fuel for nuclear weapons.
Analysts, citing satellite photos, say Syria has razed and swept clean the al-Kibar site since the Israeli air strike and erected a new building over it, possibly to erase evidence.
They say it is unlikely U.N. inspectors would uncover major components of a reactor or related equipment, but they would want to test for traces of graphite or uranium alloys and examine the local water supply system.
A report by independent nuclear experts briefed by U.S. officials said Syria went to great lengths to foil aerial surveillance by building a false roof and walls to alter the normal telltale contours of a reactor.
DISCLAIMER: Nuclear News is presented for informational purposes only. Readers are encouraged to visit the websites from which the source material originates. Views presented in any given article are those of the individual author or source and not of RANSAC. RANSAC takes no responsibility for the accuracy of information contained in any article presented in Nuclear News.