Michele Kearney's Nuclear Wire

Major Energy and Environmental News and Commentary affecting the Nuclear Industry.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Nuclear Disorder: Surveying Atomic Threats

Nuclear Disorder: Surveying Atomic Threats
By Graham Allison

In a new Foreign Affairs article, Graham Allison questions whether the current global nuclear order could be as fragile today as the financial order was two years ago when conventional wisdom declared it sound, stable, and resilient. Analyzing the facts on the ground in Iran, Pakistan, and North Korea, Allison writes that it is clear that trendlines are propelling us powerfully towards what former Secretaries of Defense Perry and Schlesinger's 2009 Commission Report calls a "tipping point" for proliferation and nuclear terrorism. In President Obama's words, "The next twelve months could be pivotal in determining whether the nonproliferation regime will be strengthened or will slowly dissolve."

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From the Project on Managing the Atom Enabling a Nuclear Revival -- and Managing Its Risks By Matthew Bunn and Martin Malin

From the Project on Managing the Atom
Enabling a Nuclear Revival -- and Managing Its Risks
By Matthew Bunn and Martin Malin

Matthew Bunn and Martin B. Malin examine the conditions needed for nuclear energy to grow on a scale large enough for it to be a significant part of the world's response to climate change. They consider the safety, security, nonproliferation, and waste management risks associated with such growth and recommend approaches to managing these risks. Bunn and Malin argue that although technological solutions may contribute to nuclear expansion in the coming decades, in the near term, creating the conditions for large-scale nuclear energy growth will require major international institutional innovation.

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From the Project on Managing the Atom

Monday, December 21, 2009

oSources: India, Britain will sign civil nuclear agreement

Sources: India, Britain will sign civil nuclear agreement
India and Britain are expected to sign a joint declaration of intent on civil nuclear energy when British Business Minister Peter Mandelson visits India this week, sources said. If the deal pushes through, it will be India's seventh civil nuclear agreement since its first deal with the U.S. in October 2008. The Economic Times (India)/Indo-Asian News Service


China will adopt Westinghouse technology for nuclear project

China will adopt Westinghouse technology for nuclear project
Two of China's major energy suppliers said they plan to construct a nuclear-power demonstration venture using the technology of Westinghouse Electric. The project would allow China to progress in its efforts to build a 1.4 gigawatt power plant, which will expand on Westinghouse's AP1000 design. Pittsburgh Tribune-Review


NIAC Memo: Anatomy of a Nuclear Breakthrough Gone Backwards

Issue 74


Dec 21, 2009

NIAC Memo: Anatomy of a Nuclear Breakthrough Gone Backwards

Less than three months after rising expectations on the possibility of a breakthrough in the negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program, hopes of sealing a deal that would transfer the bulk of Iran’s low-enriched uranium abroad have dissipated.

Yet another attempt to engender trust between the US and Iran has instead led to more distrust and Obama’s mantra about “talking to Iran” looks more and more like the Bush administration’s policy: all sticks and no carrots.

The hoped-for transfer of Iran’s LEU abroad is on the verge of becoming a precondition for further substantive talks, placing the Obama administration where the Bush administration was for years, insisting on the suspension of all enrichment-related activities before negotiations could begin.

The present impasse cannot last, and a risky confrontation could easily ensue. Cooler heads, of course, could prevail, leading both sides to set aside the rancor surrounding the deal and return to the negotiating table. If talks do resume, both sides should study their missteps closely.

Miscalculation in Tehran

Neither the general agreement in Geneva nor the later technical agreement in Vienna could have come about without the explicit consent of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. On September 29, right before the Geneva meeting, Khamenei’s most visible lieutenant, Ahmadinejad, said publicly, “We have offered to whoever is prepared that we will buy the material from them. Of course, we are prepared to hand over 3.5 percent material, have them enrich it up to 19.75 or 20 percent and deliver it back to us.”

As such, Iran’s interlocutors simply seized upon an opportunity offered by Tehran. But the reversal was also Tehran’s and the question is why.

The most credible explanation for the reversal is that Khamenei and Ahmadinejad underestimated the volatility of Iranian domestic politics pursuant to the fraudulent June 12 presidential election. Just as they dismissed the popular anger at the fraud itself, assuming the furor would pass at the protesters’ first sight of blood, so they miscalculated the intensity of elite reaction to the idea of transferring Iran’s LEU.

That reaction came from all corners, and it was ferocious. Perhaps the ferocity is explained in part by the determination of rival factions that Ahmadinejad not don the mantle of peacemaker with the US after all he and his supporters have done to sabotage previous attempts to improve relations. But after four years of bluster averring Iran’s absolute rejection of any compromise on the issue of enrichment, the elite was naturally skeptical that a single quick meeting should bring about such a rapprochement.

There is evidence that the negotiators themselves were aware, at least partly, of how strong the objections might be. But they chose to deflect them with mendacity. In the initial news coverage of Geneva, the pretense was that at Geneva Iran’s interlocutors “were solely informed of Iran’s decision to participate in the October 18 meeting with the IAEA.”

