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Preventing an accidental nuclear crisis in Iran and beyond

Preventing an accidental nuclear crisis in Iran and beyond, Bulletin, By Samuel M. Hickey | October 11, 2021 There has been no sign as to when nuclear talks with Iran may recommence. But after weeks of consultations, Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) have reached a deal on “the way and the timing” for UN nuclear inspectors to service cameras installed at Iran’s nuclear facilities. This patchwork agreement has kept alive the possibility of recovering a complete picture of Iran’s nuclear program and of reviving the Iran nuclear deal since Iran cut inspector access in February. It is also the first real sign of cooperative engagement by Iran since President Ebrahim Raisi came to power in August.

The Iran nuclear deal, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, is the latest experiment in how much UN nuclear inspector access states will tolerate. However, it is under exceptional stress from those who believe military coercion is more effective than systems of denial in stemming proliferation. Days after the least competitive presidential election in the Islamic Republic’s history, a drone attack at a centrifuge production facility on June 23 damaged the IAEA’s monitoring and surveillance equipment. While the Israeli government did not comment on the attack, the Iran Centrifuge Technology Company, located in the city of Karaj, was reportedly “on a list of targets that Israel presented to the Trump administration early last year.” Now, Iran has allowed the IAEA to service cameras in every location but the Karaj site.

Acts of sabotage are diametrically opposed to the global nuclear verification regime because states need to believe that punishment will cease if they comply with the agreed-to framework. Further, failure to revive the nuclear deal could remove the possibility of applying the verification tools gained to other proliferation challenges like North Korea or the next nuclear threshold state. The loss of these techniques would undermine efforts to improve the global nonproliferation regime. As the United States’ experiences in leaving Afghanistan make clear, accurate intelligence is critical to making informed decisions and avoiding a crisis. The wrong assumptions can have dire consequences.

Verification evolution: Iraq and the old gold standard. The current nuclear verification protocols are the strongest in history and prioritize the non-diversion of nuclear materials over sovereign jurisdiction; however, many of these legal instruments were born out of crisis and remain voluntary, not mandatory……………………..

Specifically, the Iran nuclear deal caps the quantity and level of enrichment of uranium as well as the number and sophistication of the centrifuges that are operating and limits heavy water production. It also provides continuous monitoring of centrifuges and centrifuge rotor tubes, continuous access to Natanz, the monitoring of the production or acquisition of any uranium ore concentrate and enhanced managed access, meaning the IAEA can inspect a suspected violation.

The deal also instilled two key principles that should be universalized. First, a civilian nuclear program should be commensurate to its energy or related needs. Second, the IAEA has the right to monitor a ban on “weaponization” activities, which are activities related to developing or procuring equipment for developing nuclear weapons. …………

These measures, at least until the deal expires, will provide a high degree of confidence that weapons-related activity is not occurring. They could also be promoted as a model for other countries wanting to give confidence in the peaceful nature of their own nuclear facilities………

If the politics of the Iranian nuclear program are too challenging, then the new verification tools will not be useful to solve a real crisis if one crops up in Iran or elsewhere. The great arms control theorist and developer of game theory Thomas Schelling opened his book Arms and Influence with the reflection: “One of the lamentable principles of human productivity is that it is easier to destroy than to create.” Let’s hope the groundbreaking verification and monitoring tools of the Iran nuclear deal are not a casualty of human initiative. https://thebulletin.org/2021/10/preventing-an-accidental-nuclear-crisis-in-iran-and-beyond/

October 12, 2021 - Posted by | Iran, politics international

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