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June 10, 2005
Nuclear Blueprints Missing From UN? (Updated, With Cautions)

The Guardian and the Canada Free Press reports that blueprints for nuclear centrifuges, complete with multilanguage assembly instructions, have disappeared from the United Nations' and IAEA Vienna headquarters. The blueprints could easily guide anyone through the process of building the necessary centrifuges required to refine uranium into weapons-grade material:

[E]lectronic drawings that give comprehensive details of how to build and test equipment essential for making nuclear bombs have vanished from the UN and UN investigators are saying they could show up sale anytime on the international black market.

The blueprints, running to hundreds of pages, show how to make centrifuges for enriching uranium. In addition, the investigators have been unable to trace key components for uranium centrifuge rigs and fear that drawings for a nuclear warhead have been secreted away and could be for sale. ...

A senior official said several sets of blueprints for uranium centrifuges - the so-called P-1 and more advanced P-2 systems which were peddled by the Khan network - have gone missing.

The incompetence of the UN has just made the world a much more unsafe place. After the joint efforts of America and Pakistan to uncover tha AQ Khan network and neutralize it, the idiots at Turtle Bay failed to secure their main product -- the assembly instructions for the main component for nuclear-fuel processing. The blueprints not only show how to build the centrifuges, but also how to manufacture the component parts, and how to test and calibrate the finished centrifuge. It amounts to a do-it-yourself kit for terrorists interested in making themselves a nuclear power unto themselves.

The blueprints aren't the only items to go missing, either. Centrifuge parts ordered by Libya before they surrendered their program but never delivered cannot be found. The UN may not have ever had those parts in custody, but their disappearance has investigators concerned that if both the plans and the parts fall into the same hands, they could be combined into a working processing system.

This incident demonstrates yet again that the United Nations presents itself as an obstacle, not an asset, in fighting nuclear proliferation and terrorist acquisition of nuclear weapons. Advocating a greater role for the UN in either role, or both, amounts to defeat in the war on terror under present leadership. Any other material held by the UN and IAEA should be handed over to the United States or Britain for real security.

UPDATE: Hugh Hewitt says this was on Drudge yesterday, but when I did a Technorati search, it came up with no hits on it, except this post. I also edited the above to reflect that the material went missing from the UN/IAEA facilities in Vienna, not the headquarters in Turtle Bay.

UPDATE II: Reg Jones has a point (in my comments) -- the article and the headline give the definite impression that the UN and IAEA had the drawings, but the farther one reads, the less that sounds correct:

The Libyan leader, Colonel Muammar Gadafy, confessed to his secret nuclear bomb programme and gave it up in December 2003. Three months later in Tripoli, the UN inspectors were given two CD-roms and one computer hard drive. One CD contained aset of drawings and manuals for the P-1 centrifuge system, the other for the more advanced P-2.

The instructions are in English, Dutch and German, and the designs are from Urenco, the Dutch-British-German consortium which is a leader in centrifuge technology and is the source of Khan's knowhow from his time working there in the 1970s. The CDs and hard drive are at IAEA headquarters in Vienna, where they have been analysed. The investigators now know that the scanning of the original blueprints was done in Dubai and when.

Read the entire article and see if the Canadian Free Press (and afterwards, me) have the gist of this correct, or if it just means that the IAEA never had all the copies from the beginning. If the latter, then (a) the notion that the AQ Khan network has been entirely neutralized is probably incorrect, and (b) the Guardian needs to learn to write and edit their stories a little more carefully.

UPDATE III: Here's a May 2004 Washington Post report from MS-NBC archives that covered the Libya angle. That much from the Guardian does not appear to be news, which would beg the question as to when the IAEA and UN knew the drawings were missing, and how.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at June 10, 2005 6:35 PM

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