*Breaking News Update on the Polonium Issue*

We’ve all been tricked.

Basically, the piece by Fredrik Dahl that I referred to in my last post, made a mountain out of a molehill. Amano didn’t in fact bring the polonium issue up at all. He only responded to it very briefly, when a reporter, Joseph Joffe, raised it as a question which he posed to Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif.  Frankly, it was a dumb question to ask, but Zarif humored the reporter and answered the question. Only then did Amano make his very brief remarks on the matter, which I think really amounted only to a boilerplate answer that this was among the various issues about which that the IAEA would like more information from Iran. This was not, as the sensationalism of the Dahl article would lead us to believe, something that Amano raised himself out of the ether, during a speech or other pre-planned presentation. This was just Amano responding briefly, and probably fairly disinterestedly with regard to the specific matter in question, to a query from a reporter.

You can see the exchange yourself in this video from the Munich conference. The exchange happens at the 1hr 2 min mark of the video. Here is a rough transcript of the exchange (I don’t guarantee its 100% accurate, but it’s close):

Joseph Joffe: Mr. Minister. I wish we had a few more like you in our Western diplomatic services who can handle words and arguments so nicely as you do. this whole argument has revolved around trust, verification and facts. I think there’s a nice little case study, which you mentioned yourself, which is the Tehran Research Reactor which went online, I don’t know, 1967. What you forgot to say is that it was fueled with highly enriched uranium under the Shah’s reign. So by 1991, the United States, which delivered this stuff, thought maybe it wasn’t such a good idea to give weapons grade uranium to the Iranians. And then the Iranians went around and begged a little bit and scaled down the reactor to the use of 20 percent so that it can be ostensibly for the use of medical purposes. That’s under safeguards and that’s good. However, there’s a little thing that’s called polonium, which this reactor produces. It’s a tiny, tiny quantity which is extremely important for creating neutron, neutron eruptions, which trigger nuclear explosions. And that our friends from the IAEA say that they cannot control. So why not start with that old clunker, which is worthless to begin with, and really open it up and say `you know, you think we’re making plutonium here, why don’t we go and check it out.’ That builds trust! Not [your] appeals to trust. I think if we can start with these things, as we have, I think we’ll be doing fine.

Javad Zarif: I don’t know whether I should take that as a compliment, but I will. We didn’t build that reactor. It was a part of Atoms for Peace. The United States built it. We didn’t ask for highly-enriched uranium to fuel that reactor. It was the United States that did it at that time. Then it decided to convert it to medium-enriched uranium, or low-enriched uranium because 20 percent is just the border line between medium and low. Sorry Dr. Solana, I’m not a physicist, you know this more than I do. And we did, we brought it down. We did, we had to. But then the United States had to give us the fuel. Why didn’t it? Because they don’t have to. That’s the problem. Now that reactor is under full IAEA safeguards. The IAEA controls it. The polonium issue — it’s not plutonium, it’s polonium. We didn’t design that to come out of that reactor. And the reactor is under IAEA safeguards. As I said very clearly to you: nuclear technology for peaceful purposes and nuclear technology for weapons are twin sisters, or twin brothers. It’s the role of the IAEA to make sure that the more benign parts of nuclear technology are implemented and the other side is not and we are open to that. The IAEA has full access to Tehran nuclear reactor and it’s under inspection, has always been, and we’ll continue to work with the IAEA to answer any questions they may have about it.

Yukiya Amano: Just a brief intervention. As Minister Zarif mentioned, the Tehran Research Reactor is under IAEA safeguards and we can tell that stays in peaceful purpose. You have raised issues of polonium. Polonium can be used for civil purpose like a nuclear battery but it can also be used for a neutron source for nuclear weapons. We would like to clarify this issue, too.

Not cool, Fredrik Dahl.  Not cool.


22 Comments on “*Breaking News Update on the Polonium Issue*”

  1. yousaf says:

    Nevertheless, Amano should give serious thought to resigning because of his utter lack of understanding of IAEA safeguards as demonstrated in that video. Also, instead of saying:

    ” Polonium can be used for civil purpose like a nuclear battery but it can also be used for a neutron source for nuclear weapons. We would like to clarify this issue, too.”

    He could have said the truth: “The issue has been settled in 2008”

  2. Nick says:

    It is a shame that Amano did not remember the 2008 agreement and made that naïve comment just to reiterate all PMDs will be considered, including Po which is a closed case and not part of the CSA, anyway.

    It was a detailed nuclear issue from the past that Zarif did not remember either. He should have reviewed the Agreed Plan of 2008 and all its 6 items that were resolved by the IAEA.

    Finally, I am not sure about this but any work related to Po must not have been done at the TRR, because that site has been a safeguarded sites even before IRI in 1979. Probably someone can check that. So if I am right, Joffe was wrong on that aspect of it too.

    • yousaf says:

      Actually, it was at TRR, but it would not have set off any bells — and should not have — because it is just regular ol’ reactor research….as the name “Tehran Research Reactor” would lead one to believe it’s OK to so such stuff there….

      See para 21-24:

      Click to access gov2008-4.pdf

      There is nothing wrong with making Po210 — even w/ TRR having been (and still) under safeguards does not mean Po-210 production experiments would have been stopped.

      You iirradiate Bi209 with the neutrons from the reactor and make Po210.


