Weaponization-Related R&D

Education Research Institute (ERI)

In 1989, the Iranian Ministry of Defense and Armed Force Logistics established the Defense Industries Education and Research Institute.  Little information is available regarding the role of Iran’s Education Research Institute (ERI) in the nuclear program.  It is cited in the May 2008 IAEA report as a “military-related” institute about which inspectors need to learn more.  The report notes that “The Agency also needs to understand fully the reasons for the involvement of military related institutions in procurement for the nuclear programme.” The Education Research Institute likely coordinates and sets priorities for defense-industrial research within DIO departments. 

The IAEA has not resolved its concerns about the ERI.  The February 2008 IAEA safeguards report mentions allegations concerning ERI along with the Institute for Applied Physics (IAP), Kimia Maadan (KM), and the Physics Research Center (PHRC), all of which are linked to Iran’s alleged military nuclear programs.  The IAEA also pursued clarification about the ERI and other entities because of attempts to procure dual use technologies.  Iran explained that these technologies were obtained to complete studies, and for radiation detection.  The current status of the issue is unresolved, as Iran has not allowed the IAEA to meet with the relevant parties.1

For more information check: Related Reports



1 Peter Crail “Iran’s Outstanding Nuclear Issues at a Glance

Institute of Applied Physics (IAP)

The IAEA’s November 2004 report states that the Applied Physics Institute was located at Lavisan-Shian, at least until 2002, and that the institute was involved in meeting the “education and R&D needs of the Ministry of Defense.”

The IAP arises in discussions between the IAEA and Iran on the “military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program.  It is one of three entities (the others being the Physics Research Center and the Educational Research Institute whose procurement activities have been questioned by the IAEA, in particular as it concerns “training courses on neutron calculations, the effect of shock waves on metal, enrichment/isotope separation and ballistic missiles. Efforts to procure spark gaps, shock wave software, neutron sources, special steel parts and radiation measurement equipment, including borehole gamma spectrometers….”

Iran has denied that the Institute’s work was related to EBW detonators and claims the items were for its oil logging industries.  The IAEA continues to investigate the matter.

For more information check: Related Reports

Kimia Maadan

Kimia Maadan (sometimes spelled Kimia Madan or simply KM) is a private company, registered on May 4, 2000, and named as an entity involved in Iran’s so-called “Green Salt” project whose aim was to convert uranium to uranium tetrafluoride (UF4) in a small-scale facility (capacity of one tonne per year of uranium tetrafluoride). The Green Salt project was identified as one of several projects described on files found on a laptop computer, and collectively called the “alleged studies,” which were smuggled from Iran and turned over to Western intelligence agencies.  KM was also under contract from Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization (AEOI) to develop the Gchine uranium mine.  The February 2008 IAEA safeguards report details KM’s work on the Gchine mine project, noting that at its peak, the company employed some 100 people and that its primary task at Gchine was to undertake the “detailed design, to procure and install equipment and to put the Gchine UOC plant into operation.”

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Lavisan-Shian (Lavizan-Shian)

Lavisan-Shian, located in north Tehran, housed the Physics Research Center from the late 1980s to at least 1998.  In addition, the site housed other institutions alleged to have been involved in Iran’s parallel military nuclear program.  In 2002 the Applied Physics Institute (IAP) was located at the site.

ISIS was first made aware of Lavisan-Shian in the spring of 2004.  It learned that the site was alleged to have been involved in undeclared nuclear activity, and that authorities had razed part of the site possibly in an effort to conceal activities from IAEA inspectors.

ISIS obtained imagery of the site from August 2003 that showed large buildings inside a secure perimeter.  In imagery taken on March 2004, the buildings were being removed.  Further clearing can be seen in imagery from May 2004.  The site’s dismantlement raised concerns because it is the type of measure Iran might take if it were trying to defeat the IAEA’s environmental sampling capabilities.

Following the publication of ISIS’s report in June 2004, the IAEA used this report as a basis to ask to visit the site. Inspectors had been following activities at the site for several months, and the ISIS report allowed the inspectors to request a visit without revealing their own information about the site.  Iran quickly agreed to the IAEA’s request.  IAEA environmental samples taken at Lavisan showed no evidence of nuclear material, although the IAEA pointed out in the November 2004 safeguards report that the “detection of nuclear material in soil samples would be very difficult in light of the razing of the site.”

Iran told the IAEA that the site had no nuclear material requiring a declaration, and that no fuel cycle activities were conducted there.  However, Iran’s declaration about the site remains unverified and lacks credibility.

The IAEA describes in its safeguards reports, such as in its November 2004 and February 2011 reports, the history of the Lavisan site, in particular the role of the Physics Research Center in procuring nuclear-related equipment, allegedly for a parallel, undeclared military nuclear effort. 

