Energy Policy in Tehran has Implications in US

A friend sent me a New York Times article [1] the other day about Iran’s nuclear energy program.  After reading it, as well as this message board, it got me asking, with all of this discussion about our domestic energy policy, where does our international energy policy stand?

Roger Gale, a member of the British Parliament points out that President Obama’s most important policy-related decision is that of what to do about Iran’s nuclear energy program. [2]

Now, it seems that Iran and Mr. Ahmadinejad are staples on 24-hour news channels, and this issue certainly isn’t new.  What is of recent development is Iran’s declaration to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that they have begun to enrich uranium fuel to 20%.  As it is now, Iran has small, research reactors utilizing low-enriched fuel.  A nuclear power plant is also under construction.  This too will use low-enriched fuel.  But, keep in mind that Iran does not own the fuel in those reactors, and products-particularly all the plutonium, are carefully monitored by the IAEA.[3]

New problems arise now that Iran wants to enrich their own uranium.  Ahmadinejad announced Iran’s intention of enriching uranium to 20% for medical isotope research—a very lucrative business.  To put this in perspective Iran is not going to build a nuclear weapon with 20% 235U; so-call ‘weapons grade’ uranium is >90% enriched.  The reactor here at The University of Texas is about 20% 235U.  So, it really won’t be the end of the world if Iran gets a hold of uranium fuel of this concentration.  President Obama recently proposed that Iran continue with its nuclear research, provided that it acquires its fuel from outside its country.  What the West is concerned with, and rightfully so, is if Iran develops the technology to enrich uranium on its own.  The process of enriching natural uranium to reactor grade fuel is basically the same as enriching natural uranium to weapons grade fuel.  So, the question is: how does the West adapt an international policy on nuclear energy, all the while maintaining peace in a volatile region? [4]

The particular policy that this whole issue strikes a cord with is the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.  States which have signed this treaty, and Iran has, are allowed to enrich uranium-under scrutiny from IAEA-for nuclear power.  Iran’s position is that it is doing what it is given the right to do under the NPT, but the West is concerned with Iran acquiring and mastering the technology and then leaving the treaty-as North Korea has recently done. [5]

This recent news coverage on this issue raises many questions on whether we can dictate other nations’ energy policy based on our own national security.  Obviously, there are arguments for either side of this issue [6], but the practical answer is ‘yes’ we can dictate foreign energy policy base on domestic security.
One final thought…

Now that Iran has enrichment capabilities—and countries like North Korea have their own access to plutonium—will this ultimately prove to be beneficial to the US nuclear industry?  As it is now, the major issue with nuclear power is its non-proliferation threat.  If our major concern was ‘what happens if this nuclear material gets into the wrong hands?’, then wouldn’t that concern be moot if its already in “the wrong hands?”

References:

1  “Iran Nuclear Plans Start New Calls for Sanctions” NYTimes February 9, 2010.

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/09/world/middleeast/09iran.html

2 “Unleas the Opposition to Sanction Iran” Roger Gale.  Huffington Post February 10,2010

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/roger-gale/unleash-the-opposition-to_b_457353.html

3 “Q&A: Iran and the nuclear issue”  BBC February 9, 2010.

http://newsvote.bbc.co.uk/mpapps/pagetools/print/news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/8495086.stm?ad=1

4 “Only one force can stop Iran now:its people” London Times February 12, 2010

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/guest_contributors/article7024065.ece

5 “North Korea to pull out of pact limiting nuclear weapons because of US ‘threats'” The Independent. January 1, 2003

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/north-korea-to-pull-out-of-pact-limiting-nuclear-weapons-because-of-us-threats-612527.html

6 “Western MEddling with Iran’s Nuclear Program is Unacceptable” Habib Siddiqui February 2, 2010

http://www.printthis.clickability.com/pt/cpt?action=cpt&title=%09%09%09%09%09%09%09%09%09%09%09++%09Home+%2F+Headlines+%2F+Western+Meddling+with+Iran%27s+Nuclear+Program+is+Unacceptable+-+Media+Monitors+Network+%28MMN%29++%09%09%09%09%09%09&expire=&urlID=419818472&fb=Y&url=http%3A%2F%2Fusa.mediamonitors.net%2Fcontent%2Fview%2Ffull%2F71081&partnerID=31

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1 Comment

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One response to “Energy Policy in Tehran has Implications in US

  1. juliaharvey

    In regards to your point in paragraph 3: Even though Iran might not own the fuel it uses in its reactors, and even though the IAEA may monitor nuclear materials that are on loan to Iran, it’s not inconceivable that the country could divert this material. This could be done via several mechanisms:

    1. The Nuclear Material Accounting (NMA) done by the IAEA allows significant margin of error. Slight discrepancies between material accounted for and material on the books are common. With time, a dangerous amount of material could be diverted (http://tinyurl.com/yacvfnt).

    2. Alternatively, the state could tell the vendor that a fuel assembly was damaged inside the reactor, and covertly recover the nuclear material. Since the assembly is leaking radiation, its contents cannot be verified, and the assembly must be sealed.

    Iran wont need to do these things, since its developed its own enrichment capability. I just wanted to point out some flaws with the assumption that the IAEA has complete control over nuclear materials.

    Also, it’s unthinkable that Iran would use a nuclear weapon against an enemy. To do so would guarantee complete destruction. I think the “wrong hands” you refer to in your last paragraph are not Iran, but are non-state, non-rational actors (like terrorist organizations) with no return address. Those types of groups wouldn’t hesitate to employ a primitive nuclear weapon.

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