'Setbacks to Iran’s nuke program may not be sabotage'

Expert tells 'Post': “Even without computer worms or viruses, setbacks are part of the process of starting-up a nuclear reactor."

February 28, 2011 02:17
2 minute read.
Workers in the Bushehr nuclear power plant

Bushehr pic newer. (photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Setbacks in the launch of Iran’s Bushehr nuclear plant announced by Tehran over the weekend are not necessarily the result of a malevolent computer worm, an Israeli atomic energy expert told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday.

Uzi Eilam, the former director-general of the Israeli Atomic Energy Commission and former chief scientist and director of research and development at the Defense Ministry, told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday he wasn’t convinced that the unexplained safety concerns announced this week by Iran are necessarily the result of the Stuxnet virus wreaking havoc on the Islamic Republic’s nascent nuclear program, saying such setbacks are, if anything, to be expected.

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“Even without computer worms or viruses, setbacks are part of the process of starting-up a nuclear reactor, especially in a country like Iran, where they’ve never had one before,” Eilam said.

“Something like this is very unlikely to happen in a nuclear reactor in a country like France where they have had them for more than 50 years and they provide 80% of their energy. But in a country like Iran, where it’s their first reactor it’s reasonable to expect setbacks to happen.

“That doesn’t mean that there wasn’t anything like this [virus], but in my opinion it’s very reasonable that these problems were natural,” he said.

Eilam added that a virus like Stuxnet, if it did get into the control system of the centrifuges or the reactor, “it could certainly cause such mishaps to occur.”

In addition, Eilam said the complicated history of Bushehr’s construction made it even more subject to technical malfunctions. Bushehr’s construction was started in 1975 by German engineers who left after the Islamic Revolution began in 1979, and was put on hold until an agreement was signed to bring in Russian engineers in 1995 to finish the project.

Eilam spoke to the Post only a day after an Iranian government official announced that following a safety concern, technicians will need to unload fuel from the Bushehr power plant.

The announcement instantly raised speculation that the Stuxnet virus, widely believed to be a product of Israeli intelligence, was responsible for causing even more damage to the reactor than had been originally assessed.

The Stuxnet computer worm includes a highly specialized malware payload and targets industrial software and equipment. It is believed to have affected more than 30,000 Internet addresses in Iran, an effect largely connected to the worm’s ability to mutate.

The worm is widely credited with setting back the Iranian nuclear program significantly, with some experts saying it is directly responsible for a recent assessment made by former Mossad chief Meir Dagan that Iran would not have nuclear capability before 2015.

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