Monthly Archives: October 2014

Investigate Koodankoolam Irregularities: Eminent Indian Citizens Urge

Dianuke | Oct. 24, 2014

With its declared commercial operation always 15 days away, the Koodankulam Nuclear Power Plant’s Unit 1 has become an object of ridicule. Earlier this month, Unit 1’s turbine sustained severe damage as some component came loose and broke the turbine blades. This episode brings into question the quality of the components and construction of the plant, and the rigour of the quality verification exercise carried out by the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board. The signatories have also called upon the government to not go ahead with Units 3 and 4 respecting the local sentiment against the projects.

Nineteen people, including former chief of Navy Admiral L. Ramdas, former Union power secretary E.A.S. Sarma, social activists Aruna Roy and Medha Patkar, and a number of scientists and concerned citizens, have issued a statement urging the Prime Minister’s Office to commission an enquiry into the irregularities at Koodankulam Units 1 and 2, including an interrogation into how such a shoddy plant managed to secure safety, environmental and quality clearances. Such a move, they said, will inspire confidence in the minds of public regarding the intentions of the Government.

For more information, contact: Nityanand Jayaraman 9444082401 (Chennai Solidarity Group for Koodankulam Struggle)


We, the undersigned, are deeply disturbed at newspaper reports about the serious damage sustained by Koodankulam Unit 1’s turbine even before the plant has begun commercial operation. We are also concerned at the total lack of accountability of the Department of Atomic Energy, NPCIL and AERB with respect to the Koodankulam project, and are worried about the safety ramifications of persisting with the commissioning of Unit 1 without a thorough and independent review of the plant, its components and the processes of setting it up. We are also shocked to see that unmindful of the problems plaguing Units 1 and 2, and the issues arising from lack of transparency in the nuclear establishment, NPCIL and the Government of India are moving ahead with work on Units 3 and 4.

It is now confirmed that Unit 1’s turbine is severely damaged and would require replacement. One Tamil newspaper reports that the turbine may be manufactured in India, and that this may entail a delay of two months. This is yet another instance of prevarication. Replacing a turbine at a nuclear power plant will take a lot longer than two months. As usual, no official clarification has been forthcoming from Nuclear Power Corporation India Ltd or its regulator, the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board. If the reports about the damaged turbine are true, then it is cause for serious concern. The delay in commissioning is the least of the problems; the damaged turbine spotlights far more fundamental issues that impinge on the long-term viability and safety of the reactor. It vindicates allegations by observers and civil society about the compromised quality control and assurance system in India, and raises troubling and as yet unanswered questions about the substandard quality of equipment purchased from Russia.

The manner in which Koodankulam Units 1 and 2 have been constructed represent everything that is wrong with the Indian nuclear establishment. Equipment for the nuclear reactor and related infrastructure arrived way before they were erected, and had to spend years exposed to corrosive sea-air. Instrumentation and other cables that had to be laid before the construction of the containment dome arrived well after the dome was completed. To “manage” this, Indian engineers demolished portions of the containment dome to insert several kilometres of cabling. This is not only unprecedented in nuclear history, but also extremely worrisome for two reasons – first, it compromises the integrity of the containment dome; second, it highlights the casual and unplanned manner in which an extremely delicate and highly risky facility such as a nuclear reactor is actually being costructed.

Many components and critical equipment were manufactured by corruption-tainted companies that had reportedly used substandard raw material. Where countries like China and Bulgaria, which also received such substandard components, held Russian manufacturers to account and forced them to replace or repair such components, Indian authorities continue to deny that any such problem exists. To make matters worse, the entire exercise is shrouded in unnecessary secrecy with NPCIL and the AERB either remaining mum or communicating with partial truths or outright lies.

For these problems to happen at a nuclear reactor that has been at the focus of massive public attention makes us shudder to think what is being passed off in other less visible nuclear projects. While Indian reactors have had an average lead time of 5 months between attaining criticality and commencing commercial production, Koodankulam’s Unit 1 will take more than two years to meet this milestone if ever it does.
We urge the Prime Minister’s office to commission an enquiry into the irregularities at Koodankulam Units 1 and 2, including an interrogation into how such a shoddy plant managed to secure safety, environmental and quality clearances. Such a move will inspire confidence in the minds of public regarding the intentions of the Government.

