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Iran's first nuclear power plant has suffered a serious cyber-intrusion from a sophisticated worm that infected workers' computers, and potentially plant systems.  (Source: AP)

The worm has spread to over 10,000 computers in Indonesia. Computers in the U.S. have also been infected.  (Source: Digitrain)
Attack has since spread to plants and computers in the U.S. and elsewhere, posing serious threat

It's been only a month since the activation of Iran's first nuclear power plant and there's already a major crisis concerning proliferation.  But this crisis has nothing to do with nuclear arms proliferation.  Rather, the scare has to do with the proliferation of the Stuxnet worm, a malicious computer program that has invaded the plant's computers and since spread to computers worldwide.

The viral program is very sophisticated and appears designed specifically to attack the plant.  It first was released onto workers' computers, designed to try to reach plant's control systems.  Unlike other more sophisticated attacks which appeared to be primarily geared for monitoring, this attack was designed to do damage.  It contained logic to sabotage nuclear fuel enrichment centrifuges.  The centrifuges, made by German equipment electronics giant Siemens, would be made to fail in a virtually unnoticeable way.

The Bushehr plant is located near Natanz, central-Iranian city located almost 200 miles south of the capital city of Tehran.  The plant is a joint endeavor between Iran and Russia.  While the U.S. and others have chastised Russia for its involvement, the U.S. intelligence community has asserted that it doesn't believe Iran to be currently developing nuclear weapons at the facility.

Mahmoud Jafari, project manager at the Bushehr nuclear plant is quoted in 
The Telegraph, a UK newspaper, as stating that the viral worm never achieved its goal.  Comments Mr. Jafari, "[It] has not caused any damage to major systems of the plant."

But according to international whistle-blower site 
Wikileaks, a serious nuclear accident occurred at the plant sometime before mid-June.  The site's founder, Julian Assange, wrote:

Two weeks ago, a source associated with Iran's nuclear program confidentially told WikiLeaks of a serious, recent, nuclear accident at Natanz. Natanz is the primary location of Iran's nuclear enrichment program.
WikiLeaks had reason to believe the source was credible however contact with this source was lost.
WikiLeaks would not normally mention such an incident without additional confirmation, however according to Iranian media and the BBC, today the head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, Gholam Reza Aghazadeh, has resigned under mysterious circumstances. According to these reports, the resignation was tendered around 20 days ago.

Inspectors examined the claims, but found no distinguishable traces of an accident.

A time stamp on the virus reveals that it was made in January.  What is equally remarkable to its sophistication in terms of attack behavior is the lack of sophistication when it comes to the worm's proliferation.  

If it had constrained its infections to Bushehr, it would likely not have been noticed for some time.  Instead, the worm was extremely aggressive in its infection vectors, spreading to fifteen other Siemens plants, and tens of thousands of non-plant computers worldwide.  In Iran 60,000 computers are infected.  In Indonesia, 10,000 machines are infected.  And in the United States thousands of computers are believed to be infected as well.

That creates a dangerous situation, as numerous parties, including international governments and black-hat hackers, are racing to reverse-engineer the code and exploit the infected machines.  The infected machines may not only compromise personal details, but may compromise industrial infrastructure in Iran, Indonesia, India (another infection site), and the U.S.

Melissa Hathaway, a former United States national cybersecurity coordinator, comments, "Proliferation is a real problem, and no country is prepared to deal with it.  All of these guys are scared to death. We have about 90 days to fix this before some hacker begins using it."

So who is behind the attacks?  
The New York Times quotes a former U.S. intelligence office as saying that the attack was the work of Israel’s equivalent of America’s National Security Agency, known as Unit 8200.  According to IEEE Spectrum's December issue, Israel had previously used a cyber-attack to shut off radar systems in Syria, allowing it to evaluate what it believed to be an under-construction nuclear reactor.

Regardless of who perpetrated the attack, the primary issue now is stamping it out, before it can be used for even more nefarious purposes.  Early reports were unclear about the transmission vector, but suggested it may be spreading via USB sticks and other removable media.



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Isn't anyone else thinking?
By vectorm12 on 9/27/2010 11:17:05 AM , Rating: -1
Isn't anyone else thinking this is another Chernobyl waiting to happen?

Granted russian reactor-technology has likely evolved and improved greatly but I feel about as confident about Iran operating a reactor as the north-koreans.




RE: Isn't anyone else thinking?
By BZDTemp on 9/27/10, Rating: -1
RE: Isn't anyone else thinking?
By goku on 9/27/2010 12:18:32 PM , Rating: 2
Curious enough, why would Chernobyl happen in Russia but not somewhere like pakistan or india?


RE: Isn't anyone else thinking?
By omnicronx on 9/27/2010 12:28:48 PM , Rating: 5
Not sure, as it didnt happen in Russia ;)

USSR yes, but Chernobyl is located in what is now Ukraine.

Simply put, reactors are not designed that way anymore. Multiple safety measures are in place, with redundancy being a key point to the safety of these plants.