But these attempts at misinformation backfired and fueled suspicion that additional details of the agreement remained hidden. Questions abounded: Why were the public and the parliament being kept in the dark? Why could not there be a simultaneous exchange? What guarantees were there that Iran would indeed be given the 20 percent enriched uranium after it let go of its “strategic asset”? How could the Russians be trusted after the numerous delays in the start of the Bushehr reactor? Was the transfer the first step toward the voiding of the UN Security Council resolutions demanding suspension of enrichment-related activities? And what if Iran’s interlocutors persisted in asking for suspension after the transfer?

Ahmadinejad did push back against the criticism. He mocked his detractors for saying that he, of all people, would put Iran’s interests in jeopardy. He pointed out again that no previous nuclear negotiator had been able to induce the West to implicitly acknowledge Iran’s right to enrichment.

But for the remainder of the Islamic Republic’s elite the agreement simply happened too fast, the details were murky and Ahmadinejad’s spin ran up against the reality that nothing in the agreement guaranteed the West would ever accept enrichment on Iranian territory.

Foremost in many Iranian minds, moreover, was apprehension that Ahmadinejad, and maybe Khamenei as well, were “giving in” to the West in order to curry favor with the international community and proceed with their repression of the post-election dissent.

There is also evidence that the hardliners were rattled by the agreements’ reception in the international press presenting the transfer as a means to control Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Ahmadinejad acknowledged the confluence of foreign and domestic pressures: “Unfortunately some people fell for the line that the agreement is a conspiracy and a deception…. These are the same people who were asking us to back down at the height of the nuclear pressures on us. Now they have become super-revolutionaries.”


Khamenei and Ahmadinejad are, of course, the most to blame for Tehran’s reversal. They failed to gauge Iran’s post-election climate accurately. They must also be considered naïve for thinking that the Obama Administration would not portray the transfer of LEU as a viable means of checking Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

But neither is the Obama administration fault-free, if the US intent at Geneva was to strike a bargain limiting Iran’s enrichment program and instituting a robust inspection regime. When the agreements encountered opposition, the US could have counseled forbearance and continued negotiations.

Instead, impatient with Iran’s messy domestic dynamics, the US chose a more familiar path: announcements of deadlines, patronizing speeches and ominous reminders that the clock was ticking. In effect, Washington’s insistence that the Geneva and Vienna drafts were the only offer on the table turned the tentative agreement into an ultimatum.

Already under fire for caving into Western pressure their political opponents likely imagined, Khamenei and Ahmadinejad could hardly bow to pressure that was real.

In the end, Tehran also responded with characteristic bombast, bragging about ten new enrichment facilities. In reality, in striking such an outlandish pose, reeking of bluff, Tehran had the more mundane intent of reminding Obama of the cost of no agreement.

It understands that the Obama administration continues to be faced with a familiar choice.

It can declare diplomacy dead after only one meeting and begin the arduous process of putting together a coalition behind sanctions that will actually bite as the Bush administration did for many years unsuccessfully.

Or it can try genuine bargaining based on two key lessons learned in the course of the misadventures of the fall of 2009: First, to neglect Iran’s domestic arena is to strangle agreements in their infancy; and second, even the most intransigent arch-conservatives in Tehran are willing to entertain a compromise over Iran’s nuclear program.

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Farideh Farhi is an Independent Scholar and Affiliate Graduate Faculty at the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa. The longer and more detailed version of this article can be found at http://www.merip.org/mero/mero120809.html

Sunday, December 20, 2009

IAEA Applying a Nuclear Double-Standard

IAEA Applying a Nuclear Double-Standard
by Gareth Porter, December 20, 2009

In 2004, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) revealed that a member state had violated its Safeguards Agreement by carrying out covert uranium conversion and enrichment activities and plutonium experiments for more than two decades. The nature of certain of those enrichment activities, moreover, raised legitimate suspicions of interest in a nuclear weapons program.

The state was found to have lied to the IAEA even when it began investigating these suspicious activities, claiming that its laser enrichment research did not involve any use of nuclear material.

If that sounds like a description of Iran’s troubled relationship with the IAEA up to 2004, that’s because it bears striking resemblance to it. In fact, however, it is a description of the deception of the IAEA by the government of South Korea.

There was just one major difference between the South Korean and Iranian cases: Iran never enriched uranium at a level that could only represent an interest in nuclear weapons, but South Korea did.

Yet the IAEA treated Iran as a state to be investigated indefinitely, after failing to give South Korea even a slap on the wrist.

Even more remarkable is the fact that the two cases were the subject of IAEA reports issued within the same week in November 2004.

Three months before the report on its nuclear activities was published, South Korea admitted doing everything in violation of its Safeguards Agreement that Iran was found to have done up to 2003.