      “Polonium was also part of brushes or more complex tools that eliminate static charges in photographic plates, textile mills, paper rolls, sheet plastics, and on substrates(such as automotive)prior to the application of coatings. Alpha particles emitted by polonium ionize air molecules that neutralize charges on the nearby surfaces.[62][63] Polonium needs to be replaced in these devices nearly every year because of its short half-life; it is also highly radioactive and therefore has been mostly replaced by less dangerous beta particle sources.[5]”




      Po-210 is used in neutron sources (where it is mixed or alloyed with beryllium). It is also used in devices that eliminate static electricity in machinery where it can be caused by processes such as paper rolling, manufacturing sheet plastics, and spinning synthetic fibres. Brushes containing Po-210 are used to remove accumulated dust from photographic films and camera lenses. Static eliminators typically contain from one to tens of GBq of radioactivity.

      Po-210 emits so many alpha particles each second that the energy released from one gram is 140 watts, and a capsule containing about half a gram will spontaneously reach a temperature of 500°C. As a result it has been used as a lightweight heat source to power thermoelectric cells in satellites. A Po-210 heat source was also used in each of the Lunokhod rovers deployed on the surface of the Moon, to keep their internal components warm during the lunar nights. However, because of its short half-life Po-210 cannot provide power for long-term space missions and has been phased out of use in this application.

      Polonium is not subject to IAEA safeguards.”


      The real question is as the AR report asks:

      “While we’ve already established that Joffe’s no nuclear expert, the next question begs: who has been briefing him and what game are they up to?”

      This is an important question. Whoever is doing that has succeeded in spreading misinformation and wasting a lot of my — and my colleagues’ – time and effort addressing complete BS.

      As I said in an early email to colleagues — the strategy seems to be throw BS in the air and see what will ‘stick’..i.e. be propagated by media to keep fear alive.

      Keeping fear alive is the main purpose behind this whole sad episode…except that, like the AP graphs it continues to backfire.

  3. Dan:

    I must say, you are somewhat “soft” on Amano. In my opinion, and those of many others, he has politicized the IAEA. Even his brief response is inappropriate. The report about it might have been a bit sensationalization, but at its core it is correct: An issue that was declared closed by Mohamed ElBaradei cannot be opened again by Amano, even there is no new development. But, because he is so ;political and so opposed to Iran’s nuclear program, as the documents released by WikiLeaks also indicated, he tends to make baseless allegations, and bring up issues again that were settled long time ago.

    • Cyrus says:

      It was under Amano that the IAEA issued a report which claimed that the IAEA Board had “endorsed” the view that the IAEA had to verify the completeness as well as correctness of declarations, which turned out to be a lie as Dan Joyner discovered. Amano, whether personally or as the ultimate responsible head of the IAEA, lied in an IAEA report. That’s a big deal, or at least if should be and (would be if it didn’t involve Iran.)

    • Dan Joyner says:

      To quote from one of my favorite movies, Oh Brother Where Art Thou, “I’m with you fellers!”

      I’ve said many times that the politicization of the IAEA, and its straying from its legal mandate, have been far worse under Amano than ever before. It is under his leadership that the witch hunt for anything damning about Iran’s nuclear program has really gained steam – with his personal facilitation.

      I was very disappointed when he ran unopposed for a second term in 2013. I wish that there had been a strong NAM sponsored candidate to run against him, as there had been in Adbul Minty in 2008. I would love it if Amano resigned, though I hold out absolutely no hope for it. I think that we can only put our hopes and efforts into finding someone solid to run for DG in 2018 (ugh, that sounds so far away!).

  4. yousaf says:

    Re. correctness and completeness, the IAEA:

    Please copy and save the page before the IAEA removes it like it has in the past:


    What verification measures are used?

    Safeguards are based on assessments of the correctness and completeness of a State’s declared nuclear material and nuclear-related activities. Verification measures include on-site inspections, visits, and ongoing monitoring and evaluation. Basically, two sets of measures are carried out in accordance with the type of safeguards agreements in force with a State.

    One set relates to verifying State reports of ******declared******** nuclear material and activities. These measures – authorized under NPT-type comprehensive safeguards agreements – largely are based on nuclear material accountancy, complemented by containment and surveillance techniques, such as tamper-proof seals and cameras that the IAEA installs at facilities.

    Another set adds measures to strengthen the IAEA’s inspection capabilities. They include those incorporated in what is known as an “Additional Protocol” – this is a legal document complementing comprehensive safeguards agreements. The measures enable the IAEA not only to verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear material but also to provide assurances as to the ********absence of undeclared nuclear material************* and activities in a State.


    So, yes, with an AP they can go further than accountancy of DECLARED stuff. Otherwise, not.

  5. Cyrus_2 says:

    A tiny detail but:

    “It was the United States that did it at that time. Then it decided to convert it to medium-enriched uranium, or low-enriched uranium because 20 percent is just the border line between medium and low.”

    Wasn’t it Argentina that converted the TRR to run on 20% LEU, because the US refused to refuel the reactor with HEU after 1979?

  6. Correct. Iran asked the U.S. many times to resupply it with fuel for the TRR, but it was refused. Thus, in 1987 Iran signed an agreement with Argentina to modify the core of the reactor so that it can run on 19.75 percent enriched uranium.

  7. yousaf says:

    Let me put it another way: can anyone come up with a single reason that Amano ought not tender his resignation?

  8. Nick says:

    Yes, USG needs him badly to keep the pressure on. And he has done an outstanding job of serving those that supported his nomination; Google Wikileaks documents for more information. There is not an iota of hope that he will be allowed to step down.

  9. I posted two articles about Amano and what he has done to the IAEA. The first one was published right after his first report on Iran, and the second one about a year later. In the two pieces I gave links to WikiLeaks documents about him, and also analyzed his reports about Iran. See

    Politicizing the IAEA against Iran


    Yukiya Amano: Minion of the Empire


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