Admiral (Retd) L. Ramdas, former Chief of Staff, Indian Navy, Raigad, Maharashtra

Lalita Ramdas, environment and women’s rights activist, Raigad, Maharashtra

E.A.S. Sarma, I.A.S. (Retd), former Union Secretary of Power, Vishakapatnam

M. G. Devasahayam, I.A.S. (Retd), Chennai

Medha Patkar, National Alliance of People’s Movements

Aruna Roy, Social Activist, MKSS

Nikhil Dey, Social Activist, MKSS

Dr. Suvrat Raju, Scientist, Bengaluru

Dr. M.V. Ramana, Scientist, Princeton, USA

Dr. K. Babu Rao, Scientist (Retd), Hyderabad

Dr. T. Swaminathan, Professor (Retd), IIT-Madras

Dr. Atul Chokshi, Professor, Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru

Praful Bidwai, Columnist, New Delhi

Arati Chokshi, Social Activist, Bengaluru

Achin Vanaik, Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and Peace, New Delhi

G. Sundarrajan, Poovulagin Nanbargal, Chennai

Dr. S.P. Udayakumar, PMANE, Nagercoil

Nityanand Jayaraman, writer and social activist, Chennai

Gabriele Dietrich, NAPM, Madurai

India or US?

India or US? Whose interests will the Chief Economic Advisor Subramanian serve?

First Post – Economy | Oct 21, 2014 | G Pramod Kumar



Arvind Subramanian. Image: Flickr/kris krüg

“US business faces three major challenges in India. Two challenges common to all foreign business are: first, the weak and uncertain regulatory and tax environment that affects the civil nuclear industry, infrastructure, pharmaceuticals, and more broadly the operations of foreign multinationals in India. Second, although the broad macroeconomic picture is one of opening and surging trade and investment, protectionism in selected sectors has re-surfaced. India is seeking increasing recourse to localization—in banking, telecommunications, retail, and solar panels among others—which favors domestic providers of inputs and equipment over foreign providers. Thus, broad trade and macroeconomic policies toward foreigners are moving in the right direction but sectoral policies have experienced setbacks.”

Who could have said this?

A trade specialist working for the US interests? An advisor to some US trade body or an advisor to the US government? Or an overseas critic of prime minister Narendra Modi’s plans to localise manufacturing?

The answer is none of the above, but the current Chief Economic Advisor (CEA) Arvind Subramanian.

This is not a random statement that he could have made long ago, but has been taken from his testimony before the “Ways and Means Committee of the United States Congress”, which was hearing on “US-India trade relations.” in March 2013.

As a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics and Center for Global Development, he was obviously advising the US on how to do business with India. The tone and tenor is that of an American trade specialist who is quite keen on protecting his country’s interests.

Some of the points that he mentions in the paragraph above as India’s weaknesses from the US point of view are in fact its strengths which protect its people’s interests – the regulatory and tax environment of the nuclear industry and pharmaceuticals and the operations of foreign MNCs. Additionally, he refers to “protectionism” and “recourse to localisation” which favour domestic providers over foreign providers as challenges to the US.

His voice on pharmaceuticals resembles that of the pharma MNCs and the US trade bodies that constantly find fault with India’s pharma policies which are compliant with its domestic laws and conditions (pricing and patents) and WTO (TRIPS flexibilities). In the recent past, particularly ahead of prime minister Modi’s visit to the US, there had been an onslaught on India’s intellectual property regime as it relates to the pharma industry. Attempts had been made to portray India as a renegade. By calling the regulatory and tax environment related to pharmaceuticals, “weak and uncertain”, Arvind Subramanian had indeed refused to side with the interests of Indians. There have been reports that the prices of drugs have been increasing after the government
recently removed the price controlling powers of the National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority (NPPA). Possibly under pressure, so far it has refused to intervene.

Now read what Rod Hunter, senior vice-president, Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, wrote in an article in the Hindustan Times, : “One of the obstacles to investment in knowledge-intensive industries in India is intellectual property (IP) rights. India has been hostile to IP protection, especially for biopharmaceuticals. In recent years, India has invalidated or otherwise attacked patents on a significant portion of innovative drugs available in India in order to make way for local champions.”

