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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.

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And it turns out there are other problems with the graph, including the shapes of the curves indicating either a sloppy scientific analysis in Iran, or a shoddy hoax by “a country critical of Iran's atomic program”.  And, seriously, if it is Iranian – and their scientists are this bad – we probably have little to worry about.

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The second AP report, which attempted to walk back their original story, states the possibility that the scientist who allegedly made the graph, Majid Shahriari, simplified it on purpose for presentation to government officials, making serious errors in the process. Even if this unlikely version of events is true, it is possible that Shahriari may only have been pitching an idea to the government to possibly start weaponization work in Iran. But the article goes on to say that “Shahriari was assassinated two years ago.” Even if we give the benefit of the doubt to this version of the story, how is Tehran now supposed to explain to the IAEA a flawed presentation made by a dead scientist who may have been pitching his own personal ideas? 

While it is difficult to attest to the authenticity of the graph – it could indeed be of Iranian origin – the important point is that even if authentic, it would not necessarily indicate a nuclear weapons program in Iran. Nor would such theoretical computations contravene any legal agreements between Iran and the IAEA. It may be in bad form if Iranian scientists were doing such computations and it may violate the spirit of the Non Proliferation Treaty but there is nothing per se illegal about it. The IAEA itself has admitted that its legal role is limited to nuclear-material related activity, not theoretical calculations. 

The image also does not imply that computer simulations were necessarily even run: Similar diagrams can be found in nuclear science textbooks and on the Internet, and it could even be a sketch copy for illustrative purposes, for instance for a class project. Odd as it may sound, it is possible that the IAEA is confronting Iran with shoddy homework gleaned from some Iranian college.

There are a number of other problems in the IAEA reports on Iran: For example, the agency keeps saying that it cannot "provide credible assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran" or that “all nuclear material in Iran is in peaceful activities.” But the agency cannot be expected to do this – that is not its job. Pierre Goldschmidt, the former deputy director of Safeguards at the IAEA summed it up well: "The Department of Safeguards doesn’t have the legal authority it needs to fulfill its mandate and to provide the assurances the international community is expecting.” 


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