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China firm got nuclear parts for Iran

Transaction violates sanctions

By Debby Wu
Associated Press / January 9, 2010

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TAIPEI - A Taiwanese company agreed to a request from a firm in China to procure sensitive components with nuclear uses, then shipped them to Iran, the firm’s head said yesterday. Such transactions violate UN sanctions imposed on the Middle Eastern nation.

The admission by Steven Lin of Hsinchu-based Heli-Ocean Technology Co. Ltd. comes amid an international effort led by the United States to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. While Lin said he didn’t know whether the parts - a vital component in the production of weapons-grade uranium - were eventually used by Iran for military purposes, he acknowledged that they have nuclear applications.

UN sanctions to prevent Iran from expanding its uranium enrichment program have led it to the black market to obtain sophisticated nuclear-related equipment. Aided by these illegal purchases, the program has grown to the stage where thousands of centrifuges are churning out enriched material, which can be used both for fuel or as the fissile core of nuclear warheads.

Iran insists that it wants to enrich uranium to generate nuclear power, but its attempts to evade probes by the International Atomic Energy Agency and its refusal to stop enrichment are increasing suspicions it actually seeks weapons capabilities.

In a telephone interview with the Associated Press, Lin said he received an Internet order from a Chinese firm in January or February 2008 to obtain an unspecified number of pressure transducers, which convert pressure into analog electrical signals.

While pressure transducers have many commercial uses, they furnish the precise measurements needed in the production of weapons-grade uranium.

Nuclear proliferation specialist David Albright of the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security said Iran tried hard to procure the transducers in Europe and Canada, but was thwarted by a concerted international effort.

However, Albright said, the existence of the Taiwanese-Chinese connection shows that Iran still has the ability to get what it needs by tapping alternative sources. “This equipment is likely for its gas centrifuge program,’’ he said.

Lin did not identify the Chinese company that placed the transducer order, except to say that it was involved in the manufacture of pipeline for the oil industry.

He said he obtained the transducers from a Swiss company, which he declined to name.