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December 2, 2006

Polonium-210, Fiction and Fact


by Gordon Prather

According to Seymour Hersh, in early 2004, John Bolton, who was then the Under-Secretary of State for Arms Control, privately conveyed to International Atomic Energy Agency officials his suspicions that Iran was conducting research – at Parchin, the center of Iran’s Defense Industries Organization – into "the intricately timed detonation of conventional explosives" needed for implosion-type nuclear weapons.

But, even if Bolton’s suspicions were true, if no nuclear materials proscribed by the Treaty on Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons had been used in the alleged Iranian tests, then Iran would not have been in willful violation of its NPT-associated IAEA Safeguards agreement. In that case, what the Iranians had done or were doing at Parchin was literally none of the IAEA’s business.

So, at a press conference held in Paris on 3 February, 2005, by the National Council of Resistance of Iran (a US State Department designated "terrorist organization") Mohammad Mohaddessin, the self-styled Chairman of their Foreign Affairs Committee, made certain specific charges about Iran’s ongoing nuclear programs.

"Brigadier General Dr. Seyyed Ali Hosseini Tash, deputy Defense Minister, is the official in charge producing weapons of mass destruction in the Ministry of Defense. He is, among other things, responsible for producing the neutron initiator for the nuclear bomb. The production of Beryllium and polonium-210 is being carried out under the supervision of Hosseini Tash. He has all the capabilities of the Iranian Atomic Energy Organization at his disposal.

"By irradiating Bismuth metal, Iranians have succeeded in transmuting it into Polonium-210. Tehran has lied to the IAEA that it has not produced Polonium-210 in the past 12 years, since 1993. It has also failed to offer convincing explanation as to why it had produced Polonium-210 in the early 1990s.

"Despite such denials, Tehran is now producing Polonium-210 at Lavizan II military site, which I first revealed in November. That site is affiliated with the Defense Ministry's Center for New Technology, headed by Dr. Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, who reports directly to Hosseini Tash. Dr. Fereidoon Abbasi is the deputy to Fakhrizadeh."

Polonium-210 is a NPT proscribed nuclear material.

Here’s why: From a formerly Top Secret description of the Soviet Union’s first implosion-type nuclear weapon –

"Construction of the bomb:

"The element 94 [Plutonium], without any uranium-235, is the active material of this bomb. The so-called initiator, namely a beryllium-polonium source of alpha particles, is inserted into the centre of a ball of plutonium. (The plutonium is surrounded by 50 pounds of tube-alloy [U-238],* which is the 'tamper.')

"All this is placed in an aluminum shell of thickness 11 cm. This aluminum shell in turn is surrounded by a layer of the explosive 'pentalit' or Composition C (Composition B according to other information) with wall thickness 46 cm.

"The casing of the bomb into which this explosive is inserted has an inner diameter of 140 cm. The total weight of the bomb including the pentalit, the casing, etc. is about 3 tonnes.

"It is anticipated that the force of the bomb explosion will be equal to the explosive force of 5000 tonnes of TNT. (The efficiency is 5-6%.) The fission count equals 75 x 10exp24."

Now, hardly anyone would use a PoBe initiator in a modern implosion-type nuke.

Here’s why.

Polonium-210 is produced in quantity by irradiating Bismuth with neutrons in a nuclear reactor. And if the reactor is IAEA Safeguarded, the Polonium-210 becomes subject to the IAEA Safeguards and Physical Security system.

But the Polonium-210 half-life is only 138 days. Hence, if the nuke is not to be a dud, the Polonium-210 used to fabricate the PoBe initiator for a nuke needs to be produced a mere 10-12 months before the nuke is actually used.

Now, at the time the NCRI official made the charges about Iran, as best the IAEA could determine – after more than a year of extremely intrusive on-the-ground inspections, conducted in conjunction with a full-scope Additional Protocol to Iran’s Safeguards Agreement – there was "no indication" that any nuclear materials proscribed by the Treaty on Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons had ever been produced for – much less diverted to – a "military purpose."

Nevertheless, according to Hersh, in response to the NCRI allegations, in November of 2005, an IAEA inspection team was allowed to single out a specific site at Iran’s super-secret Defense Industries Organization, and then was granted access to a few buildings at that site.

According to Hersh’s IAEA source, "We found no evidence of nuclear materials."

That didn’t deter our erstwhile UN Ambassador, John Bolton, who seized on these allegations to strong-arm first the Brits-French-Germans (who were negotiating, allegedly on behalf of the European Union, a package of "objective guarantees" from Iran that its nuclear programs were strictly for peaceful purposes) into demanding that Iran suspend indefinitely all its uranium-enrichment activities.

When Iran – understandably – concluded that such a demand was inconsistent with the terms of so-called Paris Accord, which constituted the basis for the negotiations, Iran resumed some of the IAEA Safeguarded uranium-enrichment activities it had voluntarily suspended more than two years before.

Well, Bolton went Bonkers. He then strong-armed the IAEA Board of Governors – who were not involved in any way in the Paris Accord negotiations – into demanding that Iran re-suspend those Safeguarded uranium-enrichment activities, provide the IAEA Board information that under its Statute it had no right to request (much less "demand") and return to the Paris Accord negotiations.

Ultimately, Bonkers Bolton even strong-armed the UN Security Council into passing UNSCR 1696, which "called" upon Iran to acquiesce to the IAEA Board’s demands.

Or else.

Or else what?

Well, as of this writing, nothing much.

Meanwhile, a large quantity of Polonium-210 – apparently produced within the past year at some un-safeguarded nuclear reactor – has been used to poison some former Russian spy in London.

"According to Israel Inside, Leonid Nevzlin, former CEO of the oil giant Yukos and current chairman of the Diaspora Museum in Tel Aviv, said the former Russian spy had come to Israel in the weeks before his murder with classified documents on Yukos that might be damaging to Russian leaders. Nevzlin estimated that Litvinenko’s death had been connected with this information, which he had handed to London police investigators of the murder."

Perhaps it isn’t significant, but most Russian nuclear reactors are subject to IAEA Safeguards. None of Israel’s are.


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Physicist James Gordon Prather has served as a policy implementing official for national security-related technical matters in the Federal Energy Agency, the Energy Research and Development Administration, the Department of Energy, the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the Department of the Army. Dr. Prather also served as legislative assistant for national security affairs to U.S. Sen. Henry Bellmon, R-Okla. -- ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee and member of the Senate Energy Committee and Appropriations Committee. Dr. Prather had earlier worked as a nuclear weapons physicist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California and Sandia National Laboratory in New Mexico.

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