Iraq's procurement strategy for its electromagnetic isotope separation (EMIS) program was highly successful in advancing the program while keeping it secret. Not until after the Persian Gulf War and implementation of rigorous U.N. inspections was Iraq's EMIS program revealed. A critical part of Iraq's success in keeping its EMIS program secret was its careful efforts to procure items overseas without revealing their purpose to suppliers.
EMIS is an old uranium enrichment technology that uses electromagnetic fields to separate uranium (click here to view numerous schematics and photos of EMIS components). Iraq decided in 1981 to pursue EMIS technology to make highly enriched uranium (HEU) because it was largely unclassified and involved uranium enrichment equipment within Iraq's industrial grasp. In addition, the main pieces of separation equipment, relevant machine tools, and computational software were not on suppliers' nuclear export control lists and thus could be procured relatively easily.
Iraq recognized, however, that extensive research and development would be necessary to achieve production of HEU with EMIS. Iraq subsequently encountered severe problems that delayed the program and led Iraq to search for classified information about the U.S. EMIS program. Click here for additional information on acquiring specialized know-how.
Dr. JaffarDr. Jaffar Dhia Jaffar, the father and technical leader of Iraq's nuclear weapons program from the mid-1970s onwards, evaluated various uranium enrichment technologies in the early 1980s and recommended that Iraq pursue a secret EMIS program as its primary option. His choice was partially motivated by his training in high energy physics and the extensive experience in accelerators and magnets that he gained while he was in Europe.
Jaffar made a decision to pursue the procurement of necessary items carefully so as to hide Iraq's activities. Iraq's pursuit of EMIS depended extensively on imports, because Iraq initially lacked the ability to make most EMIS equipment, particularly on a production-scale. Although these items were not explicitly controlled by any nation in the 1980s, Jaffar and his colleagues implemented careful procedures to obtain necessary items without arousing suspicions among suppliers.
In 1982, Iraq started to purchase items it needed for its EMIS program. Because many EMIS components are large, required in great numbers, or specific to an EMIS separation system, the program sought to develop the ability to manufacture indigenously most major components. To create an indigenous research, development, testing, and manufacturing infrastructure to make and assemble the many different EMIS components, Iraq acquired a wide variety of items. It obtained know-how, raw materials, preforms, subcomponents, electrical equipment, test equipment, machine tools, lathes to handle large iron and metal pieces, CNC milling machines for small metal components, large presses, welding equipment, furnaces, chemical processing equipment, and water purification equipment.
By 1991, Iraq was producing EMIS components at Al Rabee Factory, Dijla Factory, Badr General Establishment, Auqua Bin Nafi General Establishment composed of Al Radwan, Al Ameer, and Al Ameen, Saddam General Establishment, Nasr General Establishment, and General Establishment for Heavy Engineering Equipment. It trained technical staff at Saladdin General Establishment. It had assembly facilities near Tuwaitha and elsewhere. Its procurement efforts ensured that certain components or key items could be obtained overseas in case Iraq could not make the item itself or chose not to do so.
Soft Iron Pieces
Iraq encountered significant delays in fabricating some of the major components indigenously. In these cases, it would contract with a foreign firm for these components in order to prevent undue delays. One of the biggest problems it faced was making soft iron for the large magnets used in the EMIS separators. It was not until 1988 when a foundry was built under foreign contract at Nassr General Establishment that Iraq could make large soft iron pieces itself. However, the know-how to make soft iron of the required specifications for EMIS was not foreseen in the original foundry contract. It took Iraq until June 1990 before this foundry was able to make soft iron for the magnets needed in the EMIS program.
In the meantime, Iraq ordered pre-machined magnet pole pieces or return irons from Europe. The 1991 Report on the 8th IAEA On-Site Inspection in Iraq provides an example of how this process worked. A large west European foundry received an order from the Iraqi State Establishment for Electrical Industries (SEEI) for six pieces as shown in figure 1. The pieces were produced by the European foundry and shipped directly to Iraq. At about the same time, the foundry received an order from another European company for 28 large iron pieces. Six of these pieces had specifications identical to those pieces produced for SEEI. Another twelve pieces were halves of the ones shown in figure 1. The true purpose of these pieces was for the 1200 millimeter double pole magnet of the production-scale R120 separators at Al Tarmiya, which was Iraq's first production-scale EMIS site. The R120 produced low enriched uranium (LEU). The R60 separator would have taken this LEU and enriched it up to weapon-grade. Tarmiya was expected to produce between 10-15 kilograms of weapon-grade uranium per year from natural uranium feed, once the plant was fully operational by the mid-1990s.
According to Iraq, final machining of these pieces into pole pieces for magnets was done in Iraq at al Radwan to specifications depicted in figure 2 for solid core pieces and figure 3 for sandwich cores. The remaining ten pieces in the second order were various pieces of the horizontal and vertical return irons for the R120 separator system.
