Iran Tests Nuclear Missile Warhead Design

Thursday, 02 Jun 2011 05:00 PM

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Iran has built and tested all the elements of a nuclear weapon design similar to the bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, in 1945, and is actively working to fit it onto a ballistic missile capable of reaching Israel, nuclear experts told Newsmax this week.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna first revealed that Iran had been working on the tried and true nuclear weapons design three years ago. But only last week did the U.N. agency spell out the details of Iran’s nuclear weapons-related work.

Amano, Iran, nuclear, missile, test
Yukiya Amano (AP photo)
The tests the IAEA says Iran has carried out “seem logically to be part of a weaponization process,” said Dr. James McNally, a former U.S. nuclear weapons lab researcher. “The Iranians appear to be scoping out what needs to be done to get to their goal.”

In a technically-worded section of his May 24 report to the U.N. Security Council, IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano said the Agency “remains concerned about . . . activities related to the development of a nuclear payload for a missile.”

The IAEA said the weapon design uses hemispheres of highly-enriched uranium, a design consistent with an implosion device. The agency also has information showing that Iran had conducted “design work and modeling studies involving the removal of the conventional high explosive payload from the warhead of the Shahab-3 missile and replacing it with a spherical nuclear payload.”

“I don’t see that as part of a peaceful nuclear program,” McNally told Newsmax in an interview.

Iran has displayed its Shahab-3 missiles in public parades draped in English-language banners that read, “Israel Must be Wiped Off the Map.” It developed the missile in the mid-1990s with help from Russia and North Korea, and conducted its first successful test flight in July 1998.

Iran claims it has built several hundred of the missiles, which can reach targets up to 1,200 miles, depending on the version.

The report listed six additional technologies it claims Iran has tested that are specifically related to a nuclear implosion device. These include an exotic uranium-deuterium neutron initiator that China gave Pakistan to use as a nuclear “spark plug” nearly 30 years ago and that Pakistan has now transferred to Iran.

Taken together, the new information from the IAEA shows that Iran has carried out a “cold test” of its nuclear weapons design, former CIA nuclear weapons analyst Dr. Peter Pry told Newsmax.

“These are all the components required to do not only a cold test but to actually build a screw-ready nuclear weapon short of having the fuel,” Pry said. “If you master the explosive lenses and the neutron generator, then really all you need is the fuel and the ability to shape the fuel into hemispheres.”

Iran has been able to shape uranium into hemispheres for several years, according to earlier IAEA reports. In its latest report, the IAEA said that Iran has conducted “full scale experiments” of the complex high-explosive detonation component of the bomb, “work which may have benefited form the assistance of foreign expertise.”

As for nuclear fuel, the latest IAEA report shows that Iran has recovered from the Stuxnet computer worm attack, and has accelerated the production of enriched uranium at its declared centrifuge plant at Natanz.

“In constructing any program it is logical to identify each task needed for producing a working nuclear explosive,” McNally told Newsmax. “These steps can be carried out almost independently in order to keep a low profile and hide the proximity to the final nuclear detonation,” he added.

Former assistant secretary of State for On-site Verification, Paula Desutter, saw no ambiguity in Iran’s nuclear test program. “That’s weaponization,” she told Newsmax. “There is no other reason to conduct those tests except to prepare a nuclear device.”

Most Western intelligence analysts believe Iran has a parallel program and has installed enrichment centrifuges at secret sites it has not declared to the IAEA, using uranium milled from local mines that are not covered by IAEA safeguards.

In April, Iran acknowledged that it was building enrichment centrifuge components at a previously undeclared facility just outside Karaj, an industrial city some 40 kilometers west of the capital, Tehran.

Two years ago, Iran admitted that it had built a secret enrichment plant in the mountains outside Qom, and that the plant was just the first of 10 or even 20 secret uranium enrichment plants it intended to build and ultimately declare to the IAEA.

In its May 24 report, the IAEA noted that Iran had broken a verification seal at its enrichment plant in Natanz, a event that “could theoretically have allowed Iran to remove uranium from the process stream, an action that could go undetected until the next IAEA inventory” this fall, according to IranWatch, a website run by the Wisconsin Project for Nuclear Arms Control.

Gary Milhollin, president and CEO of the Wisconsin Project, told Newsmax that the broken seal was “a big issue” and “raises questions” that the IAEA needs to resolve.

“When you breach a seal, it’s the beginning of a story. What we need is the rest of the story,” he said.

While Milhollin doubted that a single broken seal indicated Iran intended to “break out” of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and build one or several bombs with its declared inventory of nuclear material, he called on the IAEA to “make clear whether this is an important breach or just a slip-up.”

IranWatch has published a chart showing that Iran in theory could build as many as four nuclear warheads in a matter of months if it decided to enrich the low-enriched uranium it has already produced to weapons grade.

Milhollin said he doubted Iran would pursue such a break-out scenario, at least for now.

“They are working on becoming a virtual nuclear weapons state,” Milhollin told Newsmax. “The Iranian strategy is to do as much as they can to get as close as they can to nuclear weapons capability without provoking a big response from the outside world. So far it’s been working pretty well. They’ve been stopping just short of provoking a military response.”

Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) reportedly took delivery of two nuclear-capable re-entry vehicles for its Shahab-3 missiles in recent days, according to former IRGC officer Reza Kahlili, author of a recent memoir, "A Time to Betray."

Kahlili believes the IRGC will receive eight more nuclear warheads within the next 10 months, and will mate nuclear weapons to two of the warheads no later than March 2012.

“When IRGC Commander General Mohammad Ali Jaafari promised his troops that in the near future we will witness the ‘miraculous project,’ which will shock the world, he was referring to the fact that the Revolutionary Guards will be armed with nuclear weapons,” Kahlili said.

The move from virtual nuclear weapons state to actual nuclear weapons capability “has been authorized by Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei,” Kahlili believes.

“They have the knowledge, and now they have the materials. The time for speculative argument is over. They are going to have it. They are going to have the bomb,” Kahlili told Newsmax.

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