May 212010

Nuke-Capable Missile Test-Launched in India

India’s army today conducted a successful trial launch of the country’s Agni 2 ballistic missile, the Associated Press reported (see GSN, March 29).

The weapon, fired from Wheeler Island off of eastern India, is designed to deliver nuclear or non-nuclear warheads as heavy as 2,200 pounds, an Indian Defense Ministry official said. The missile’s 1,250-mile flight range makes it capable of reaching parts of China, although New Delhi’s missile arsenal is primarily intended for targeting nuclear-armed rival Pakistan, according to AP.

Two test flights of the Agni 2 in 2009 ended unsuccessfully.

“It was a validation test to hone the missile’s accuracy and capability. It’s a routine ongoing procedure,” Jane’s Defense Weekly analyst Rahul Bedi said.

It was uncertain whether India warned Pakistan of the launch, but the test was likely to produce little friction between the neighboring states, according to AP. Each nation generally informs the other of impending missile tests.

Top officials from the two countries have been conducting talks aimed at reviving their peace process, which was suspended following the 2008 terrorist attacks on the Indian city of Mumbai (see GSN, May 11; Ashok Sharma, Associated Press/Yahoo!News, May 17).


U.K. Firm Investigated Over Sale of “Dirty Bomb” Material to Iran

The British national security agency MI5 is investigating a company suspected of supplying Iran with material that could be used to produce a radiological “dirty bomb,” the London Sunday Times reported yesterday (see GSN, May 11).

Officials with the United Kingdom’s Revenue and Customs office searched the residence of the former sales manager for the chemical company Remet U.K., Jarrad Beddow. Last week, Beddow defended selling cobalt aluminate to Iran as there was no law prohibiting the export of the substance when the deal occurred in summer 2009.

“The substance was checked against the dual-use materials list issued by (the government) and found to be absent,” Beddow said.

Cobalt aluminate can be used to produce alloys as well as the lethal radioactive isotope cobalt 60. For this reason its sale to nations like North Korea and Iran is tightly limited. Cobalt is considered by nuclear experts as more likely to be used in a “dirty bomb” — which would employ conventional explosives to disperse radioactive material — than in a nuclear warhead.

British authorities warned before the sale that the deal constituted an “unacceptable risk of diversion to a weapons of mass destruction program of concern.”

“Anything that has cobalt in it, if put in a reactor, will capture thermal neutrons and make cobalt 60,” British nuclear expert David Thomas said.

Beddow asserted that Remet U.K. was the target of the investigation: “My home was searched by [Revenue and Customs] as part of the investigation into my employer, where I willingly supplied information.

Revenue and Customs is “not conducting a criminal investigation against me and I have never been arrested,” he said.

Remet managing director Stephen Pilbury said the company had notified the government of the “illegal” sale and was “fully cooperating” with the probe.

According to company documents, Beddow “arranged and/or effected the illegal sale of Remet’s products to a customer in Iran” — Tehran-based Mavadkaran Engineering, which manufactures equipment for the nation’s energy sector. The Iranian firm was not available to comment on the matter.

Since 2005, there have been unconfirmed reports that Tehran could be attempting to procure dirty bomb materials. There is particular concern among Western nations about Russia’s nearly finished program to provide Iran with a 1,000-megawatt power reactor that would generate non-bomb grade plutonium (see GSN, April 8).

It has been reported that the nuclear plant would produce enough material to build dirty bombs that could be mounted onto ballistic missiles aimed at Israel, according to the Times. Another fear is that Tehran would supply allied terrorist organizations with the radiological material for use in an attack (David Leppard, London Sunday Times, May 16).


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