Monthly Archives: April 2009

Where Did The U Metal Come From?

A “short while ago”:, we all learned some new stuff from Mark Hibbs about the uranium oxide particles found in Syria. Long story short, the IAEA has reason to believe they were uranium metal “converted” into oxide by… “some event”: that divided the uranium into fine particles, causing it to scatter and oxidize.

Now let’s go further and assume that this uranium was, prior to its untimely fine division, fuel for a Yongbyon-type Magnox reactor. This raises an obvious question: Where did it come from?

Well, I think we can rule out “Lancashire”: Instinctively, most of us would say, it came from the Yongbyon fuel fabrication complex in North Korea. It might also have come from a duplicate facility in Syria, although this assumes that quite a lot of stuff could have been built, supplied, and operated undetected.

Ask Dr. Science

The natural place to start is with “SIGINT”: In February 2008, according to Dr. Siegfried “Sig” Hecker, North Korea had under a quarter of a load of fuel rods — apparently for the infamous 5 MWe reactor that has produced all or essentially all of North Korea’s plutonium — and a full load of uncladded fuel rods for the unfinished 50 MWe reactor.

Is that everything that was supposed to be there? As it turns out, Hibbs has already looked into this question. He asked Hecker and wrote up his answer in the Dec. 18, 2008 issue of _Nucleonics Week_.

None of the safeguarded fresh uranium fuel produced by North Korea at its Yongbyon nuclear research center for two of its own reactors was diverted to an alleged clandestine reactor project in Syria, a US expert said December 15.

Siegfried Hecker, a director emeritus of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, said in an interview that the fuel, which had been declared to the IAEA, was still at the center when he visited it in February.

OK. So what about the period after the collapse of the Agreed Framework and before the return of inspectors? Is it possible that the complex was put back into operation, making more fuel?

Let’s go back to Hecker’s “Feb. 2008 trip report”:

bq. The front end of fuel fabrication (Building 1) had been operating making uranium dioxide (UO2) from uranium ore concentrate right up to the time the facility was shut down on July 15, 2007. The back end was operational with seven conversion furnaces, two casting furnaces, and eight machining lathes. However, the middle part, the fluorination facility, had deteriorated so badly during the freeze (1994 to 2003) that the building has been abandoned (as we were shown in August 2007). However, the DPRK had recently completed alternate fluorination equipment (using dry rather than wet techniques) in one of the ancillary buildings. However, this was a makeshift operation that has limited throughput potential. It was not put into full operation by the time of the shutdown on July 15.

It sounds as if A) the complex had only limited capacity during the dark period between 2002 and 2007, but B) the North Koreans were operating some (perhaps all) of the parts that worked, and C) they made efforts to reconstitute what wasn’t working (fluorination) on an _ad hoc_ basis. This element was not “put into full operation,” but that doesn’t mean that it produced nothing, either.

How much fresh fuel could these arrangements have created? Enough for the “test assembly” that one of Hibbs’s sources suggests Syria might have had at the reactor? It’s not really clear, but seems possible. Either way, it raises the question of where the Syrians expected to get a full load of fresh fuel in 2007, when Yongbyon was once again under safeguards. And no, I’m not even going to start speculating about reprocessing facilities.

Anybody Around Here Read Korean?

One way to know what happened at Yongbyon during the dark years would be to scrutinize the operating records of the fuel fabrication complex. There are forensic tests to establish the genuineness of such documents. But according to (you guessed it!) Mark Hibbs in the Jan. 12, 2009 issue of _NuclearFuel,_ these records were not among those provided by North Korea to the United States.

All together now: _Hmmmm._

So, it’s an open question. Any enterprising journalists out there want to take a stab at this one?

Just for fun: Hibbs quotes a “senior UN official” in the Feb. 23, 2009 issue of _NuclearFuel_ as saying that the particles “looked like UO2,” not other oxides. Also, a “Western safeguards official” said that — along with uranium oxide and graphite — there was lots of aluminum and magnesium in the IAEA samples from al-Kibar. That’s what Magnox fuel cladding is made of. But it might have come from the soil, too, right?

One thing is clear, at least: the Syrians won’t be letting the IAEA back in anytime soon.

