Stuxnet attack on Bushehr: Russia warns of ‘Iranian Chernobyl’

Following Saturday’s New York Times report that the Stuxnet malware targeting Iran’s nuclear program was a joint US-Israeli operation, the Daily Telegraph reports that Russian nuclear scientists are concerned that the Bushehr nuclear plant could suffer catastrophic damage.

Fuel rods were inserted in the new reactor at the end of November and the plant is due to start producing electricity in the coming weeks. Ralph Langner, whose German team first identified Iran’s nuclear program as Stuxnet’s target, says the plant’s steam turbine is vulnerable to attack and in November wrote: “If you blow a 1000 Megawatt turbine, you will very likely be able to see the impact by satellite imagery.”

Con Coughlin writes:

Russian scientists working at the plant have become so concerned by Iran’s apparent disregard for nuclear safety issues that they have lobbied the Kremlin directly to postpone activation until at least the end of the year, so that a proper assessment can be made of the damage caused to its computer operations by Stuxnet.

The Iranian government is bitterly opposed to any further delay, which it would regard as another blow to national pride on a project that is more than a decade behind schedule. While Western intelligence officials believe Iran’s nuclear programme is aimed at producing nuclear weapons, Iran insists the project’s goals are peaceful.

The Russian scientists’ report to the Kremlin, a copy of which has been seen by The Daily Telegraph, concludes that, despite “performing simple, basic tests” on the Bushehr reactor, the Russian team “cannot guarantee safe activation of the reactor”.

It also accuses the Iranian management team, which is under intense political pressure to stick to the deadline, of “not exhibiting the professional and moral responsibility” that is normally required. They accuse the Iranians of having “disregard for human life” and warn that Russia could find itself blamed for “another Chernobyl” if it allows Bushehr to go ahead.

While it’s natural that the Russians would be concerned about being blamed, in such a scenario it’s a bit difficult to see how US interests would be served if vital shipping lanes and America’s Gulf allies were also put in jeopardy.

An American expert in nuclear intelligence told the New York Times “that Israel worked in collaboration with the United States in targeting Iran, but that Washington was eager for ‘plausible deniability'” — plausible deniability that the US no longer has.

Does this raise the possibility that the US might need to discreetly intervene to prevent an Israeli-made disaster?

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8 thoughts on “Stuxnet attack on Bushehr: Russia warns of ‘Iranian Chernobyl’

  1. pabelmont

    Whether or not Russia believes (or said) that Stuxnet might damage an Iranian reactor in a Chernobyl-like way, the fact remains that the USA-Israel military are quick to try out new weapons and either [1] slow to think through the long-term consequences of using them or [2] willing to let the “chips” (for others, usually, but also for their own soldiers) fall where they may. Thus, the “depleted uranium weapons” in massive use by USA in Iraq leave radioactive uranium powder behind which is a danger for a long time to people who are not (and were not) enemy warriors. Same with land-mines, cluster-bombs, etc. People who think like this (and none of us are so clever as to be able to think through ALL possible outcomes of our actions!) are a danger to all, because they happily say, “Here’s something new, let’s try it” like little boys playing with matches. to them it is toys. To the rest of the world it may be serious.

    This is why the world needs restrictive rules of war; it is also why USA-Israel work so hard to ignore existing rules and to overcome them or have them changed to allow ever greater horrors.

  2. Vince J.

    This is from PressTV:

    “Russia’s nuclear agency Rosatom has rejected media reports that the computer virus Stuxnet has impacted Iran’s nuclear power plant in the southern city of Bushehr.

    “There are no viruses in the power plant’s computer network, especially in units responsible for security, because this network is totally autonomous and isolated from external sources,” Xinhua quoted Rosatom spokesman Sergei Novikov as saying on Monday.

    His remarks came after Western media outlets claimed on January 17 that the computer bug had caused “enormous damage” to the Bushehr reactor.

    Novikov stressed that the virus could not break into the automatic control system of the plant and endanger the reactor control.

    Stuxnet, first indentified by Iranian officials in June, is a malware designed to infect computers using German industrial Siemens Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) — a control system favored by industries that manage water supplies, oil rigs, and power plants.

    In July, media reports claims that Stuxnet had targeted industrial computers around the globe with Iran being the main target of the attack. They said the country’s newly launched Bushehr power plant was at the center of the cyber attack.

    The US and Israel have claimed that their efforts to develop the destructive computer virus have dealt a blow to Iran’s nuclear program.

    Iranian officials, however, have strongly dismissed such claims, saying that Stuxnet was detected early by Iranian experts and thus caused no damage to the country’s industrial sites.”

  3. Paul Woodward

    This assertion that in Bushehr that the “network is totally autonomous and isolated from external sources” might be true in terms of the network’s design. However, we know from press photos taken during a tour of the plant that Russian engineers appear to have had their laptop computers hooked into the network and given that Stuxnet was delivered through thumb drives, the Rosatom spokesman’s denial amounts to a denial of something that was never claimed: that Stuxnet came through the internet.

  4. Frigga Karl

    There is not one day, we learn of israeli/US attacks, in Gaza, in Afghanistan, in Iraq, in Libanon, in Iran (with the Stuxnet, which could explode the nuclear site) In Gaza there were DU weapons, white phosphore, DIME etc..There are still bombing activities in Gaza (116 since the end of the cast lead invasion) In Iraq and Afghanistan and South Libanon too. Every day hundreds of innocent people are killed by those mad couple US/Israel. They are actually destroying our world! Hiroshima and Nagasaki was just the prelude. We are now witnessing the beginning of the final destruction. There is no hope that Obama and the next presidents will reverse the destruction tendency of this mad couple US/Zionist Israel protecting their corporate industries. All responsible of wars and oil desasters. Each of them is pushing the other to more destruction. Only a solid solidarity between the people of our planet can save us from this super power madness! Israeli agents have been arrested by the people before yesterday in Tunesia with explosives. Israeli agents walk around the world with destructive material in order to abort the people’s will for democracy. They have been seen in Honduras helping the putschists. etc… It becomes clear more and more that 9/11 was an action of those mad zionist men in power. Nobody else could have executed such a thing. Our future is a frightening vision.