RE: Isn't anyone else thinking?
By foolsgambit11 on 9/27/2010 5:08:54 PM , Rating: 4
I agree that nuclear plants today are by and large safe, and that an accident like Chernobyl is of very minimal risk. However, safety measures alone aren't enough. An corporate (or government) mentality of risk prevention is also key. The redundant systems can be built into the design, but ensuring that they remain online and fully functional requires vigilance. Part of the issue with Chernobyl (aside from faulty design) was ignoring what turned out to be necessary safety measures during a scheduled maintenance shutdown of one of the reactors. Or take a look at the Gulf oil spill earlier this year - safety measures that were required by law were ignored and/or poorly implemented, leading to a catastrophic failure. Or read Richard Feynman's article on how the corporate culture regarding risk management in NASA led to the Challenger disaster.

Engineers can get a design as close to perfect as humanly possible, but that is only the first factor in considering the overall safety of something like a nuclear power plant. It still has to be built and operated within the designed tolerances.


RE: Isn't anyone else thinking?
By Lerianis on 9/29/2010 3:30:06 AM , Rating: 2
Yep, that is the biggest issue when accidents like Chernobyl or the Gulf oil spill happen..... afterwards, we find out that the proper safety procedures and regulations were NOT being followed.

Yet no heads, save those of lower - middle management ever seem to roll for this stuff nor are the people who condone these things imprisoned like they should be.

Maybe it's time to make ignoring regulations (at least in the instance where very bad things can happen if they are ignored) a CRIMINAL offense, and one that a company can be shut down, seized and sold for!


RE: Isn't anyone else thinking?
By Iaiken on 9/27/2010 12:55:27 PM , Rating: 5
quote:
Curious enough, why would Chernobyl happen in Russia but not somewhere like pakistan or india?


That is because Indian reactors are all "Douglas Point" CANDU reactor derivatives. These are arguably the safest reactors in the world due to the lack of requirements for moving parts and the ability to "poison" the reactor with a coolant/neutron inhibitor and stop the reaction at any time.

Another reason is that these reactors use natural Uranium and run MUCH cooler and with fewer "hot spots" than light water reactors due to the heavy waters inability to absorb excited neutrons.

Finally, the actual fuel piles cannot go critical without the heavy water medium as it is required to continue the chain reaction. This opens up the ability to simply drain the reactor and stop all criticality using a combination of gravity and reactor pressure.

Lastly, they are HEAVILY bunkered against an interior explosion, which would limit contamination to the plant itself.

You can find out more here:

http://www.aecl.ca/Reactors.htm

A key factor in the cause of Chernobyl was the almost exclusive reliance on graphite control rods and enriched uranium. When the fuel pile got too hot, the rods and fuel expanded and prevented the control rods from being removed during the attempted SCRAM.

This spiked the power production which then caused the water to boil off faster than the steam could be evacuated (the turbines had been shut down) and caused the resultant explosion. This cemented the picture of that shattered number 4 reactor building in peoples minds and turned them against all nuclear power plants regardless of design.


RE: Isn't anyone else thinking?
By Iaiken on 9/27/2010 1:08:13 PM , Rating: 3
Clarification:

quote:
A key factor in the cause of Chernobyl was the almost exclusive reliance on graphite-tipped control rods, enriched uranium and a graphite moderator. When the fuel pile got too hot, the rods and fuel expanded and prevented the control rods from being inserted during the attempted SCRAM.


Basically, the lodged graphite tips caused an increase in criticality, which caused the spike.

Sorry for the goof-up.


RE: Isn't anyone else thinking?
By Iaiken on 9/27/10, Rating: 0
RE: Isn't anyone else thinking?
By psenechal on 9/27/2010 1:09:55 PM , Rating: 4
Wow...thanks for the awesome description of current nuclear reactor safety systems and design. It's nice to know they're actually NOT trying to blow up the planet =)


RE: Isn't anyone else thinking?
By Samus on 9/27/2010 11:21:18 PM , Rating: 3
Totally...it's ridiculous to keep referring to nuclear disasters that occured during the initial implementations of the technology just shortly after using nuclear fuel to generate electricity was discovered.

It's like saying the Ford Model T's crank start system killed thousands when it backfired, and starting a car is still dangerous. Or what were those other cars that exploded in rear-end collisions? Yea, cus that happens all the time, right?

It's like saying flying by aircraft is among the most dangerous ways to travel as it was duing the 1930's, and flying today is still equally as dangerous.

Technology improves, but people never give nuclear technology or advancement any credit for doing so.


RE: Isn't anyone else thinking?
By DEVGRU on 9/27/2010 1:59:18 PM , Rating: 3
quote:
Curious enough, why would Chernobyl happen in Russia but not somewhere like pakistan or india?


Easy. One word...

Vodka!


By monkeyman1140 on 9/29/2010 2:24:01 AM , Rating: 2
yeah yeah, everybody claims their reactor design is safe. That's why there have been hundreds of accidents over the years, plenty of spills, radioactive releases, and a few explosions.