After all that, you deserve a “musical bonus”: Knock yourself out.

M Rubin, CRS, and This Blog

So it’s come to this.

I have never made a secret of the fact that I work for CRS and have this blog. I never talk about CRS on here because CRS has nothing to do with this blog. I mean nothing. At. All.

But Michael Rubin has now “made an issue”: of my day job. In fact , he impugns my integrity and implies that I should be fired. I think that’s kind of uncool. In any case, I now feel compelled to say a few things.

He says:

bq. Back to Paul Kerr, this should set the record straight. I am surprised that Congressional Research Service analysts not only blog, but also engage in hackery which appears motivated by either partisanship or a desire to advocate policy rather than analyze. From now on, I certainly would take with a grain of salt CRS reports on non-proliferation if they are authored by Kerr and would question why CRS hires bloggers. Granted, the blog is not on a CRS website (although Kerr’s interjections into other blogs suggests he spends much CRS time involved with blogs) but the many partisan links provide a window into the confluence of Kerr’s analysis and politics and should concern any staff member who expects the Congressional Research Service to uphold its reputation for straightforward analysis. CRS should not stand to legitimize analysis formed more by blogger groupthink than by careful reading and fact.

Rubin can read my stuff however he wants. I would welcome feedback from him. But let me be clear about a few things: I am not motivated by partisanship or politics. The work I do is good; if there are ever any inaccuracies I would be happy to correct them, but you won’t find many of those. I do work for both Republicans and Democrats alike and they all seem pretty happy with the results. If they weren’t, I would definitely hear about it.

A few other things:

* On this blog, I do not take policy positions on anything in my portfolio. In fact, I was careful not to do so in my post about Rubin’s oped.

* Despite what Rubin implies, I do not blog or comment on blogs at work. I do read some blogs at work as part of my job.

* The links on this site are not to partisan websites. There’s a reason for that.

* CRS hired me, as far as I know, because I worked for ACA for 5 years and CSIS for 2 years. I also had a blog, which, I guess, means they hired a blogger. But that’s not the part of my cv they focused on, I’m pretty sure.

* Neither Josh nor I write anything about Congress or politics. There’s a reason for that.

I actually agree with Rubin when he says “CRS should not stand to legitimize analysis formed more by blogger groupthink than by careful reading and fact.” If any of my analysis is ever informed by anything other than “careful reading and fact,” I imagine I will be looking for a new line of work.

Have a nice Friday.

*Update:* Michael and I exchanged friendly emails on this subject. I got no hard feelings.

M Rubin on Iran

Michael Rubin “takes issue today”: with “this post”:

I took issue with the idea he expressed in this “oped”:, which can be summarized by these sentences:

bq. Iran’s responsiveness to diplomacy is a mirage. After two years of talks following exposure of its Natanz facility, Tehran finally acquiesced to a temporary enrichment suspension, a move which Secretary of State Colin Powell called “a little bit of progress,” and the EU hailed.

The only point I was trying to make is that Iran did compromise during its 2003-2005 negotiations with the E3. I provided some evidence which, I think, is relevant to the above point. Rubin says it’s not relevant, so maybe I’m missing the point of his article. In any case, he doesn’t refute it.

I also disagree that the interview with Rowhani supports his article’s contention. I still think that’s the case.

I will address his comments about my employer and my integrity in another post.

HRC is Worried

Elise Labott of CNN “quotes the Secretary of State”:

“I think that we cannot underscore the seriousness of the existential threat posed to the state of Pakistan by continuing advances, now within hours of Islamabad, that are being made by a loosely confederated group of terrorists and others who are seeking the overthrow of the Pakistani state, a nuclear-armed state,” Clinton said in an appearance before the House Foreign Affairs Committee Wednesday.

“I don’t hear that kind of outrage and concern coming from enough people that would reverberate back within the highest echelons of the civilian and military leadership of Pakistan,” she added.

Welcome to the club, Madame Secretary.

CNN goes on to quote “Ambassador Husain Haqqani”:, who rather articulately says what’s ~not~ wrong with the current policy of dithering and appeasement.

Elaine Grossman of Global Security Newswire “also quotes Clinton”: as saying that the Pakistan situation “poses a mortal threat to the security and safety of our country and the world.”

