Saturday, February 28, 2004

The Russian nuclear fuel trade

Uranium Traveled to Iran Via Russia, Inspectors Find
In a report on Tuesday, the International Atomic Energy Agency said that its inspections had found that centrifuge equipment made indigenously in Iran — but not imported gear — showed many traces of the concentrated fuel, leading experts to doubt the Iranian explanation and suggest that Iran had enriched the uranium itself. Its purity was 36 percent U-235 — short of the 90 percent needed for most nuclear bomb designs but greater than that needed for most nuclear reactors.

On Friday, however, European diplomats said the agency's laboratory at Seibersdorf, Austria, had discovered a likely match between the atomic signatures of Russian uranium and samples agency inspectors had gathered from Iranian centrifuges.

In its sleuthing, the lab studies such things as a sample's isotopes — atoms of the same element that have different numbers of neutrons. A distinctive mix of such isotopes can amount to a fingerprint that experts check against atomic databanks.

One day Malaysia, the next Russia. I emphasized the word most above. What enrichment level is needed for the Pakistan/North Korea design? Does anyone think this trade can be contained -- or just slowed?

Putin must worry about a Chechen bomb.

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