ISIS has also published a number of reports about the PHRC. For example, the site housed at least one whole body radiation counter, sensitive equipment designed to measure radiation levels in humans who inhaled or ingested small quantities of radionuclides.  Iran claimed that it used these detectors for “nuclear defence” research. ISIS’s report on these whole body counters is available here.  Although the whole body counters are clearly related to radiation protection and detection, their presence at what was viewed as a military site aroused suspicions of hidden nuclear activities.  In addition, an examination of the evidence shows that whole body counters were procured as part of a major effort by the PHRC to obtain radiation protection capabilities and also capabilities to run a number of fuel cycle activities, including gas centrifuges, uranium mining, uranium conversion, and heavy water activities.  In this context, the procurement of the whole body counters can be interpreted as part of a PHRC effort to ensure the health and safety of those working in its fuel cycle and nuclear weaponization activities.

In its safeguards report of February 2008, the IAEA notes that it has asked Iran to clarify “a number of actions by the ERI (Education Research Institute), PHRC and IAP” which could relate to the military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program, including “training courses on neutron calculations, the effect of shock waves on metal, enrichment/isotope separation and ballistic missiles. Efforts to procure spark gaps, shock wave software, neutron sources, special steel parts and radiation measurement equipment, including borehole gamma spectrometers.” As of early 2013, the role of the PHRC in Iran’s nuclear procurement remained an outstanding issue between the IAEA and Iran.

View ISIS’s work on the PHRC here.

For more information on Lavisan Shian check: Related Reports

Ministry of Defense, Armed Forces and Logistics (MODAFL)

According to the Treasury Department’s designation of MODAFL as an Iranian entity subject to sanctions, it is responsible for overseeing Iran’s Defense Industries Organization (DIO) and has been subject to sanctions previously for “missile technology proliferation activities.”  The U.S. government asserts that MODAFL also has authority over Iran’s Aerospace Industries Organization (AIO), which is responsible for “ballistic missile research, development and production activities and organizations, including the Shahid Hemmat Industries Group (SHIG) and the Shahid Bakeri Industries Group (SBIG).”  Both entities are named in UN Security Council Resolution 1737 and therefore subject to the UN sanctions contained in that resolution (primarily restrictions on trading with named entities).

MODAFL is reportedly the employer of the nuclear scientist Dr. Mohsen Fakhrizadeh who is believed to oversee a number of projects related to weaponization R&D.  Fakhrizadeh, a nuclear engineer and reportedly a brigadier-general in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps is also believed to oversee activities at Kimiaa Madan.  The IAEA has sought unsuccessfully permission to interview Dr. Fakhrizadeh, who is named in Annex I to UN Security Council Resolution 1747 (2007) as a person involved in nuclear activities.  He was also designated by the Department of State on July 8, 2008 as a person “of proliferation concern.” The finding notes that Fakhrizadeh was a senior scientist at the Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics (MODAFL) and former head of the Physics Research Centre (PHRC), and that Iran has refused the IAEA’s requests to interview him.

For more on Dr. Fakhrizadeh and his role in Iran’s nuclear weapons-related R&D work see notes from the February 2008 IAEA briefing to UN missions.

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In the November 2011 IAEA Safeguards report on Iran, the IAEA disclosed that information from member states indicated that Iran constructed a large explosives containment vessel or chamber at the Parchin military complex in 2000 to conduct high explosive and hydrodynamic experiments related to the development of nuclear weapons.  After constructing the chamber at the Parchin site, some 30 kilometers southeast of Tehran, Iran constructed a building around the large cylindrical object. According to the report, “a large earth berm was subsequently constructed between the building containing the cylinder and a neighboring building, indicating the probable use of high explosives in the chamber.” The IAEA obtained satellite images showing this chamber before the roof was placed on the building.

The large Parchin complex is dedicated to research, development, and production of ammunition, rockets, and high explosives.  The complex is owned by Iran’s Defense Industries Organization, and has hundreds of buildings and test sites.  It is a logical site to conduct high explosive work related to nuclear weapons development, which can be hidden among the conventional high explosive activities.  This strategy has been pursued by other proliferant states seeking to hide nuclear weapons development work.

ISIS has closely monitored satellite imagery of the building, as Iran apparently engaged in clean-up activities at the site in multiple phases of activity. The IAEA continues to call on Iran to grant inspectors access to the site, although as of the spring of 2013, Iran had refused IAEA access while continuing to reconstruct the site. 

The IAEA has provided partial information on the type of tests that Iran may have conducted and the media have reported on additional possibilities.  As best as can be determined, three types of tests could have been conducted, each with appropriate diagnostic equipment, although the IAEA has never confirmed such a list and still other types of tests are possible.  The three most commonly discussed tests have been:

  • A test of the spherical symmetry of the initiation of the high explosive components of a nuclear warhead, which could have involved up to 70 kg of high explosives. This test would not involve any uranium.  The November 2011 safeguards report noted that the explosive chamber at Parchin would be suitable for carrying out this type of test.
  • A test to ascertain the symmetry of an imploding hemispherical shell of high explosives, surrounding a natural uranium metal hemisphere, in a scaled down experiment of an implosion package. A technical advisor to ISIS with decades of involvement in the experimental study of nuclear weapon mock-up explosions evaluated this case.  He assessed that based on the constraints of this chamber and the use of powerful high explosives, the explosive shell would contain about 50 kilograms of high explosives, an amount within the constraints of the chamber.
  • A test of a uranium deuteride neutron initiator.  Such an initiator, which is difficult to develop, must be adequately compressed by high explosives in order to produce a small burst of neutrons which initiate the chain reaction and the nuclear explosion.  In a test that could have occurred in the explosive chamber, the initiator would be located at the center of a high explosive compression system involving a sphere of high explosives and possibly a non-nuclear surrogate material for the weapon-grade uranium core.  The goal of the experiment is to compress the initiator, causing the fusion of the deuterium and a spurt of neutrons that could be measured by highly sensitive detectors located outside the chamber.  This test would involve only a few grams of uranium and deuterium with variable amounts of explosives.

