Ex-inspector rejects IAEA Iran bomb claim
By Gareth Porter
WASHINGTON - A former inspector for the International Atomic Energy Agency
(IAEA) has repudiated its major new claim that Iran built an explosives chamber
to test components of a nuclear weapon and carry out a simulated nuclear
The IAEA claim that a foreign scientist - identified in news reports as
Vyacheslav Danilenko - had been involved in building the alleged containment
chamber has now been denied firmly by Danilenko himself in an interview with
Radio Free Europe published last Friday.
The latest report by the IAEA cited "information provided by Member States"
that Iran had constructed "a large explosives
containment vessel in which to conduct hydrodynamic experiments" - meaning
simulated explosions of nuclear weapons - in its Parchin military complex in
The report said it had "confirmed" that a "large cylindrical object" housed at
the same complex had been "designed to contain the detonation of up to 70
kilograms of high explosives". That amount of explosives, it said, would be
"appropriate" for testing a detonation system to trigger a nuclear weapon.
But former IAEA inspector Robert Kelley has denounced the agency's claims about
such a containment chamber as "highly misleading".
Kelley, a nuclear engineer who was the IAEA's chief weapons inspector in Iraq
and is now a senior research fellow at the Stockholm International Peace
Research Institute, pointed out in an interview with the Real News Network that
a cylindrical chamber designed to contain 70 kg of explosives, as claimed by
the IAEA, could not possibly have been used for hydrodynamic testing of a
nuclear weapon design, contrary to the IAEA claim.
"There are far more explosives in that bomb than could be contained by this
container," Kelley said, referring to the simulated explosion of a nuclear
weapon in a hydrodynamic experiment.
Kelley also observed that hydrodynamic testing would not have been done in a
container inside a building in any case. "You have to be crazy to do
hydrodynamic explosives in a container," he said. "There's no reason to do it.
They're done outdoors on firing tables."
Kelley rejected the IAEA claim that the alleged cylindrical chamber was new
evidence of an Iranian weapons program. "We've been led by the nose to believe
that this container is important, when in fact it's not important at all,"
The IAEA report and unnamed "diplomats" implied that a "former Soviet nuclear
weapons scientist", identified in the media as Danilenko, had helped build the
alleged containment vessel at Parchin.
But their claims conflict with one another as well as with readily documented
facts about Danilenko's work in Iran.
The IAEA report does not deny that Danilenko - a Ukrainian who worked in a
Soviet-era research institute that was identified mainly with nuclear weapons -
was actually a specialist on nanodiamonds. The report nevertheless implies a
link between Danilenko and the purported explosives chamber at Parchin by
citing a publication by Danilenko as a source for the dimensions of the alleged
The Associated Press reported on November 11 that unnamed diplomats suggested
Volodymyr Padalko, a partner of Danilenko in a nanodiamond business who was
described as Danilenko's son-in-law, had contradicted Danilenko's firm denial
of involvement in building a containment vessel for weapons testing. The
diplomats claimed Padalko had told IAEA investigators that Danilenko had helped
build "a large steel chamber to contain the force of the blast set off by such
But that claim appears to be an effort to confuse Danilenko's well-established
work on an explosives chamber for nanodiamond synthesis with a chamber for
weapons testing, such as the IAEA now claims was built at Parchin.
One of the unnamed diplomats described the steel chamber at Parchin as "the
size of a double decker bus" and thus "much too large" for nanodiamonds.
But the IAEA report itself made exactly the opposite argument, suggesting that
the purported steel chamber at Parchin was based on the design in a published
paper by Danilenko.
The report said the alleged explosives chamber was designed to contain "up to
70 kg of high explosives" which it claims would be "suitable" for testing what
it calls a "multipoint initiation system" for a nuclear weapon.
But a 2008 slide show on systems for nanodiamond synthesis posted on the
Internet by the US-based nanotechnology company NanoBlox shows that the last
patented containment chamber built by Danilenko and patented in 1992, with a
total volume of 100 cubic meters, was designed for the use of just 10 kg of
An unnamed member state had given the IAEA a purported Iranian document in 2008
describing a 2003 test of what the agency interpreted to be a possible "high
explosive implosion system for a nuclear weapon".
David Albright, director of a Washington think-tank that frequently passes on
information from IAEA officials to the news media, told this writer in 2009
that the member state in question was "probably Israel". Although the process
of making "detonation nanodiamonds" uses explosives in a containment chamber,
the chamber would bear little resemblance to one used for testing a nuclear
bomb's initiation system.
The production of diamonds does not require the same high degree of precision
in simultaneous explosions as the initiator for a nuclear device. And unlike
the explosives used in a multipoint initiation system, the explosives used for
making synthetic nanodiamonds must be under water in a closed pool, as
Danilenko noted in a 2010 PowerPoint presentation.
Having endorsed the IAEA's claims, Albright concedes in a November 13 article
that the IAEA report "did not provide [sic] Danilenko's involvement, if any, in
In an interview with Radio Free Europe on Friday, Danilenko denied that he has
any expertise in nuclear weapons, saying, "I understand absolutely nothing in
nuclear physics." He also denied that he participated in "modeling warheads" at
the research institute in Russia where he worked for three decades.
Danilenko further denied doing any work in Iran that did not relate to "dynamic
detonation synthesis of diamonds" and said he has "strong doubts" that Iran had
a nuclear weapons program during those years.
Albright and three co-authors published an account of Danilenko's work in Iran
this week seeking to give credibility to the IAEA suggestion that he worked on
the containment chamber for a nuclear weapons program.
The Albright article, published on the website of the Institute for Science and
International Security, said that Danilenko approached the Iranian Embassy in
1995 offering his expertise on detonation diamonds, and later signed a contract
with Syed Abbas Shahmoradi who responded to Danilenko's query.
Albright identifies Shahmoradi as the "head of Iran's secret nuclear sector
involved in the development of nuclear weapons", merely because Shahmoradi
later headed the Physics Research Center, which the IAEA argues has led Iran's
nuclear weapons research.
But in late 1995, Shahmoradi was at the Sharif University of Technology, which
is a leading center for nanodiamonds in Iran. Albright argues that this is
evidence supporting his suspicion that nanodiamonds were a cover for his real
work, because the main center for nanodiamond research is at Malek Ashtar
University of Technology rather than at Sharif University.
However, Sharif University had just established an Institute of Nanoscience and
Nanotechnology in 2005 that was intended to become the hub for nanotechnology
research activities and strategy planning for Iran. So Sharif University and
Shahmoradi would have been the logical choice to contract one of the world's
leading specialists on nanodiamonds.
Gareth Porter is an investigative historian and journalist specializing
in US national security policy. The paperback edition of his latest book,
Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam, was
published in 2006.