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  • Iranian Nuclear Breakdown -- Worm or Germ
    Posted by David A. Fulghum 3:47 PM on Mar 02, 2011

    Russian and Iranian officials say they are cleaning up after a water cooling pump broke down during startup of the Bushehr nuclear reactor. They attribute the failure to an old piece of German equipment.

    But a veteran U.S. cyberwarrior says the failure of a spinning device is a classic symptom of cyberattack.

    Analysts from Rosatom, Russia’s state nuclear energy corp. which is building the reactor, said problems were associated with the cooling system. The International Atomic Energy Agency had been told Feb. 25 that Iran was planning to unload nuclear fuel from the reactor. The Russian report followed Feb.28.

    “Damages to internal elements were revealed in one of four cool-down pumps at Bushehr,” the statement says. “In this regard, an assumption has come up that metal particles – predominantly chips of less than 3mm – could get together with water into the reactor pressure vessel and, having passed through the reactor internals, get into fuel assemblies.”

    The precipitating event appears to be a mechanical issue.

    “The joints broke down under conditions of high vibration and pulsing pressure,” the statement said. “If metal particles are found on the fuel assemblies,” it added, “they will be washed, the body of the reactor cleaned, and after this the fuel will again be loaded into the reactor.”

    A U.S-sponsored “Aurora” vulnerability test in 2006, conducted by Idaho National Laboratory, demonstrated that any spinning machine connected to the power grid – such as a generator, pump or turbine – can be ordered to self-destruct via software commands, says a veteran National Security Agency cyberwarrior.  In the test, a large industrial generator was ordered to rapidly turn its circuit breakers on and off until it broke down in a cloud of smoke.

    Originally, plant operators assumed that attackers would not be able to manipulate damage control systems because they ran on obscure, highly specialized communication standards. However, operating systems are being upgraded to Microsoft Windows and Linux which are more vulnerable to hackers.

    The failed pump was 1970s-era equipment installed by the West German firm that began the project, says a New York Times report. Russians, who took over in 1995, said that integrating the old German equipment posed problems.

    Russian officials say the cleanup and inspection could take up to two months, according to a Moscow newspaper, Nezavisimaya Gazeta.

    In Sept. Iranian officials said that personal computers of some station employees were infected by Stuxnet, but on Jan. 17, Rosatom declared the computer systems of the nuclear power plant to be free of any viruses that could affect the station. “There are no viruses in the station’s information systems to say nothing of the systems that protect its security, because this system is a local one and it is fully isolated from external sources,” a company statement said.

    U.S. specialists say that wireless Internet capabilities now allow them to break into some isolated systems.

    Tags: ar99, Iran, reactor

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