RE: Isn't anyone else thinking?
By Chernobyl68 on 9/27/2010 12:20:33 PM , Rating: 2
The Chernobyl accident was a result of departure from test procedues, and magnified by design factors in the plant iteslf. Hopefully nuclear operators worldwide have learned their lessons from that.


RE: Isn't anyone else thinking?
By Iaiken on 9/27/2010 12:22:10 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
Isn't anyone else thinking this is another Chernobyl waiting to happen?


Not really, the technology being so attacked is a gas convection centrifuge which is used to separate natural uranium into fuel grade Uranium through the removal of depleted Uranium.

The process is pretty much cannot result in criticality because the amount of radioactive material involved is so minute.

This particular centrifuge can be used to create weapons grade Uranium by running the refined product through the process numerous times. Similar centrifuges were used by India in conjunction with the CIRUS breeder reactor to kick start the Indian nuclear weapons program through the enrichment of Uranium and Plutonium.

So while the technology is itself safe, it can be used to produce nuclear weapons.


RE: Isn't anyone else thinking?
By omnicronx on 9/27/2010 12:22:22 PM , Rating: 2
Nope... The reactor(s) in question are Russian based VVER's (VVER-1000/446), which are very safe.

We learned a lot from Chernobyl, in fact the accident essentially forced all nations to upgrade their existing reactors based on similar design because of the accident.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/VVER


RE: Isn't anyone else thinking?
By Hammer1024 on 9/27/2010 1:52:06 PM , Rating: 2
You might want to do a bit of work on what actually happened at Chernobyl: It wasn't the reactor design, it was the idiots doing "testing" while shutting down the reactor. A good clear sequence of events is given at:

http://www.jayznamirowski.com/chernobyl/pages/seq....


RE: Isn't anyone else thinking?
By Iaiken on 9/27/2010 3:57:05 PM , Rating: 2
It was both.

quote:
01:23:40
The emergency button (AZ-5) was pressed by the operator. Control rods started to enter the core.
The insertion of the rods from the top concentrated all of the reactivity in the bottom of the core.

01:23:44
Reactor power rose to a peak of about 100 times the design value.


If it wasn't for the graphite caps on the end of the control rods, the partially inserted rods would have been sufficient to cease criticality.

Graphite was also the lone neutron moderator in the Chernobyl reactor design. By pressing the AZ-5 in an attempt to SCRAM the reactor the control rods descended at nearly the exact same time at nearly the exact same speed. This caused a thin band of increased criticality in the pile that got progressively worse as the graphite tips descended together. This also increased the temperature of the pile and caused the fuel, moderator and control rods to expand and detach the reactor support plate.

By then there was nothing that could be done to save the reactor as the control rods were stuck only half way down. As support plate shifted, it began to rupture the channel pipes and water escaped into the fuel channel. The thermal shock shattered the fuel piles and the resultant steam exploded upward and outward as there was no containment bunker to stop it from doing so.

Interestingly enough, Chernobyl was not the first RBMK-1000 reactor in which this behavior was observed. For this very reason, there were actually safety protocols as to how many control rods could be out of the reactor at the same time. Another procedure was in place should too many be open and the operator was supposed to manually request them to be inserted in order to stagger their decent into the pile. After the accident, the automated SCRAM unit was redesigned to do this staggering automatically.


By monkeyman1140 on 9/29/2010 2:26:02 AM , Rating: 2
Oh it had a containment system, but the explosion was so huge that it blew the 200 ton lid off the top of the reactor and flipped it a few times before landing back down cockeyed.


RE: Isn't anyone else thinking?
By Phoque on 9/27/2010 3:17:51 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
Isn't anyone else thinking this is another Chernobyl waiting to happen?


From what I've read here on this forum and about nuclear power plants security in general, no.

I feel their nuclear weapon endeavors are a much greater concern.


RE: Isn't anyone else thinking?
By vectorm12 on 9/29/2010 5:09:51 AM , Rating: 1
I think most people misunderstood my previous post.

I'm in no way suggesting that nuclear power isn't a necessity in today's world and I was not using Chernobyl as an argument against the technology.

Even though as it's already been pointed out that the new reactors are safer and more "fool-proof" than the reactor in chernobyl it doesn't mean accidents can't happen when controlled by insufficiently trained operators.

I'm not really worried about the French or American plants in the sense that they are plants that are heavily monitored by trained personell and overseen by tight government monitoring.

Iran on the other hand has at best a questionable governmental oversight system and are new in this field. Sure they may have the russian's experience to educate them but that doesn't necessarily mean that the reactor is going to be operated within spec. Either with or without knowledge.

After all Chernobyl was a result of poor engineering and poor judgement from the operators. Despite all precautions a country like Iran seems far more likely to cut corners somewhere, maintenance or training if not both.

Again I'm all for nuclear power as we haven't got better alternatives atm but at the same time I can't but feel worried that developing countries are using a technology that can cause serious longtime damage, not to mention the other purposes it can be used for.


"Young lady, in this house we obey the laws of thermodynamics!" -- Homer Simpson














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