August 25, 2005

Iran seeking nuclear bomb “booster,” say exiles

By Mark John

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Iranian agents have tried to obtain
from South Korea a substance that can be used to boost nuclear
explosions in atomic weapons, an Iranian exile group said on

The National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), which
has in the past provided accurate information on hidden Iranian
nuclear activities, said Tehran had used front companies to
obtain the substance, a hydrogen isotope known as tritium.

"The regime has tried to smuggle it in from South Korea,"
said Ali Safavi, a senior NCRI official, told a news conference
in Brussels, citing what he called high-placed unnamed sources
in the Iranian leadership.

Safavi said he understood that Iran's attempts to acquire
the substance had been successful, but gave no further details.

Tritium has many civilian uses such as in luminous paint
and in testing the safety of drugs but can be combined with
another hydrogen isotope known as deuterium to act as a
"booster" in nuclear bombs. It is subject to export controls.

"Tritium and deuterium together increase the explosive
power of a bomb tenfold. This is essential for producing a
smaller size of nuclear bomb," said Safavi, adding that it had
informed the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog, the IAEA, of its

The IAEA declined to comment.

South Korea ranks sixth in output of nuclear power in the
world, producing about 40 percent of its electric power at its
20 nuclear plants.

The West suspects Iran is taking steps toward building
atomic arms. Tehran denies this and says its nuclear program is
for peaceful purposes only.

The NCRI, which is listed by the State Department as a
terrorist organization, revealed in August 2002 the existence
of the Arak heavy water facility and a massive underground
uranium enrichment plant at Natanz.

Its new allegations come days after Britain, France and
Germany, prompted by Tehran's resumption of some nuclear work,
canceled talks with Tehran aimed at encouraging it to halt
activities in return for economic and other incentives.

Safavi also repeated allegations by the NCRI that Iran had
already purchased deuterium from abroad. It is not illegal for
Iran to buy deuterium, but it should be reported to the IAEA.

The NCRI said last week that Iran was forging ahead with a
separate program that could produce plutonium for nuclear
weapons at Arak, 240 km (150 miles) south of Tehran.

Safavi said the Iranian leadership was working on the
assumption that the plant, which Tehran says is based around a
40 megawatt research reactor, would be ready by 2007.