These are pretty remarkable remarks about a Major Non-NATO Ally.

Still. I promise that I’m not going to try to turn this into a “what’s-the-matter-with-Pakistan”: blog. So, enough for now.

Update: Get your fix from “Bill Roggio”:

Update 2: And from “Jane Perlez and colleagues”: And “Glenn Kessler”:

SLVs and ICBMs

This could be a really good post with a lot of depth, but I am busy. However, Josh’s productivity is making me feel guilty enough to post something brief.

First, though, a thank-you to Nathan Hodge who was kind enough to “mention me”: a little while back. As he noted, I took issue with one phrase in his original post: “once you have mastered satellite launch, you’ve pretty much figured out how to build an ICBM.”

I told him that mastering a satellite launch

bq. helps with the “launch” part, but not the “re-enter the atmosphere and destroy the desired target” part.

This is simply because SLVs aren’t designed to do the “blow up a lot of shit” thing that ICBMs tend to be good for. If you can build such things, that is. It’s not easy – a fact that “this piece in Yonhap”: discussed a few weeks ago.

I would also commend “this OTA report.”:

Happy reading. And don’t even think about any unconscious motives behind your interest in missiles…

Josh adds: I’m not sure I’d call it “productivity,” exactly. And speaking for myself, at least, I’m still trying not to think too hard about my “interest in SBX”:

If you believe what’s been written about the “Musudan IRBM”:, then the NKs have a big leg up on the re-entry vehicle problem already.

More About Centrifuge Lineage


Maybe you remember some earlier discussion of “Iran’s new-generation centrifuges”: The IAEA introduced the subject to us back in “Feb. 2008”:

bq. 44. On 8 November 2007, Iran stated that it “agreed that exchanging of the new centrifuge generation information” would be discussed with the Agency in December 2007 (GOV/2007/58, para. 33). On 13 January 2008, the Director General and Deputy Director General for Safeguards visited an AEOI R&D laboratory at Kalaye Electric, where they were given information on R&D activities being carried out there. These included work on four different centrifuge designs: two subcritical rotor designs, a rotor with bellows and a more advanced centrifuge. Iran informed the Agency that the R&D laboratory was developing centrifuge components, measuring equipment and vacuum pumps with the aim of having entirely indigenous production capabilities in Iran.

So, just how “indigenous”: are these designs, exactly? Do they have an identifiable lineage?

For glimmerings of insight into this question, we must turn to the indefatigable Mark Hibbs, who has had a few articles on related subjects in recent years.

According to MH in the Jan. 29, 2007 issue of _NuclearFuel_, Pakistan developed not just the by-now-familiar P-1, based on URENCO’s SNOR and CNOR machines, and not just the P-2, based on URENCO’s G-2, but also a P-3 and P-4, starting in the mid-1980s.

(As an aside, this might explain why Khan and his associates were prepared to start selling the earlier technology: it was obsolete. Old machines were being replaced, and those elements of the supply chain that were devoted to their components and materials (e.g., CNOR bearings) would no longer serve a purpose for Pakistan, KRL, or Khan — except to make some money.)

Hibbs writes:

bq. While individual segments of Pakistan’s aluminum P-1 model had a throughput of less than 1 SWU/year, P-2, which features two maraging steel rotor tube segments, had a throughput of about 5 SWU/yr. P-3, the first of two later centrifuges, according to the intelligence information, is a four-tube model with a throughput of just under 12 SWU/yr. A successor model, P-4, may have a throughput slightly over 20 SWU/yr, the information indicates.

It should come as no surprise, by now, that the P-3 and P-4 were based on URENCO models, the four-tube 4-M and the six-tube TC-10, also known as SLM, according to MH in the Feb. 15, 2007 issue of _Nucleonics Week._

It’ll certainly be interesting to learn how much the IR-4 — apart from having carbon-fiber rotors — resembles the P-3. Certainly, to judge by what Hibbs writes, the IAEA had its suspicions.

Another possibility, though, is that the IR-4 is basically an upgraded, carbon-fiber version of the P-2, owing nothing in particular to the P-3 or P-4.

