[ RadSafe ] Proliferation: the case of radioactive isotopes to Iran

Gerry Blackwood gpblackwood at yahoo.com
Wed Aug 30 17:26:33 CDT 2006

Proliferation: the case of radioactive isotopes to Iran
 On 22 July, a truck containing 10 lead-lined boxes was intercepted at the Bulgarian-Romanian border, after Bulgarian scanning detectors measured radiation 200 times the normal background radiation. The consignment, destined for Iran, was discovered by the Bulgarian Nuclear Regulatory Agency (NPA) to contain soil-measuring devices incorporating the radioisotopes cesium-137 and americium-beryllium. In the light of the continuing controversy over Iran's record of nondisclosure about its nuclear activities, questions arise as to the intended purpose of such a consignment. 

The acquisition of such a cargo would allow its end users to construct, or experiment with, radiological weapons. Under strict safety conditions, the radioisotopes inside the soil gauges could be removed to make a radiological dispersal device (RDD), which is likely to be used by non-state actors rather than nation states seeking a nuclear weapons capability, as the West suspects Iran is moving toward. 

  A link with Hizbullah? 

As the Bulgarian interception involved radiological rather than nuclear-weapons-related materials, it is possible that non-state actors were the intended beneficiaries. As Hizbullah is the main non-state group with access to an increasingly devastating range of Iranian-supplied weapons and is backed by an intransigent and extremist Iranian president willing to fight a proxy war against Israel, it cannot be ruled out that it would be a possible recipient of non-conventional weapons or the materials to fabricate them. 

Much has been postulated about possible terrorist expertise in chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) weapons acquisition and manufacture, particularly regarding Al-Qaeda and its affiliates, but little is known about the CBRN capabilities of Middle Eastern groups. The looting of radioactive materials and containers from disused Iraqi nuclear facilities, including the al-Tuwaitha Nuclear Research Centre, the Ash Shaykhili Nuclear Facility, the Baghdad New Nuclear Design Centre and the Tahadi Nuclear Establishment, following the 2003 US-led invasion means the possibility of future RDD use by insurgents cannot be discounted. 

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 © 2006 Jane's Information Group 
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