Two Recent Media Reports to Note on Iran’s Nuclear Program

August 29, 2011

Report 1: On August 25, the Suddeutsche Zeitung reported that Iran has received from North Korea a specialized computer program which simulates with great precision whether a nuclear bomb would explode. According to Western intelligence sources, the computer program may have been part of a larger $100 million deal with North Korea for nuclear training and know-how and missile technology.

According to the report, Iran has stepped up its nuclear cooperation with North Korea this year. The computer program, titled MCNPX 2.6.0, an abbreviation for Monte Carlo N-Particle Extended, was developed by U.S. weapons scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory and is subject to export control. How North Korea managed to obtain a copy of the software is unclear.

The report states that MCNPX 2.6.0 allows scientists to “work out self-sustaining chain reactions that are necessary to create nuclear explosions” and to “figure out with a high level of precision if a nuclear bomb would explode, assuming that all the mechanical components were functioning properly.” North Korea is alleged to have provided a library of data and additional material to assist Iran with the simulations. Some 20 North Korean technicians are said to have visited Iranian weapons scientists at a facility owned by the Revolutionary Guard in mid-February 2011 to provide training on the computer program. They reportedly brought back a partial payment for the assistance and planned to return in August to help conduct actual simulations.

Report 2: In a separate report on Iran’s proliferation and illicit procurement, on August 27, Agence France Presse reported on an announcement to an Iranian state news agency that Iran has begun to domestically produce its own carbon fiber. Carbon fiber is used in the construction of ballistic missiles and in the fabrication of advanced centrifuges. Iran is forbidden by United Nations resolutions from importing the material from abroad.

ISIS assesses that it is unlikely that Iran actually has the technical know-how to produce carbon fiber of high enough strength and quality for use in its advanced gas centrifuges. Instead, Iran is assessed to still depend on illicit imports of adequate carbon fiber from abroad and has encountered difficulties in acquiring enough for its advanced centrifuge program. Such imports violate U.N. Security Council sanctions resolutions as well as supplier state trade controls. Responsible countries and suppliers should maintain their vigilance against Iranian smuggling operations aimed at acquiring carbon fiber for centrifuges.

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