When it comes to the Iran nuclear deal, passions run deep. But whether one is against the deal or for it, there should be no debate over one thing: It is in nobody’s interest to ignore any known gaps in the plan’s nuclear safeguards. As I argue in the attached piece, “The Iran Deal: An Omission We Still Can Fix,” published by National Review Online, the Congressional debate may be over but it still would make sense to ask the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to get Iran to authorize what the deal forgot to get — automatic, remote 24/7 surveillance authority (known as “near-real time surveillance”) over operations at Iran’s large light water reactor at Bushehr.
This ask is not heroic. When negotiators requested such authority over the enrichment plant at Natanz, the Iranians happily said yes. The IAEA, moreover, already has secured such inspections over more than one-third of the nuclear sites it now inspects world-wide.
In the case of light water power reactors, getting near-real time surveillance authority would be useful. Three years ago, Iran shut down the Bushehr reactor and emptied the fuel, which, at the time, contained about 24 bombs’ worth of weapons-grade plutonium. There were no inspectors at the site. This meant that there was no way to know if the material might be spirited out of the building to a hidden reprocessing facility that could chemically strip this plutonium out from the spent fuel. According to news reports, the US immediately sent at least seven surveillance drones to cover the site until the matter was resolved.
This is awkward business. A modest fix would be to ask the IAEA to seek Iranian agreement to allow near-real time surveillance over its power reactor. Indeed, if we are truly serious about nuclear nonproliferation, we should urge the IAEA to ask for such authority, not just in Iran, but world-wide.
October 15, 2015
Author: Henry Sokolski
By Henry Sokolski
In our eagerness to clamp down on Iran’s uranium-enrichment and potential plutonium-production activities relating to its small heavy-water reactor, both those in favor and those opposed to the Iran deal have glossed over what prompted our worries in the first place: the possibility of military diversions from the light-water power reactor (LWR) at Bushehr.
If we want to close the door on possible nuclear Irans elsewhere, we’d be wise to turn our attention to the proliferation risks such power reactors pose. The good news is that what might help most in addressing these risks — remote automated surveillance that can be updated 24/7 — is something the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has already secured at Natanz and many of the other nuclear sites it inspects around the globe. The problem is that we haven’t yet insisted on such surveillance at Bushehr and apparently are not inclined to do so.
It’s difficult to understand why.
Originally, in the early 1990s, Iran’s power-reactor project was a key focus of international concern. The administrations of Bill Clinton and both the Bushes initially did all they could to prevent its completion, not only because it was serving as a cover for other nuclear-weapons-related activities (e.g., uranium enrichment, the transfer of weapon design information, and heavy-water-reactor technology and hardware), but also because the reactor itself was seen as a potential source of nuclear-weapons-explosive plutonium. When it became clear, however, that Bushehr was likely to be completed and that any hope of securing Russian assistance in limiting Iran’s uranium-enrichment and heavy-water-reactor projects turned on grandfathering Bushehr, top Bush officials decided in 2007 to make the concession. After this, what was done at Bushehr was treated as an intrinsically “peaceful” activity. Even the politicians and governments most suspicious of Iran and critical of the Iran deal — George W. Bush, the French, and Benjamin Netanyahu — now accept the legitimacy of Iran’s present and future “peaceful” power reactors. Because such critics of the deal did not demand that there be additional surveillance of Bushehr, those focused on closing the deal didn’t ask. After all, LWRs were deemed to be unambiguously “peaceful.”
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