APNewsBreak: New Iran nuke claim against scientist

November 11, 2011 - 11:00 AM

VIENNA (AP) — A former Soviet nuclear scientist's son-in-law has told the U.N. atomic agency that the scientist's involvement in alleged Iranian efforts to develop nuclear arms is broader than originally thought, diplomats have told The Associated Press

The International Atomic Energy Agency is trying to probe Iran for purportedly trying to develop such weapons and has implicated a "foreign expert" in a report as helping Iran work on ways to set off a nuclear blast through a sophisticated multipoint explosives trigger.

Diplomats and media have identified the expert as Vyacheslav Danilenko but say he has told IAEA investigators he was not involved in developing such a device, or in other aspects of Iran's suspected covert work on nuclear weapons.

But the diplomats — who asked for anonymity because their information was privileged — said Danilenko's son-in-law has further implicated the scientist, telling the agency the expert also helped Iran build a related project, a large steel chamber to contain the force of the blast set off by such explosives testing.

Diplomats first told the AP last week that the IAEA had evidence of such a chamber, set up at Iran's Parchin military complex. The confidential IAEA report obtained by the AP on Wednesday confirmed their statements.

It said Iran constructed "a large explosives containment vessel" in which to conduct experiments on triggering a nuclear explosion, apparently 11 years ago, adding that it had satellite images "consistent with this information."

IAEA experts are expected to show those images and detail other information in the IAEA report in a closed meeting Friday for board members. Next week, a board session will focus on concerns that Iran may be seeking to develop nuclear weapons — something Tehran vehemently denies.

The diplomats said they would be expressing their concerns Friday about another worrying issue; Indications that nearly 20 kilograms — about 45 pounds — of a component used to arm nuclear warheads was unaccounted for in Iran.

The IAEA has long known that Iran has drawings of how to form uranium metal into the fissile core of warheads. But the diplomats pointed to an inconspicuous section of Wednesday's report — near the end, under "Other Matters" — revealing that an IAEA inspection in August came up 19.8 kilograms, or 43.56 pounds, short of what Iran says it had stored.

One diplomat said that amount of the metal — which can also be used to make uranium fuel — would be enough to arm a nuclear bomb.

On Danilenko, one of the diplomats who is familiar with the IAEA's Iran probe said the scientist told the agency that he did not work on such a chamber. That, said the diplomat, directly contradicts a statement by his son-in-law, who said the container was built under Danilenko's direct supervision.

The diplomat — who, like the others, asked for anonymity because his information is confidential — did not name the son-in-law, but a nuclear expert familiar with the issue identified him as Vladimir Padalko.

Danilenko, 76, pioneered the process that uses explosions to create tiny diamonds for a range of industrial uses — technology similar to the multipoint explosives trigger the IAEA suspects him of working on in the 1990s.

Padalko is the director of Alit, a Ukrainian company that produces such diamonds. The Russian daily Kommersant said after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, Danilenko was employed for several years by Alit. It cited Padalko as saying that experts from the IAEA and the U.S. State Department had met with Danilenko several times in recent years.

Efforts to reach the two men Friday were unsuccessful.

Danilenko went public with his denial Thursday, telling Kommersant: "I am not a nuclear scientist and I am not the founder of the Iranian nuclear program."

The diplomat said he told IAEA experts that he thought his work was limited to assisting civilian engineering projects.

The IAEA report cited intelligence from a nation it did not name, saying the "foreign expert" worked "for much of his career" in developing explosive triggers for a nuclear blast in his home country.

It said the expert was in Iran from about 1996 to about 2002, ostensibly to help Iran develop a technique to make the tiny industrial diamonds. The process also uses steel chambers, but the diplomat said the one at Parchin — described as the size of a double-decker bus — was much too large for this use.

Kommersant said starting in the 1950s and until Danilenko's retirement, he had worked at one of the Soviet Union's top nuclear weapons research centers, known as Chelyabinsk-70.