Table 1 is a list of companies that supplied pre-machined soft iron pieces to Iraq during the 1980s. In total, Iraq purchased from six European companies over 5,600 tonnes of soft iron for its EMIS program, of which 3,600 tonnes were for Tarmiya. For 70 R120 separators and 20 R60 separators, Tarmiya would have required in total about 10,000 tonnes of soft iron in the form of pole pieces and return irons. According to Iraq, the rest of the required soft iron was scheduled for production at the foundry at Nassr General Establishment. As of 1991, Iraq declared it had produced indigenously about 2,000 tonnes of soft iron for Tarmiya.
As Tarmiya was being built, the EMIS program experienced delays in developing the ability to make several other components. As a result, Iraq contracted with three foreign firms:
Reverse-Engineering of Power Supplies
Concerns about exposure led Iraq to build its own power supplies for the EMIS separators, according to senior Iraqi EMIS officials. The program required a large number of specialized high-voltage power supplies and very few companies make such power supplies. The Iraqis worried that purchasing large numbers of power supplies from a single or even a few suppliers would trigger suspicions in supplier governments.
In response, Iraq carefully prepared cover stories for purchasing a limited number of power supplies and reverse-engineered several of the imported power supplies for its EMIS program. When asked if Iraq could start from scratch in manufacturing power supplies, Jaffar said Iraq "needed a large scratch." His point was that most subcomponents of power supplies had to be obtained overseas. Iraq learned that the parts, including critical vacuum tubes or "valves," were neither expensive nor hard to obtain. If a problem developed in obtaining a part, simpler, more easily obtained parts were substituted for that part in the reverse-engineered power supply.
For the R120 separators, Iraq bought about 40 high-voltage power supplies from Bruker in Germany, Danfyisik in Denmark, OCEM in Italy, Universal Voltronics Corporation in the United States, ELMA in the United States, Hipotronics in the United States, and Heinzinger in Germany. Each order was for only a relatively small number of power supplies. For comparison, Tarmiya needed almost 1,500 power supplies for the R120 and R60 separators.
The Voltronics power supplies were copied and used in the EMIS program. According to a senior Iraqi EMIS official, they were "very useful ones."
The Voltronics power supplies were bought by Iraq's General Directorate for Industrial Supply (GDIS), which was listed as part of the Ministry of Industry. Dr. Farouk, who said he was the General Director of GDIS, agreed to purchase six power supplies from Voltronics in December 1988. The agreement also included training of up to three Iraqi engineers for two weeks and spare parts kits and other electrical components. The total cost of the contract was about $1 million. Payment was by an irrevocable Letter of Credit from the Rasheed Bank, which has its main branch in Baghdad, to Irving Trust Company in New York. Delivery of all the power supplies apparently occurred in 1989.
An official end-use letter from GDIS certified that the power supplies and other equipment ordered from Voltronics would be used in the development of radio frequency (RF) generators, RF heating equipment, and high voltage testing of various components. Voltronics accepted this end-use statement as consistent with the general specifications of the power supplies. However, five of the power supplies had voltage stability specifications that are required for EMIS.
The EMIS program imported specialized copper wire for coils for the magnets, and Iraq had not developed the capability to make copper conductors by 1991, according to senior Iraqi officials. Between 1983 and 1990, Iraq had received about 800 tonnes of high-conductivity, hollow copper conductors from the firm Outokumpu in Finland. By the time of the U.N. embargo in 1990, Iraq had ordered 600 tonnes of copper conductors for the R60 and R120 separators and received about 540 tonnes. This was almost enough for Tarmiya. According to Iraqi officials, these orders worried the Iraqis, because the conductors were so specialized. But the company never appeared to have expressed any suspicions about the end-use of the copper.
Iraq decided not to build its own vacuum diffusion pumps for the separators which require a vacuum inside to operate. Instead, it decided to buy all the needed pumps overseas. Iraqi experts said that they could have made their own pumps, but they could obtain enough pumps overseas for the Tarmiya facility without arising suspicions. Iraq obtained diffusion pumps from Leybold-Heraeus in Germany, Balzer Aktiengesellschaft in Switzerland, and Osaka in Japan.
EMIS collectors need a considerable amount of graphite. Iraq obtained its graphite from Western companies, including Le Carbone in France, David Hart Ltd in Britain, and Berrow Hill in Britain. The graphite that Iraq bought was not nuclear-grade. To avoid the need for export permits, Iraq settled for the next best grade. In 1988, Iraq tried to produce graphite domestically, but its efforts were not satisfactory. Because Iraq encountered no problems in acquiring graphite, it terminated its own graphite production program in 1989.
Iraq often relied on foreign construction firms to build its facilities. Tarmiya was designed and built by the Yugoslavian state company FDSP-FAKOM, where FDSP stands for Federal Directorate of Supply and Procurement. FDSP specialized in civil engineering projects for military-related manufacturing plants. FDSP subcontracted with the Yugoslavian firm EMO-OHRID for the supply and installation of electrical equipment.