As for the “more advanced centrifuge” mentioned by the IAEA last year, we’ll just have to wait and see.

_Edited lightly for clarity._

Strategic Mortar Defense System

_Ha’aretz_ “reports”: that Israel will buy Phalanx cannons — best known as anti-anti-ship-missile systems — to defend the population of Sderot. There is apparently an anti-mortar/anti-rocket configuration used by the U.S. Army to defend fixed positions, and that’s what they’re buying.

“Earlier reports”: indicate that this has been a long time in coming.

Some possible contributing factors to the delay were “discussed here”:

Iran and Kazakhstan: BFF?

Lost in the noise over “National Nuclear Technology Day”: was some of the diplomatic news around that time. The Syrian foreign minister visited Iran and affirmed Iran’s right to enrich uranium. Just a couple of days before, -so did- the President of Kazakhstan affirmed Iran’s right to “use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes” during a visit there by Ahmadinejad. But that wasn’t all.

“According to Payvand News”:

President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev stressed Iran’s right on Monday to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.

The Kazak president made the statement after his private talks with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who arrived in Astana on Monday for a two-day official visit.

The two presidents attended a joint press conference after discussing ways to further develop Tehran-Astana relations and cooperation.


Referring to the issue of establishing a nuclear fuel bank, a proposal backed by the US, Nazarbayev voiced Kazakhstan’s readiness to establish the bank.

“If a nuclear fuel bank is to be established, Kazakhstan has the ability to do so,” Nazarbayev said.

That’s interesting, because Iran has enrichment technology but precious little uranium, whereas “Kazakhstan has heaps and heaps of uranium”:, but no enrichment technology. (It currently “depends on Russia”: for enrichment services.)

I’m not sure this is what the Obama Administration had in mind, actually…

Update: “according to the WSJ”:, the Obama Administration is considering precisely this option: a fuel bank based in Kazakhstan, with Iran as its most important stakeholder. The article says that the fuel bank would be open to countries that “renounce nuclear weapons,” but Iran, as an NPT NNWS, has done so; the question is whether the stakeholders renounce national nuclear fuel cycles. Otherwise, it’s a case of “having one’s yellowcake and eating it, too”:

Putting Things In Perspective

This blog advertises itself as being about arms control, but you’ll notice that it’s all about Iran, North Korea, Syria, and occasionally places like Libya or the UAE, with glances from time to time in the direction of New Delhi or Moscow. (Back when Anya blogged here, you’d see the occasional Belarus item, of course.) The point? Above all else — and this is my personal view, but I think Paul would agree — this is really a blog about the nonproliferation regime and its problems.

Why? Because it’s interesting. It’s full of new developments and there are all sorts of little puzzles to solve. This is why people play Sudoku, too. It doesn’t suggest that any of these topics is necessarily the most important thing going on.

The P-Word

And what is? Well, if you worry about the spread of nuclear weapons or the possibility of nuclear terrorism, then Issue Number One is not Iran, and it’s not North Korea, either. At the moment, it’s not even MPC&A in Russia. It’s Pakistan, and how much longer there will be a Pakistan as we know it.

Iran’s always a hot topic because a radical theocracy might get the Bomb. “But what if the Bomb gets a radical theocracy?”: A _really_ radical one, too. They do have TV and the Internet in Iran, you realize, but Afghanistan didn’t when the Taliban were in charge there, and Pakistan is now headed down that path. When the corrupt old order crumbles and “Commander of the Faithful” Mullah Omar assumes power over 175 million hungry mouths and who-knows-how-many nuclear warheads, then the fun begins.

That’s when the “nonproliferation”: crowd sort of runs out of things to say, and the “counterproliferation”: folks pick up.

All of our national debates over Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, and North Korea pale in comparison to this scenario, which I’m extremely sorry to say is no longer a theoretical possibility, but is “unfolding”: “before”: “our”: “eyes”:

Let’s hope there’s still time to rescue the situation. Unfortunately, it’s fair to say that we won’t have much help from the current Pakistani authorities, who — even “after”: “everything”: “that’s”: “happened”: there — are seemingly “unable”: or “unwilling”: to recognize that either their country’s problems or the solutions to them lie within their own borders. And that, of course, is the problem.