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Report: Stuxnet could cause Iranian ‘Chernobyl’

An intelligence report given to the AP by "a nation closely monitoring Iran’s nuclear program" suggests that the Stuxnet worm which penetrated computer systems at Iran’s Bushehr nuclear plant could cause a massive meltdown once the plant becomes full operational:  With control systems disabled by the virus, the reactor would have the force of a ...

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An intelligence report given to the AP by "a nation closely monitoring Iran’s nuclear program" suggests that the Stuxnet worm which penetrated computer systems at Iran’s Bushehr nuclear plant could cause a massive meltdown once the plant becomes full operational: 

With control systems disabled by the virus, the reactor would have the force of a "small nuclear bomb," it said.

"The minimum possible damage would be a meltdown of the reactor," it says. "However, external damage and massive environmental destruction could also occur … similar to the Chernobyl disaster."

The virus, known as Stuxnet, has the ability to send centrifuges spinning out of control and temporarily crippled Iran’s uranium enrichment program. It is believed to have been the work of Israel or the United States, two nations convinced that Iran wants to turn nuclear fuel into weapons-grade uranium.

The authors of the report are remaining anonymous, though its warnings follow similar recent statements by Russian NATO Ambassador Dmitry Rogozin,

This virus, which is very toxic, very dangerous, could have very serious implications," he said, describing the virus’s impact as being like explosive mines.

"These ‘mines’ could lead to a new Chernobyl," he said, referring to the 1986 nuclear accident at a plant in Ukraine, then part of the Soviet Union. "NATO should get to investigating the matter… This is not a private topic."

The experts interviewed by the AP seem skeptical that Stuxnet could cause this level of technical damage. The reports could likely be an effort to raise alarm about the virus, which appears increasingly likely to have been a U.S.-Israeli joint project. Experts believe, though Iran denies, that the virus was responsible for delays in starting up the Russian-built reactor and that it may still be present in the plant’s systems. 

An intelligence report given to the AP by "a nation closely monitoring Iran’s nuclear program" suggests that the Stuxnet worm which penetrated computer systems at Iran’s Bushehr nuclear plant could cause a massive meltdown once the plant becomes full operational: 

With control systems disabled by the virus, the reactor would have the force of a "small nuclear bomb," it said.

"The minimum possible damage would be a meltdown of the reactor," it says. "However, external damage and massive environmental destruction could also occur … similar to the Chernobyl disaster."

The virus, known as Stuxnet, has the ability to send centrifuges spinning out of control and temporarily crippled Iran’s uranium enrichment program. It is believed to have been the work of Israel or the United States, two nations convinced that Iran wants to turn nuclear fuel into weapons-grade uranium.

The authors of the report are remaining anonymous, though its warnings follow similar recent statements by Russian NATO Ambassador Dmitry Rogozin,

This virus, which is very toxic, very dangerous, could have very serious implications," he said, describing the virus’s impact as being like explosive mines.

"These ‘mines’ could lead to a new Chernobyl," he said, referring to the 1986 nuclear accident at a plant in Ukraine, then part of the Soviet Union. "NATO should get to investigating the matter… This is not a private topic."

The experts interviewed by the AP seem skeptical that Stuxnet could cause this level of technical damage. The reports could likely be an effort to raise alarm about the virus, which appears increasingly likely to have been a U.S.-Israeli joint project. Experts believe, though Iran denies, that the virus was responsible for delays in starting up the Russian-built reactor and that it may still be present in the plant’s systems. 

Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy  Twitter: @joshuakeating

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