The Iraqi company Auqba (or Oqba) bin Nafi General Establishment (ABN) contracted in 1986 with FDSP to build the Tarmiya facility, named project 946. The contract was worth over $100 million.
FDSP was told that the Tarmiya facility was to be a large site to manufacture heavy military equipment in large workshops containing heavy machine tools that needed large amounts of electricity. FDSP engineers performed the design work in ABN headquarters under the direction of ABN engineers. The designs never left ABN premises.
If a curious Yugoslavian company official would ask the specific purpose of a building, an Iraqi would say it is a "technological hall" or some other innocuous sounding name. According to Iraqi officials, however, the Yugoslavian company did not usually ask questions about a specific building's purpose. This company had often worked for Iraq's military industries and appeared to have a policy of not asking questions about the purpose of the facilities it was building.
The EMIS program assigned an engineer to ABN, who in turn worked with a senior ABN engineer that was in direct contact with FDSP. This method ensured that there would no direct contact between the Iraqi nuclear program and FDSP. Later, to increase efficiency, the EMIS engineer posed as the newly appointed ABN supervisor of the project, and he established direct contact with FDSP.
Under the first arrangement, FDSP staff noticed that the ABN supervisor often needed input from someone else on technical and decision-making matters. FDSP concluded that there was another company behind Tarmiya that was supplying the technology. FDSP believed incorrectly that the unknown company was probably from Western Europe.
Project 946 was conducted from September 1986 through September 1990, when it was abruptly ended after Iraq's invasion of Kuwait and the imposition of an U.N. embargo on Iraq. Nonetheless, by that time, almost all of the Tarmiya buildings were finished.
FDSP and EMO-OHRID would finish a group of buildings and hand them over to ABN. After turning over a group of finished buildings, FDSP and EMO staff could no longer enter those buildings. As a result of this policy, FDSP staff never saw the EMIS equipment that was subsequently installed in the buildings.
FDSP or its Yugoslavian subcontractors arranged to supply the electrical equipment for Tarmiya. The companies supplying the equipment were from Yugoslavia, other European countries, and the United States. To equip the facility with the latest equipment, ABN requested FDSP to acquire certain items from Western Europe. One of the major suppliers of electrical equipment was the German firm Siemens.
Iraq used the designs of the buildings and utilities at Tarmiya to build a twin facility at Al Sharqat. The purpose, according to Iraq, was to replace Tarmiya if that site was destroyed or to serve as a way for doubling annual production of highly enriched uranium. Unlike Tarmiya, the buildings at Al Sharqat were dispersed among three widely separated subsites because of the local topography. Because Al Sharqat was isolated, workers would live at a housing complex built about 18 kilometers from the site. An engineering team performed the design work utilizing the designs for Tarmiya. Al Fao, the military engineering and construction company, was responsible for construction and delivery of all materials and utilities to Al Sharqat.
Unsafeguarded Low Enriched Uranium
From the inception of the EMIS program, Iraq recognized the importance of using LEU as feed in the separators. Use of LEU feed would increase annual HEU production at Tarmiya or Ash Sharqat more than three-fold to between 40 and 50 kilograms per year. Use of LEU feed would also have considerably shortened the time for Tarmiya to produce enough HEU for Iraq's first nuclear weapon.
During the late 1980s, Iraq was therefore actively seeking LEU on the international market that was not subject to the controls or safeguards of the International Atomic Energy Agency. Iraq stated that it approached Brazil sometime in December 1989 or January 1990 for the supply of about five tonnes of unsafeguarded LEU, but Brazil declined to provide it. Brazil had acquired many tonnes of unsafeguared LEU from China, and thus could have provided at least some unsafeguarded LEU to Iraq. Iraq's statement is believable because at the time Brazil was undergoing dramatic political changes, including trying to improve its international reputation, and was less willing to undertake questionable deals with Iraq.
Despite the above story, questions remain about Iraq's efforts to obtain unsafeguarded LEU, particularly any efforts prior to late 1989. During the 1980s, China provided several countries with unsafeguarded LEU. Iraq, however, has said that it did not approach China directly for unsafeguarded LEU.
Iraq also stated that it had originally planned to ask Brazil to act as its agent to procure unsafeguarded LEU from sources available to Brazil, certainly China. Iraqi officials state that this plan was never implemented. Skepticism remains about this statement.
With significant outside assistance and a determined research and development effort, Iraq had developed by 1991 an ability to make EMIS separators for its production sites at Tarmiya and the twin site Ash Sharqat. This accomplishment is all the more amazing because the outside world knew nothing of Iraq's EMIS program, despite extensive procurement efforts.
In creating its separators and component production infrastructure, the EMIS program obtained a wide variety of items from a large number of overseas companies. Despite the seeming indigenous nature of the program right before Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in August 1990, however, the EMIS program would still have needed imports for its continuation and expansion.