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Opinion

Flawed graph weakens case against Iran nuclear program (+video)

The Associated Press admits that a graph purporting to show that Iran has run computer simulations for a nuclear weapon is scientifically flawed. This raises serious questions about the quality of other 'evidence' against Iran's nuclear program. Here's a way to proceed.

By Yousaf Butt / December 5, 2012



Monterey, Calif.

Last week, the Associated Press released an image that purported to show that "Iranian scientists have run computer simulations for a nuclear weapon that would produce more than triple the explosive force of the World War II bomb that destroyed Hiroshima." The diagram presented was "leaked by officials from a country critical of Iran's atomic program to bolster their arguments that Iran's nuclear program must be halted."

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Presumably these officials were hoping to keep the fear over Iran’s nuclear program alive – but they have achieved just the opposite. A few days after the original story burst forth, the AP admitted making a mistake, saying that diplomats working with the UN nuclear agency conceded that the “leaked diagram suggesting that Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapon is scientifically flawed.”

The real concern this raises is over the quality and authenticity of other secret evidence Iran is being asked to answer to: Is it just as hollow? Could it have been faked by the “country critical of Iran's atomic program?” Let's recall that much of the case for the Iraq war was also based on false documents and breathless alarmism over technical-sounding things – yellowcake, aluminum tubes, etc. – which much of the media uncritically repeated. 

Worryingly, the AP story said that this amateurish and technically incorrect graph even made it into official reports from the International Atomic Energy Agency, specifically one from November 2011 citing indications that Iran was trying to calculate the explosive yield of potential nuclear weapons. This raises another interesting issue: What if Iran is right when it says that the IAEA is confronting it with fabrications? And if this graph is a hoax how exactly is Iran supposed to come clean?

The image released by the AP appears to show how energy (and power) vary as time progresses during what is claimed to be the start of a nuclear explosion. But, in fact, there is no firm indication that the diagram is even nuclear-related. The Farsi caption merely reads “changes in output and in energy released as a function of time through power pulse."  And, in any case, there is a monumental mathematical error in that the power and energy plots do not correspond as they should: They are off by a factor of, well, almost 100,000!

Robert Kelley, a veteran weapons-scientist who worked for decades at Los Alamos and Livermore National labs and is an ex-IAEA inspector, put it succinctly: “It’s clear the graph has nothing to do with a nuclear bomb.

Even if we assume the graph is nuclear-weapons related, the plot would simply be showing that the bulk of the nuclear fission yield is produced in a short, roughly 0.1 microsecond pulse. This has been standard knowledge since the 1950s. It is not a secret, nor indicative of a nuclear weapons program.

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