Iran on threshold of nuclear capability: Report

Washington: Iran is on the threshold of nuclear capability by mastering the critical steps needed to build a weapon after receiving assistance from foreign scientist. The country has overcome key technical hurdles with the help of a former Soviet weapon scientist and crucial technology linked to experts in Pakistan and North Korea, Washington Post reported quoting Western diplomats.

The diplomats and nuclear experts briefed on the findings by UN officials said a rouge Soviet scientist had tutored Iranians over several years on building high-precision detonators for the weapons.

The intelligence update would be circulated among members of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) this week and is expected to focus on Iran`s alleged efforts towards putting radioactive material in a warhead and developing missiles.

Fears that Iran could quickly build an atomic bomb, if it choses, has fueled new threats of military strikes.
Israeli President Shimon Peres on Sunday warned that an attack on Iran was "more and more likely," days before the report by the UN nuclear watchdog. He told Israeli private television`s second channel: "The intelligence services of the different countries that are keeping an eye on Iran are worried and putting pressure on their leaders to warn that Iran is ready to obtain the nuclear weapon."

The key breakthrough in Iran`s quest for nuclear weapons was its success in obtaining design information for a device known as R265 generator.  The device is a hemispherical aluminum shell that is lined with pellets of high explosives and electrically wired so the detonations occur in split-second precision, the report said. The explosions compress a small sphere of enriched uranium or plutonium to trigger a nuclear chain reaction.

Citing diplomats, the Post said the key breakthrough was provided by Vyacheslav Danilenko, a former Soviet nuclear scientist who was contracted in the mid-1990s by Iran`s Physics Research Center. Danilenko offered assistance to the Iranians over at least five years, giving lectures and sharing research papers on developing and testing an explosives package that the Iranians apparently incorporated into their warhead design.

Creating such a device is a formidable technical challenge, and Iran needed outside assistance in designing the generator and testing its performance, the post said. Danilenko`s role was judged to be so critical that IAEA investigators devoted considerable effort to obtaining his cooperation, the two officials said. The scientist acknowledged his role but said he thought his work was limited to assisting civilian engineering projects, the sources said.

There is no evidence that Russian government officials knew of Danilenko`s activities in Iran. E-mails requesting comment from Russian officials in Washington and Moscow were not returned. Efforts to reach Danilenko through his former company were not successful, the newspaper said.

Iran relied on foreign experts to supply mathematical formulas and codes for theoretical design work some of which appear to have originated in North Korea, diplomats and weapons experts said.  Additional help appears to have come from the father of Pakistan`s nuclear programme, Abdul Qadeer Khan, whose design for a device known as a neutron initiator was found in Iran, the sources said.

Khan is known to have provided nuclear blueprints to Libya that included a neutron initiator, a device that shoots a stream of atomic particles into a nuclear weapon`s fissile core at the start of the nuclear chain reaction.

Based on the totality of the evidence given to them, IAEA officials have concluded that Iran "has sufficient information to design and produce a workable implosion nuclear device" using highly enriched uranium as its fissile core.