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?