Iran ‘Centrifuge Magnet’ Story Technically Questionable
Last week, the Washington Post reported that “purchase orders obtained by nuclear researchers show an attempt by Iranian agents to buy 100,000 … ring-shaped magnets” and that such “highly specialized magnets used in centrifuge machines … [are] a sign that the country may be planning a major expansion of its nuclear program.” As evidence, the Post’s Joby Warrick cited a report authored by David Albright of the Institute for Science and International Security PDF (ISIS); dated Feb. 13, the report says that an Iranian firm, Jahan Tech Rooyan Pars Co., made an inquiry “posted on a Chinese commercial website … to buy 100,000 ring magnets.” As Warrick goes on to explain: “it is unclear whether the attempt succeeded.”
There are serious deficiencies in both the Washington Post story and the assertions in the ISIS report. Given that issues of war and peace may hang on the veracity of such claims, the assertions warrant careful scrutiny.
The magnets in question have many uses besides centrifuges and are not only, as Warrick describes them, “highly specialized magnets used in centrifuge machines.” Such ceramic ring magnets are everyday items and have been used in loudspeakers, for example, for more than half a century. The ISIS report neglects to explain the many other applications for such ceramic ring magnets and jumps to the conclusion that the inquiry is surely related to Iran’s nuclear program. Why ISIS does not offer alternate and more plausible applications of these unspecialized magnets is a puzzle. Such magnets are used in a variety of electronic equipment. For instance, one vendor outlines some of the various possible uses in speakers, direct current brushless motors, and magnetic resonance imaging equipment.