Sunday, December 13, 2009

Breaking: Secret documents reveal Iran is testing final nuclear weapon component

Catherine Philip at the Times (UK) has obtained confidential intelligence documents that prove Iran is testing a neutron initiator, the component of a nuclear bomb that triggers its detonation:

Confidential intelligence documents obtained by The Times show that Iran is working on testing a key final component of a nuclear bomb.

The notes, from Iran’s most sensitive military nuclear project, describe a four-year plan to test a neutron initiator, the component of a nuclear bomb that triggers an explosion. Foreign intelligence agencies date them to early 2007, four years after Iran was thought to have suspended its weapons programme.

An Asian intelligence source last week confirmed to The Times that his country also believed that weapons work was being carried out as recently as 2007 — specifically, work on a neutron initiator.

The technical document describes the use of a neutron source, uranium deuteride, which independent experts confirm has no possible civilian or military use other than in a nuclear weapon. Uranium deuteride is the material used in Pakistan’s bomb, from where Iran obtained its blueprint.
Catherine Philip, diplomatic correspondent for the Times is working overtime through the night tonight with additional articles on Iran here and here.  About uranium deuteride, she writes:

One formula stands out in the documents obtained by The Times: UD3, or uranium deuteride. Independent experts have confirmed that the only possible use for UD3 is as a neutron source, the trigger to the chain reaction for a nuclear explosion.
Critically, while other neutron sources have possible civilian uses, UD3 has only one application — to be the metaphorical match that lights a nuclear bomb.

UD3, when used in a neutron initiator, emits a stream of neutrons that ignite the core of a bomb, either weapons-grade uranium or plutonium. The stream of neutrons is released using high explosives to compress a core of solid UD3, creating fusion.

Foreign intelligence agencies are closely monitoring all of Iran’s weapons activities and a test explosion would not go unnoticed, which poses a problem to the covert development of a nuclear weapon.
An explosion could be explained as conventional weapons testing, but not if traces of uranium were left behind from the use of UD3. Such a discovery would be regarded as proof of weapons testing, and as a statement of Iran’s nuclear intent.
In the documents obtained by The Times, Iranian military scientists suggest a way around the problem: by running surrogate tests that substitute titanium deuteride for the uranium compound. They suggest “continuing the work of replacement materials such as TiD2 [titanium deuteride] in order to avoid U [Uranium] pollution in the production of UD3”.
Titanium deuteride would behave in the same way, producing a measurable flow of neutrons, but without leaving the traces of uranium. The explosion would also be smaller.

It is doubtful that Israel will wait for physical evidence of uranium deuteride or titanium deuteride in the aftermath of a test explosion in Iran.  Would you?

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