Report warns of Iran nuke disaster

Jan 31, 2011 By GEORGE JAHN , Associated Press

(AP) -- The control systems of Iran's Bushehr nuclear plant have been penetrated by a computer worm unleashed last year, according to a foreign intelligence report that warns of a possible Chernobyl-like disaster once the site becomes fully operational.

Russia's envoy to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, also has raised the specter of the 1986 reactor explosion in Ukraine, but suggested last week that the danger had passed.

The report, drawn up by a nation closely monitoring Iran's nuclear program and obtained by The Associated Press, said such conclusions were premature and based on the "casual assessment" of Russian and Iranian scientists at Bushehr.

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. Some computer experts believe Stuxnet was work of Israel or the United States, two nations convinced that Iran wants to turn nuclear fuel into weapons-grade uranium.

Iran has acknowledged that the malware - designed to infiltrate computer systems - hit the laptops of technicians working at Bushehr, but has denied that the plant was affected or that Stuxnet was responsible for delays in the startup of the Russian-built reactor.

The Islamic Republic is reluctant to acknowledge setbacks to its nuclear activities, which it says are aimed at generating energy but are under U.N. sanctions because of concerns they could be channeled toward making weapons. Only after outside revelations that its enrichment program was temporarily disrupted late last year by the mysterious virus did Iranian officials acknowledge the incident.

Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran's chief representative to the IAEA, cut short attempts by AP to seek comment on possible damage by Stuxnet at Bushehr.

But Rogozin, the Russian envoy, described how engineers at Bushehr "saw on their screens that the systems were functioning normally, when in fact they were running out of control," conjuring up a frightening dimension to the potential fallout from the virus.

"The virus which is very toxic, very dangerous, could have had very serious implications," Rogozin told reporters, adding it "could have led to a new Chernobyl."

Experts are split on how powerful the Stuxnet virus might prove.

Olli Heinonen, who retired last year as head of investigations of Iran's nuclear programs at the International Atomic Energy Agency, believes it could have infected at Bushehr, or elsewhere, causing "a lot of havoc."

Bur German cybersecurity researcher Ralph Langner says that, while the virus has infested the reactor's computers, "Stuxnet cannot technically mess with the systems in Bushehr.

"Bottom line: A thermonuclear explosion cannot be triggered by something like Stuxnet," said Langner, who has led research into Stuxnet's effects on the Siemens equipment running Iran's nuclear programs.

A spokeswoman for Atomstroyexport, the Russian company in charge of construction at Bushehr, also cast doubt on there being major damage at the plant, saying its control system is fully autonomous and virus-proof.

The IAEA - the U.N. monitor of Iran's nuclear activities - declined comment on damage at Bushehr. But officials, who asked for anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the issue, have said the agency is unhappy with safety and operating standards at the reactor.

Chernobyl's No. 4 exploded in 1986, spewing radiation over a large stretch of northern Europe. Hundreds of thousands of people were resettled from areas contaminated with radiation fallout in Ukraine, Belarus and Russia. Related health problems still persist.

Langner, the German expert, told AP it could take about a year to clear the worm out of Bushehr's systems. Western intelligence officials believe the site could be operational in coming months.

Bushehr has been hit by numerous setbacks.

It was scheduled to be in use by 1999 but was delayed by construction and supply glitches. Moscow also may have stalled the project in attempts to pressure Tehran to compromise on its nuclear program.

Under a deal signed in 2005, Russia will provide to Iran, then take back the spent fuel - a step meant as a safeguard to ensure it cannot be diverted into a weapons program. Iran has also agreed to allow the IAEA to monitor Bushehr and the fuel deliveries.

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Nik_2213
not rated yet Jan 31, 2011
Here's hoping Stuxnet doesn't mutate into 'Styxnet'...
geokstr
2.3 / 5 (3) Jan 31, 2011
Here's hoping Stuxnet doesn't mutate into 'Styxnet'...

Or even worse - "SkyNet"

:-)
StandingBear
1 / 5 (2) Jan 31, 2011
It is suggested that this is 'dis-information' planted by our intelligence agents in order to raise false concerns for Iranian reactor safety, and possibly to undermine the enthusiasm for nuclear power in the middle south Asia area that is historically energy poor. This would serve the oil interests in their perpetual thirst to control world energy with a stranglehold. Also if it serves to cause the Iranians to trash otherwise good equipment, such would cost them money and time....perhaps a good thing?
StandingBear
3 / 5 (2) Jan 31, 2011
However, this could backfire. I went to school with Iranians and respect well their intelligence and computer savvy. They can play the virus game too if pushed, and most American designed computers have a fatal flaw...the BIOS is outside programmable...as in from the Internet. A virus that targeted the CMOS in the BIOS to change Vcc to fatal values for the CPU could trash millions of computers overnite. BIOSes used to be fixed PROMs, but the greedy recording companies in their thirst to lock up computers forced the internet access to BIOS on computer makers in order to better foist digital restrictions on world computer users. They do not care if your computers are reduced to smoking holes in your desks, or if your houses burn as well....they did not buy them!!
kevinrtrs
1 / 5 (1) Feb 01, 2011
Could be that the reports of .lnk viruses in Pakistan was the practice ground for this particular virus. Also Siemens control equipment involved, a long while before the Iranian nuclear facilities were to come on line.

As for viruses - seems like the new warfare has started - watch out for all kinds of covert retaliations e.g. economic sabotage like infecting the bee population in the U.S.A. or poisoning the water, infecting the wheat and soy plantations with blight etc. Really nasty possibilities - all with little effort and finance.
StandingBear
1 / 5 (2) Feb 01, 2011
Regrettable but with the eerie and possibly fatal ring of truth. The United States, alone among developed nations, is without a government run universal health care program. As such, access to health care here is in inverse of its need, much like Britain just before the great plagues of the seventeenth century that lead directly to the revolution that brought Oliver Cromwell to power..the Lord Protector. Biowar would come to us silently infecting the poor without insurance..FIRST!
This would firmly seat it before it was even detected as belated show ups in emergency rooms where dozens more would be infected every time they 'presented'. Once established, the same system of 'insurance royalty first' would guarantee its continuance as those without insurance would not seek treatment when they may have had a chance, and continue to go to work as they must...and infect millions more.
COCO
not rated yet Feb 01, 2011
who is responsible for this virus? If we find that out then the World Court should press charges of attempted mass murder - 'nuff said. Sounds like an Al Quida plot.
zslewis91
not rated yet Feb 01, 2011
@STANDINGBEAR@STANDINGBEAR@STANDINGBEAR@STANDINGBEAR
wow, "defcon 403" you losers should do some reading,,,,@STANDINGBEAR, your claim are anecdotal at best, and most in the intelligence community disagree with that theroy...you guys make me sad...and even worse kills my faith in american public. sad sad sad,tsk tsk tsk