The standoff continues between Iran and the IAEA about an inspection of the Parchin facility that is suspected of holding a containment tank for explosives tests related to nuclear weapons development.
Robert Kelley has renewed his objection that such a containment tank makes no sense. His latest argument is a bit more nuanced, that such a chamber is not necessary for nuclear weapons development, particularly at an early stage. And
There are a range of experiments involving explosives and uranium that a country presumably would conduct as part of a nuclear weapon development programme. Most of these are better done in the open or in a tunnel. They include basic research on neutron initiators using very small amounts of explosive and grams of uranium and on the very precise timing of a neutron initiator using a full-scale conventional explosion system and many kilograms of uranium. The alleged chamber at Parchin is too large for the initiator tests and too small for a full-scale explosion. If it exists at all, it is a white elephant.
As Kelley mentions, testing neutron initiators and their timing is one way such a container might be used in a nuclear weapons program. It could also be used for hydrodynamic and hydronuclear tests.
Containment tanks called kolbas were used for hydrodynamic or hydronuclear tests at Semipalatinsk. The Soviets even used them inside tunnels, counter to Kelley’s assertion that experiments would be better done without them. Making fissionable material in them unavailable to scavengers was the object of Operation Matchbox, described by Sig Hecker at his talk that I reported. He had photos of kolbas with dimensions in the same range as those alleged for the Parchin vessel. Susan checked out the dimensions more closely back in May.
Kelley also mentions Vyacheslav Danilenko, so I’ll say again that working at a nuclear weapons lab, as Danilenko did, is likely to expose you to weapons information, even if that’s not what you’re working on. This was the case in the 1960s, when Danilenko was at Snezhinsk, much more so than it is now.
It’s possible that Danilenko passed no nuclear weapons information to the Iranians. It’s also possible that the Iranians are not developing nuclear weapons and therefore have no need of a test container, or that they did experiments related to nuclear weapons development without such a container. But the IAEA seems to have some evidence that points toward a container and such experiments, probably more than we have seen publicly.
We don’t know what is the truth. A visit to Parchin and sampling by the IAEA would go a long way toward establishing it.