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Monday, August 15, 2011

Iran *sort of* cooperating with Israel on synchrotron project

The story of SESAME:
The notion of scientists from Israel meeting in Jordan with counterparts from countries such as Iran, Bahrain, Egypt, Pakistan and Turkey seems like something out of a fantasy novel.

Yet such meetings have been occurring - most recently in November last year - for about 15 years, as a conglomerate of Middle East countries hammers out the details of a major scientific project to benefit scientists from across the region. The project, too, seems like something out of a sci-fi thriller.

SESAME, an acronym for Synchrotron-light for Experimental Science and Applications in the Middle East, will provide regional scientists with a multifaceted look at everything from proteins to archeological finds.

Eliezer Rabinovici, director of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Jerusalem and one of the founders of SESAME, explains to ISRAEL21c that a synchrotron "is like an enormous x-ray machine" that rapidly turns electrons until they radiate light that allows scientists to study the structure of substances, even tiny ones such as proteins, in more depth than ever before. Synchrotron studies are useful in chemistry, molecular biology, environmental science, pharmaceuticals and nanotechnology. Archeologists and art historians may also find uses for a synchrotron.

Though SESAME is sometimes erroneously referred to as a particle accelerator, it's not the same, Rabinovici explains. Both operate on principles of high-energy physics. However, particle accelerators smash atoms to provide a unique look into the composition of the material world at its most basic level. In a synchrotron, "there are no collisions. In order to study proteins, you don't have to smash them to pieces," he says.

Supported by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), SESAME is under construction in Allaan, Jordan - just 30 km from Amman. Many components are already in place inside the $10 million building begun in 2003. "You need a special, stable building to house this because the Jordan Valley is very seismic," says Rabinovici.
But a couple of years ago the project was in danger of losing funding:
In recent years, researchers decided it would be better to upgrade the older machine to a more sophisticated "third-generation" light source capable of delivering energies of 2.5 gigaelectronvolts. Llewellyn Smith, who took a leading role in the project in 2008, has supported the upgrade. "If it's good for doing science, the political aim of getting people together will follow," he says.

But building a world-class machine, even with recycled parts, costs money. A new estimate led by Llewellyn Smith, who has overseen projects such as the Large Hadron Collider, shows a $35 million gap in the construction budget. Foreign donors such as the European Union and the United States have been reluctant to get involved without a clear commitment from regional governments.
So Israel stepped up:

[In March 2010] Rabinovici talked Israel into pledging $1 million a year for five years—but only if four other members also do so. Two members have signed on already, and Sir Christopher Llewellyn-Smith, president of the SESAME council, is optimistic that others will also join in soon. Nadji says he’ll continue to push his team to finish the job. ”We’ve come this far,” he says. ”I have to believe we’ll get there.”
And guess who has matched Israel's pledge?

From FARS News:
TEHRAN (FNA)- Iran's envoy to the International Centre for Synchrotron-Light for Experimental Science Applications in the Middle-East Seyed Mahmoud Aqa-Miri underlined Iran's determination to maintain its prominent role in SESAME.

"Iran insists on its participation in SESAME and we have reached a good level scientifically and technologically," Aqa-Miri stated, adding that Iran's non-participation in the project would give the Zionist regime of Israel the chance to gain control over the SESAME.

He also described the SESAME as "Israel's backyard", but meantime underlined that Iran's participation in the project doesn't mean that it has recognized the Zionist regime.

"As we have officially and repeatedly announced, we have not and will not recognize the Zionist regime," Aqa-Miri reiterated.

Iran contributes a major role in the implementation of the SESAME project in the region.

Iran ranks first in terms of scientific participation in the major project of SESAME in the region.

Iran has pledged to pay 5 million dollars for the SESAME project.

Iran has set conditions to pay one million dollar every year for 5 years for the SESAME project to advance.

The country has called for the supply of facilities for training its experts and receiving visas for its scientists in return for the financial help.

It has also said that its aid should be only used for providing facilities.
It isn't direct, but Iran is clearly matching Israel's offer.

There's another wrinkle in the pseudo-cooperation between Iran and Israel on the project. Two of the Iranian physicists working on SESAME have been assassinated.


Majid Shahriari, who attended only a single SESAME meeting, was a quantum physicist who specialized in neutron transport, a phenomenon that lies at the heart of nuclear chain reactions in bombs and reactors. "According to Ars Technica, Majid Shahriari was the top scientist and senior manager of Iran's nuclear program." His assassination may have been by Israeli or American spies and seems not to be connected to SESAME.

But Masoud Alimohammadi, a particle physicist at the University of Tehran, as killed by a bomb in January 2010. He was not a nuclear researcher and seemed to be apolitical but he leaned towards Iran's reformist movement. He definitely spoke with his Israeli counterparts on the project. It seems unlikely that he was killed by Israeli or American agents.

Could he have been killed for his cooperation with Israel in SESAME?