In the early 1980s, South Korea had carried out uranium conversion in a facility that was kept secret from the IAEA. It had also secretly extracted plutonium from a hot cell, and had carried out at least 10 covert uranium enrichment experiments from 1993 through 2000 using undeclared natural uranium metal.

South Korea had used 3.5 kg of natural uranium metal for its unreported enrichment experiments; Iran had used 8.0 kg of natural uranium for the same kind of experiments.

But by far, the most important finding by the IAEA was that, during a series of covert experiments in uranium enrichment using atomic vapor laser isolate separation (AVLIS) in 2000, Korean scientists enriched the uranium to 77 percent. South Korea finally admitted that experiment in its August 2004 declaration to the IAEA.

"Not only did they have an undeclared uranium-enrichment program, but they were actually making something close to bomb-grade, so you have to conclude someone wanted to develop a capability to make nuclear weapons," said David Albright of the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security after the Korean violations were revealed.

Despite covert activities that could only be reasonably interpreted as evidence of an intention to develop nuclear weapons, however, Seoul was given what amounted to a free pass.

After its August 2004 confidential admission to its covert activities, South Korea mounted an aggressive diplomatic offensive, aimed at avoiding any legal consequences.

First, South Korean officials put pressure on IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei not even to disclose the enrichment in his report to the Governing Board. The South Koreans threatened to undermine ElBaradei’s reelection bid, according to a Nov. 25, 2004 Washington Post story.

ElBaradei was well aware that South Korea’s ally, the George W. Bush administration, was seeking to oust ElBaradei, because of his refusal to conform to U.S. policies toward Iraq and Iran.

Meanwhile, the Bush administration had made no secret of the fact it wanted the IAEA Board of Governors to call for Iran to be reported to the U.N. Security Council.

U.S. officials understood that the South Korean covert enrichment and other violations were, if anything, worse than those of Iran. At least some officials were prepared to support a resolution in the IAEA Governing Board to send Korea’s case to the Security Council in order to establish a precedent that could then be applied to Iran, according to the Post story.

But the British, French and Germans were negotiating with Iran on an agreement under which Tehran would maintain its suspension of uranium enrichment, and they were threatening to send the Iranian file to the Security Council if Iran did not agree.

Given those negotiations, ElBaradei felt no need to write a report that would be the basis of a resolution from the IAEA Board of Governors in late November 2004 to refer the South Korean case to the UN Security Council.

ElBaradei’s Nov. 11, 2004 report on South Korea confirmed that enrichment had gone as high as 77 percent but did not raise the obvious question of whether its covert nuclear activities had been military-related.

It recounted without comment the South Korean authorities’ explanation that both the plutonium and uranium enrichment experiments had been "performed without the knowledge or authorization of the Government."

Given the fact that South Korea had admitted that the covert uranium enrichment had been carried out by no less than 14 government scientists, an IAEA investigation was obviously in order. But the report gave no hint that there was any need to find out who had authorized it and why.

In effect, ElBaradei’s report on South Korea effectively eliminated the issue from the agency’s agenda.

Three days after the report, Iran reached agreement with the Europeans on a voluntary suspension of enrichment and more negotiations. Since there was no chance of getting the Iranian case referred to the UN Security Council, Secretary of State Colin Powell told the South Koreans at a meeting in Chile that the United States was now prepared to "accept Seoul’s explanation" for its covert enrichment to bomb-grade levels.

That clearly signaled that the United States had decided against a resolution to send the South Korean case to the Security Council after the European agreement with Iran.

The subject of South Korea’s violations of its Safeguards Agreement was never raised again at an IAEA meeting. In 2007, an IAEA Safeguards report said the agency was "able to clarify all issues relating to past undeclared activities."

It offered no explanation for the enrichment to bomb-grade levels and the obvious official falsehoods surrounding the activities, or for its own acquiescence in it.

In contrast to ElBaradei’s lack of curiosity about the obviously suspect official South Korean explanations for its bomb-grade enrichment, his report on Iran, issued four days later, concluded that it would "take longer than in normal circumstances" to "conclude that there are no undeclared nuclear materials or activities in Iran."

The report suggested the IAEA would continue to pursue what it called "open source reports relating to dual use equipment and materials" in Iran. That meant that any technology, not matter how innocent, would now be treated as evidence of an Iranian covert nuclear weapons program.

The double standard of treatment of the South Korean and Iranian cases implied that the United States had hard intelligence that Iran had exhibited an interest in nuclear weapons, whereas South Korea had not.

However, the closest thing to such evidence in U.S. possession was a set of documents of uncertain provenance and authenticity.

On the other hand, nuclear physicists working in the Korean nuclear program, who had been recruited by the CIA, had reported in the mid-1970s that South Korea was carrying out a clandestine nuclear weapons program.

The stark contrast between the treatment of the Iranian and South Korean cases by the IAEA Secretariat and its Board of Governors is the most dramatic evidence of a politically motivated nuclear double standard practiced by the agency and its Governing Board, dominated by the United States.