  5. rick

    Recall, on a different recent Stuxnet thread, the assertion that:

    #### Stuxnet’s secondary Fog of InfoWar — its spreading cloak
    #### of “Plausible Deniability” — promotes and excuses
    #### ever more risky CyberWar proliferation, and HUMINT escalations.

    So, now a “Russian scientists’ report to the Kremlin”
    seems to have mysteriously leaked to the Daily Telegraph. And it:

    ## accuses the Iranian management team, which is under
    ## intense political pressure to stick to the deadline,
    ## of “not exhibiting the professional and moral responsibility”
    ## that is normally required. They accuse the Iranians of having
    ## “disregard for human life”

    Questions initially raised 6 months ago about (plausibly deniable)
    Russian involvement in planting Stuxnet, will again be raised.
    And the work (whether constructive or sabotage) of Russian engineers
    in Iran will be further hampered by increased security measures.

    But I’d like to focus attention on the plight of the Iranian leaders
    and their professional elites. Various Iranian factions want the
    domestic glory and the geopolitical clout of being a Nuclear Power.
    Factions want to claim *credit* for that outcome. But they don’t want
    to be *blamed* if anything goes wrong — e.g, getting bombed or invaded.

    OTOH, My Faction wants to blame Your Faction, if You pull the plug,
    and prevent Iran from achieving our rightful glory and clout.
    A dangerous game of domestic “Chicken” is underway among Iranian factions.

    Now a third risk has been laid on their doorstep — a self-inflicted
    “Iranian Chernobyl” due to Stuxnet’s persistence at Bushehr.

    And what of the, “Iranian [professional nuclear] management team,
    which is under intense political pressure”?

    I hear echoes of the 1986 NASA space shuttle Challenger disaster.
    It exploded during liftoff, killing all seven astronauts.
    Prior to liftoff, there was extensive discussion about whether
    it would be safe to proceed with the launch. The engineers said No.
    But management was feeling strong political pressures to meet the deadline.

    History documents that a harried manager told a dual-hatted
    engineering manager,
    “Take off your engineering hat and put on your management hat!”
    After that,
    “It became a matter of judgment rather than a matter of data.”

    See ===> http://history.msfc.nasa.gov/book/chptnine.pdf

    Let’s hope history doesn’t repeat itself.

    Richard Feynman accused management of engaging in a social-psychological:
    “process of gradually fooling oneself while degrading standards [of safety].”
    And he closed his report with this now-famous quote:

    ###### “For a successful technology, Reality must take precedence
    ###### over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled.

    See ===> http://science.ksc.nasa.gov/shuttle/missions/51-l/docs/rogers-commission/Appendix-F.txt

    What is the Reality? Does Stuxnet threaten safety at the Bushehr reactor?
    Or is Con Coughlin a persistent channel for Western intel disinformation?
    Or both?!!!
    To what extent should Iran trust Russian “technical assistance”?
    Ah, the wonderful Fog of InfoWar 😉

    I think Ralph Langer was correct, 8 days ago, to highlight the
    *PERSISTENCE* of Stuxnet-era cyberwar worms, in the Context
    of the Fog of InfoWar (though he wrote of Natanz, it applies to Bushehr):

    ### “[Iran] will have an even bigger problem in figuring out whether
    ### the latest [technical problems] are due to defect components,
    ### operator inability, or Stuxnet 2.0. The cyberwar nightmare
    ### for Tehran may have only just begun.”

    See ===> http://www.langner.com/en/2011/01/10/what-stuxnet-is-all-about/

    And I second pabelmont’s Comment above, particularly where he writes:
    “This is why the world needs restrictive rules of war.”

    I point interested readers back to this recent Stuxnet thread:
    ===> http://warincontext.org/2011/01/16/what-was-israels-connection-to-the-aq-khan-nuclear-network/

    And I reiterate the claim by former Cyber-Security czar Richard Clarke:

    “The U.S., almost single-handedly, is blocking arms control in cyberspace.”

    See his book excerpt ===> http://www.richardaclarke.net/cyber_war.php?ch=7

  6. dickerson3870

    FROM AFP, 01/16/11: “…Stuxnet targets computer control systems made by German industrial giant Siemens and commonly used to manage water supplies, oil rigs, power plants and other critical infrastructure….”
    MY RIFF: Oil rigs! OMG! OMG! OMG! Are y’all thinkin’ what I’m thinkin’? The Deepwater Horizon oil spill! If I was a ‘fancy pants’ corporate defense lawyer for BP, Haliburton et al., I know where I would be placing the blame!

  7. Nuke Power Plant Operator

    The Bushehr reactor is of a light water design. Not Sodium cooled with graphite for moderation like the Chernobyl design. It is impossible to create a melt down like Chernobyl even if the Iranians tried to intentionally. The worst thing that can happen would be similar to Three Mile Island. Where the pressure vessel was breached and short half life radation got out. The steam gave off radiation for minutes at most. The radioactive particles that left the reactor with it were negligible. That is why nobody died from TMI. It is an infinitely safer design. Quit spreading fear, miss information and stupidity.

    The virus was a childish attempt by a jealous nation.

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