Blog: Iran uranium smuggling claims questionable

Published: Thursday August 10, 2006

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Following up on earlier reports that Iran attempted to smuggle uranium to the country from the Democratic Republic of Congo, a nonproliferation expert has questioned the veracity of the claims, RAW STORY has learned.

Dr. Jeffrey Lewis of ArmsControlWonk, who is also the Executive Director of the Managing the Atom Project at Harvard University, took aim yesterday at a Sunday Times (UK) newspaper article claiming that Iran attempted to bring a significant portion of uranium out of the Democratic Republic of Congo, calling it "frighteningly inaccurate." RAW STORY reported on the claim on Tuesday, including some questions about the accuracy of the account.

Lewis, who has reviewed the United Nations report that that was at least in part the basis for the Times story, identified several problems with the claim of attempted uranium smuggling. First among them, he explained, was the lack of evidence in the UN report itself that the uranium detected was on its way to Iran. The only source offered by the Times was an anonymous Tanzanian customs official.

Second, Lewis offered up a technical analysis, explaining that the quantities smuggled were not significant. He wrote, "The shipment was 100 kilograms of uranium ore—which contains about 70 grams of fissile U-235. A bomb would require 25 kilograms of uranium enriched to 90 percent U-235 —well more than 3 metric tons of uranium ore."

Finally, Lewis noted, the UN report's subject matter was not Iran's bomb program, but the efforts of the UN to enforce sanctions on the Congo. Mining of uranium and other minerals in the chaotic Central African country are done on an artisanal, small-scale basis, and do not appear to be part of any nation's lage-scale nuclear weapon program.

Lewis's full analysis can be found at his blog.