Interior of Bushehr nuclear plant 370.
(photo credit: REUTERS/Stringer Iran)
An Israeli nuclear expert has challenged claims by an Iranian-American
philanthropist and industrialist that a military strike on Iran will lead to an
environmental and humanitarian catastrophe.
Ephraim Asculai, a senior
research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv,
published a response essay to a paper by Khosrow Bayegan Semnani, based in Salt
Lake City, who claimed last year that radioactive fallout from military strikes
on Iranian nuclear sites could leave up to 70,000 Iranians dead.
who worked for the Israel Atomic Energy Commission for over 40 years, mainly on
issues of nuclear and environmental safety, said the rubble produced by air
strikes, combined with the fact that the targeted facilities are underground,
would minimize damage to the site’s surroundings.
“Although it is not
possible to foresee the consequences of direct hits on Iranian underground
facilities, it is reasonable to assess that either the underground facilities
will be penetrated and exploded from within, or hit, and collapse into the inner
cavities and turn into piles of rubble, or with their innards at least gravely
harmed. These piles of rubble would act as filters, with their greater surface
areas holding onto or reacting with the materials released within, and thus
preventing the major contents from escaping to the atmosphere and causing grave
environmental harm,” Asculai said in his essay published last
Semnani’s assumptions which led him to the figure of 70,000
casualties, are based on a “ground level, unprotected source, with the entire
inventory in the liquid state. This certainly is beyond a worst case scenario,”
While the Natanz and Fordow uranium enrichment facilities
are potential targets, the Bushehr nuclear reactor is not, Asculai affirmed,
adding, “No one in his right mind would consider striking an operating nuclear
At Natanz and Fordow, a compound called uranium
hexafluoride (UF6) is being enriched. Asculai said UF6 is kept in containers in
mostly solid form, with a small quantity of gas at the top.
conditions, if the container is ruptured, very small quantities of gas will
escape to the environment and can cause injuries or even death to the workers at
hand, but not to anyone beyond an immediate, circumscribed distance from the
source,” Asculai said.
Asculai also challenged Semnani’s argument that
regime change in Iran should form the main strategy to solve the nuclear
“Not only could there be no guarantee of this change, but it
could also be so delayed that it would give the present Iranian regime time to
produce nuclear weapons that would be a game changer for all
It is also not inconceivable that the present Iranian regime
would resort to the actual use of nuclear weapons, should it consider it
beneficial to do so,” Asculai wrote.