Iraq placed an order for streak cameras from this Japanese company in 1988. Iraq wanted the cameras for use in the analysis of high-explosive "lenses" that it was developing for its nuclear weapons program. In the final Iraqi weapon design, the finished lenses, manufactured from specialized explosives, would be configured around a spherical core of highly enriched uranium (HEU) and detonated simultaneously, imploding the HEU into a supercritical mass and a nuclear explosion.
Iraq found the manufacture of lenses a complicated task. The Iraqis needed well-designed lenses, because poor lenses could result in the failure of the device or a dramatically reduced yield of the finished weapon. The Iraqis required sophisticated testing and diagnostics equipment to ensure that the explosive shock wave through the lens was correct. Almost all of the needed equipment had to be purchased illegally.
According to statements released by Hamamatsu, the sale of two streak cameras occurred as follows:
Sept. 1988--Iraq's Ministry of Industry and Minerals requests a quotation on the cameras
Feb. 1989--Iraq submitted a purchase order for the streak cameras and support equipment, saying that the end-user was to be the University of Technology in Baghdad. The stated purpose was conducting research into combustion in an experimental automobile engine.
Aug. 1989--Four months later, the company received permission from Japan's export authority, the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI) to send the cameras to Iraq.
Sept. 1989--The cameras were shipped to Iraq.
According to company officials, major companies in Japan and Germany had often used the streak cameras for the stated end use aimed at improving engine efficiency. Given that Iraq was viewed as a friendly country, the company felt justified in shipping the cameras. However, the President of Hamamatsu said in 1991 after the streak cameras were found in Iraq's nuclear weapons program that he had become suspicious about the export after Iraq refused the company's usual offer to install the equipment.