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ISIS Reports

Satellite Image of Building Which Contains a High Explosive Test Chamber at the Parchin Site in Iran

by David Albright and Paul Brannan

March 13, 2012

ISIS has identified in commercial satellite imagery a building on the Parchin site in Iran that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) wants to visit because it contains, or used to contain, a high-explosive test chamber (see figure 1).  The building is located on a relatively small and isolated compound within the Parchin military site and has its own perimeter security wall or fencing.  A berm can be seen between this building and a neighboring one, which is consistent with a description of the compound in the November 8, 2011 IAEA Safeguards Report.  The compound is located more than four kilometers away from high-explosive related facilities also at the Parchin site which the IAEA visited in 2005 (see figure 2). 1

The IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano recently noted that the IAEA has “information that that some activity is ongoing” at the Parchin site.2  When asked if he was concerned that Iran was cleansing the site, Amano said that the “possibility is not excluded…” and that “we have to go there.”  If Iran is engaging in clean up work to hide evidence at the Parchin site then it could be occurring inside this building as well.  Thus, the IAEA deserves international support to visit this site without delay to inspect the inside of this building and other locations in Parchin as well.

In the November 8, 2011 Safeguards Report , the IAEA described evidence, including satellite imagery, indicating that Iran built the large explosive test chamber at the Parchin site and used it to conduct hydrodynamic experiments in the early 2000s, possibly related to the development of nuclear weapons.  The IAEA has evidence that test chamber was placed at Parchin in 2000 and that a building was subsequently constructed around it.

The Associated Press has reported that satellite imagery in early November 2011 and satellite imagery from more recently shows increased activity at the Parchin site.4  It is not clear if this reported activity is occurring specifically at this compound, or at other areas at the Parchin site.

ISIS has acquired from The Atlantic Wire a December 12, 2011 commercial satellite image of the site (see figure 3).  It is not possible to gauge the relative level of activity at the site in this image without comparing it to multiple image dates over a short period of time.  The next most recent available commercial satellite image of this site is from July 28, 2011 (see figure 4).  ISIS will continue to seek and publish more satellite images of this site.


Figure 1.  August 13, 2004 commercial satellite image showing the building which contains, or used to contain, a high explosive test chamber at the Parchin military facility in Iran.


Figure 2.  A wide area image of the Parchin site showing the location of the building which contains, or used to contain, a high explosive test chamber.


Figure 3.  A December 12, 2011 commercial satellite image of the same compound at the Parchin site.  It is not possible to gauge the relative level of activity at the site in this image without comparing it to multiple image dates over a short period of time.


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Figure 4.  July 28, 2011 commercial satellite image of the same compound at Parchin.




1 David Albright and Corey Hinderstein, Parchin: Possible Nuclear Weapons-Related Site in Iran, Institute for Science and International Security, September 15, 2004: http://isis-online.org/isis-reports/detail/parchin-possible-nuclear-weapons-related-site-in-iran/8
2 Fredrik Dahl, U.N. Nuclear Chief Doesn’t Rule Out Iran “Cleaning” Army Site, Reuters, March 9, 2012: http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/03/09/us-iran-nuclear-idUSBRE82811P20120309
3 Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement and the relevant provisions of Security Council resolutions in the Islamic Republic of Iran, Report by the Director General, International Atomic Energy Agency, November 8, 2011: http://isis-online.org/uploads/isis-reports/documents/IAEA_Iran_8Nov2011.pdf
4George Jahn, Iran May Be Cleaning Up Nuke Work, Associated Press, March 7, 2012:  http://www.boston.com/news/nation/articles/2012/03/07/ap_exclusive_iran_may_be_cleaning_up_nuke_work/
George Jahn, Activity at Iranian Site Raises Nuke Suspicions, Associated Press, November 21, 2011: http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2011/nov/21/activity-at-iranian-site-raises-nuke-suspicions/

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