Dutch government withholds crucial information: More advanced Dutch Urenco nuclear technology leaked to Pakistan, Iran and Libya

14 January 2005

Pakistan has acquired more advanced Dutch ultracentrifuge technology in the 1970’s than was publicly known so far (1). Centrifuges that have been found in Iran and Libya are also based on this technology, and not on older models as was widely assumed till now. That conclusion is drawn in the most recent issue of the specialist information service Nuclear Fuel.
Information compiled by Nuclear Fuel suggests that besides the previously assumed theft from the Netherlands by the nuclear spy Abdul Qadeer Khan of the technology of three other models (CNOR, SNOR and G-2), know-how from the later 4-M ultracentrifuge programme of UCN (formerly the Dutch branch of the British-German-Dutch company Urenco, now Enrichment Technology Nederland, or ET NL) made its way to Pakistan.
According to experts in Nuclear Fuel parts of the so-called P-1 centrifuge resemble the design of the 4-M centrifuge. P-1 is a Pakistan-built ultracentrifuge that has been sold by black marketeers to at least Iran and Libya.

A secret Dutch report, that underlies the public report on the Khan affair that was sent to Dutch parliament in March 1980, noted already in July 1979 that Khan had had access to 4-M technology, then under development. Dutch VPRO radio programme Argos, that has a copy of the secret report, mentions so this morning. The public report nowhere says a word about 4-M and is in general very reserved in mentioning what Khan could have taken away from the Netherlands to Pakistan in the 1970’s.

Nevertheless Ben Bot, Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs, wrote last year to parliament, after new details emerged on Khan’s nuclear network and the centrifuges based on Urenco technology found in Iran and Libya: “For as far as it concerns the so-called “Khan affair” and Urenco, also now after 24 years, there is nothing to add to this report.” Bot notes: “The finding in Iran and Libya of centrifuges of the old Urenco design though strengthens the in the report mentioned serious suspicion that A.Q. Khan has stolen the blueprints of this.”

With the new information from Nuclear Fuel, Bot does have quite something to explain, according to the Dutch Campaign against Arms Trade. It has to be made clear which knowledge the government has on Pakistan’s access to the much newer 4-M technology. Has Khan himself had access to this while in the Netherlands, or has the technology been leaked through other people? Also must be explained why this important information was never added to the public report on Khan.

The connection between the 4-M and P-1 centrifuge is also remarkable, as most publications so far assumed that P-1 was a variant of older European models, mostly G-1 or G-2. Even UN nuclear agency IAEA wrote in February last year in a report on the Libyan nuclear programme that: “The L-1 centrifuge design is an old design of European origin, also referred to as G-1, or P-1.” That footnote now appears to be incorrect. The G-1 centrifuge is an older, simpler, originally German type of ultracentrifuge. Nuclear Fuel though quotes a senior official involved in both the Libyan and Iranian investigation, who says: “There is no connection with G-1 in the centrifuge programme in either Iran or Libya” and: “If there is a statement in a report that equates P-1 and G-1, it is a mistake.” According to the official the ‘finger prints’ are Dutch, not German. Research by Nuclear Fuel also reveals that some details of the P-1 significantly resemble the 4-M centrifuge, for example regarding the number of four rotor-tube segments.

These new details throw important new light on the three decades long dragging nuclear espionage affair, in which the Netherlands plays a dubious role. Because of laxity and possibly even on purpose, Khan and consorts have had free way for many years. 26 December last year the New York Times made headline news here with their claim that the CIA had twice withheld Dutch authorities from arresting Khan, one time in the late seventies and once in the eighties, to keep a better eye on Pakistan’s nuclear programme.

It was already longer known that the Netherlands, despite strong signs in that direction, had failed to interfere when Khan was still working in the Netherlands, that is up to December 1975. Afterwards he has also visited the Netherlands on several occasions. At least once that happened with approval from then BVD (Dutch Internal Security Service) chief Docters van Leeuwen, revealed radio programme Argos October last year.

Khan has been tried for theft of nuclear technology while at work with UCN or FDO-Stork (then the main subcontractor to the Dutch ultracentrifuge programme). He was tried though in absentia in the mid-eighties for two letters that he had written to a former colleague, in which Khan asks for detailed information of some ultracentrifuge components. After being sentenced of four years imprisonment, Khan was acquitted by an appeals court due to a technicality.

“Finally now, the Dutch government must give complete clearness about this huge nuclear proliferation scandal, that time and again reveals new information on the doubtful role that the Netherlands plays in it”, says Frank Slijper of the Dutch Campaign against Arms Trade. Dutch policy in the Khan affair has since the mid-seventies always been aimed at damage control. Thirty years after Khan left the country there is still little known about the nature and magnitude of the spreading of nuclear arms technology. It is clear though that a significant part of it is of Dutch origin. Also, allegedly, nuclear business has run through the Netherlands till very recently (2). It is therefore high time for complete openness on the Khan network.

Notes for the press:

  • See the May 2004 Greenpeace report on Khan and Urenco, with an extensive overview of Khan’s connections with the Netherlands at KhanvoorGreenpeace.pdf
  • Go to Argos for today’s radio programme and their press release (both in Dutch).

(1) Ultracentrifuges enrich uranium, which can be used for nuclear power plants, as well as for nuclear bombs.
(2) Next Monday Henk Slebos, a former study friend and allegedly one of the main contacts of Khan, will appear in court in Alkmaar, the Netherlands.

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