Parchin South

This more recent case is not the first time Parchin has aroused suspicions of secret nuclear weapons work.  The site first surfaced publicly in August 2004 when ISIS was alerted by ABC News to allegations that the complex was being used for high explosives testing that may be consistent with those conducted for nuclear weapons research.  Commercial satellite imagery of this collection of potential high explosive test bunkers and buildings was released publicly by ISIS in September 2004. 

Within the larger Parchin complex, there is an isolated, separately secured site at which it was believed the weapons-related research could have taken place.  Prior to public release of the imagery, the IAEA was aware of the facility through analysis of commercial satellite imagery and its potential for nuclear weapons-related work.  Iran initially rebuffed IAEA requests to inspect the site, eventually allowing access to parts of the facility in early 2005.

On November 1, 2005 Agency inspectors were given access to a subset of the buildings at Parchin and were able to take several environmental samples.  The IAEA’s February 2006 report notes that “The Agency did not observe any unusual activities in the buildings visited, and the results of the analysis of environmental samples did not indicate the presence of nuclear material at those locations.”  On the ground inspections showed that certain sites were not as capable as suggested by satellite imagery.  Nonetheless, the IAEA was unable to visit all the sites it wanted to inspect and the issue about nuclear weapons related work at Parchin remained unsettled. 

At the time, the IAEA did not know about the high explosive test chamber mentioned above, which is located in another section of the Parchin site.  The buildings it wanted to visit in 2005 are far from this chamber.  Moreover, the inspectors were unlikely to have asked to visit the building housing the chamber, given its non-descript nature in a complex routinely testing high explosives and the large number of buildings at the Parchin site.

For more information check: Related Reports

Physics Research Center

The Physics Research Center (PHRC) was a military facility that operated mainly in the 1990s.  The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has collected evidence that supports that the PHRC conducted parallel, undeclared military fuel cycle activities.  The November 2011 IAEA safeguards report lists the PHRC’s role in Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons and military fuel cycle efforts and successor organizations. 

ISIS obtained approximately 1,600 telexes detailing the procurement activity of the PHRC in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The information in these telexes and evidence gathered by the IAEA support that the PHRC managed a parallel, secret military nuclear program in the 1990s whose long-term aim was to lay the basis for Iran’s development of nuclear weapons. Reports based on the telexes can be found here.

Iran continues to deny allegations about the PHRC’s past military nuclear activities.  According to the November 2004 IAEA report, Iran declared that the Physics Research Center was established at Lavisan-Shian in 1989 for “preparedness to combat and neutralization of casualties due to nuclear attacks and accidents (nuclear defence) and also support and provide scientific advice and services to the Ministry of Defence.”  Iran insisted that “no nuclear material and nuclear activities related to fuel cycle were carried out at Lavisan-Shian.”

Iran’s explanations lack credibility.  As a result, the IAEA has continued to investigate the PHRC’s past activities.  In particular, the IAEA has investigated reports that the PHRC had sought to acquire dual-use equipment relevant to “enrichment and conversion activities.”  While some issues have been resolved, the bulk of the questions remain unanswered.  Since 2008, Iran has refused to discuss the IAEA’s questions and concerns about the activities of the PHRC.  In 2012, Iran stated that it would no longer answer the IAEA’s questions about procurement.

For more information check: Related Reports

Shahid Hemat Industrial group (SHIG)

The Shahid Hemat Industrial Group (SHIG) arises first in the February 2008 IAEA report recounting discussions with Iran over the procurement activities of the Physics Research Center.  In 1988 the head of SHIG was approached on behalf of Tehran University for help in procuring a mass spectrometer for educational purposes.  According to Iran, the mass spectrometer was never delivered. 

More relevant to Iran’s alleged nuclear weaponization efforts, the May 2008 IAEA report cites a March 3, 2003 document from Dr. Fakhrizadeh to to Shahid Hemat Industrial Group (SHIG) management, referring to the “Amad Plan” and seeking assistance with the prompt transfer of data for “Project 111”.  For more regarding Fakhrizadeh and his role in Iran’s weaponization efforts, see MODAFL and notes from the February 2008 IAEA briefing to UN missions.

According to UN Resolution 1737 (2006), SHIG is a subordinate entity to the Aerospace Industries Organization, which conducts research and development on ballistic missiles.

For more information check: Related Reports