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Thursday, March 15, 2012

Site of Iranian nuclear explosives tests identified?

A Washington think tank believes that it has identified the chamber in which Iran tested nuclear explosives at the Parchin military base outside Tehran.
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 institute examined satellite imagery of the building dating from 2004 and 2011, pointing out the various features.

A senior U.S. official who would not speak for attribution because of the sensitivity of the information confirmed Albright's assessment. "We know explosive compression was done at this chamber. This is where explosives are," the official said.

The International Atomic Energy Agency has repeatedly asked Iran for access to the Parchin site, but the nuclear watchdog group has been denied permission by the Iranian government.
The Atlantic Wire adds:
In November, the International Atomic Energy Agency reported that Iran had constructed a building at its Parchin military facility around 2000 to hold "a large cylindrical object" and that "a large earth berm was subsequently constructed between the building containing the cylinder and a neighbouring building, indicating the probable use of high explosives in the chamber." It added, "The Agency has obtained commercial satellite images that are consistent with this information." But the IAEA never released the images backing up its report.

When questions arose in February about the facility, The Atlantic Wire wanted to see what it looked like, so we asked our friends at the commercial satellite firm GeoEye if they had any imagery of Parchin and sent their images to analyst Paul Brannan at the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS). Today, ISIS wrapped up its report and has identified the site mentioned in the IAEA report. To this day, Iran has consistently denied that it has engaged in nuclear experiments at the site.

"The building is located on a relatively small and isolated compound within the Parchin military site and has its own perimeter security wall or fencing," reads the report by ISIS founder David Albright and Brannan. IAEA officials have repeatedly requested to visit the site.


An interesting aspect of the ISIS report shows how off base the IAEA was during its 2005 visit to Parchin. Iran opened its floodgates to the nuclear watchdog at the time and in September of that year the IAEA said it didn't find anything. It wasn't until November 2011 that the IAEA said it obtained satellite images showing that Iran was conducting high-explosive tests with components necessary for a nuclear bomb. Below, you can see how far apart the area the IAEA visited is from the site that ISIS says shows signs of high-explosive tests.
Challah Hu Akhbar has put together a series of images of Parchin dating back to 2004 here. I can't help but wonder whether the IAEA 'missing' this building in 2005 was somehow connected to its chairman at the time, Mohamed ElBaradei, who probably did more than anyone outside Iran and AQ Khan to advance Iran's nuclear capability.

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