In the same congressional testimony, Arvind Subramanian goes on to add:

“American firms are increasingly facing implicit but substantial discrimination in India’s large and growing market because of India signing (or on the verge of signing) free trade and economic partnership agreements with its largest trading partners that are all major competitors to the US: Europe, Japan, Singapore, ASEAN, and possibly ASEAN-plus 6. Soon, if not already, this discrimination may be the bigger challenge for US business than some recent sectoral measures. These RTAs are neither as comprehensive in their coverage across and within sectors as the FTAs negotiated by the United States, nor as expeditious in the time frame for implementation. But they provide more favorable access to non-American suppliers and because India’s tariffs and barriers can be high, the discrimination can be substantial. Combined with the fact of India’s large and growing market, US suppliers can really be disadvantaged.”

Here again, he picks on India’s trade ties with countries other than the US and focusses on the FTAs with the US. FTAs, particularly with the US and the EU, are viewed with a lot of suspicion by development economists and activists in India and elsewhere because they are inherently harmful to the larger interests of people. The latest trade and development report (2014) of the UNCTAD said that the FTAs affect the policy space of developing countries. The large-scale protest in Thailand against the FTA with the US a few years ago is a case in point.

The most telling in the present CEA’s advice to the US in his previous avatar is the following:

“The US should adopt the following multi-pronged strategy for solving trade conflicts and maximizing the underlying potential. First, the US should address frictions especially where Indian policies are demonstrably protectionist (as in the case of many local content requirement policies) through multilateral (WTO) dispute settlement procedures. The US should not be reticent in this regard.”

Now the question is whose interests will the CEA serve? India’s or that of the US? The fault is not with him, but with India. He is one of the many professional faces of transnational capital that’s highly mobile. IMF and World Bank pedigree doesn’t necessarily serve the interests of the majority of Indians who are desperately poor. It’s time we applied the “make in India” principle to our home grown experts too.

Atomic Reporters Curbs “Egregious” Coverage of Nuclear Perils

Scientific American | John Horgan | October 13, 2014

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

Yes, the Cold War ended long ago, but we still live in a nuclear-armed world, in which the possibility of nuclear war, terrorism and accidents is all too real. That is why my school, Stevens Institute of Technology, hosted a “Workshop on Nuclear Education” last year, organized by Edward Friedman and Julie Pullen of Stevens and by Charles Ferguson, president of the Federation of American Scientists, which disseminates information on the risks of nuclear weapons and other threats. After I posted a column on the workshop (“We Must Start Thinking Again about the Unthinkable“) and Q&A with Ferguson (“Leader of Venerable Scientific Watchdog Group Renews Focus on ‘Nuclear Dangers‘”), Ferguson suggested I interview Peter Rickwood, founder of Atomic Reporters. According to its website, Atomic Reporters “acts as an information broker improving journalistic understanding and coverage of nuclear issues,” including “nuclear weapons, the safety of nuclear power, nuclear security, and concern about the soaring use of ionizing radiation in medicine.” Several of my students are writing papers on nuclear issues this semester, and I’m going to urge them to check out the site, which I have found enlightening. Rickwood responds to my questions below:



Recent U.S. “modernization” of nuclear arsenal “will probably mean that nuclear weapons will be with us for another 100 years,” says Peter Rickwood of Atomic Reporters, “and trigger a response by Russia and China to build-up their weapons programs.”

Horgan: What is your background? How and why did you end up founding Atomic Reporters?

Rickwood: I’m a journalist, and I was working as a press officer in the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the Vienna, Austria, based organization, in 2003 when the never-ending Iraq train wreck first went off the tracks. The failure of the press at the time is history. It was largely due to sloppy reporting, groupthink, but in the case of the nuclear file it was business as usual.

On October 6 I opened the Washington Post, and a regular contributor to its op-ed page, writing about Iran’s nuclear program, commits two errors in one sentence, declaring Parchin a “key enrichment site,” to which “the West” has had no access. Wrong. The military site has been visited by IAEA inspectors – they want to go again – and there’s never been the whiff of suspicion that it harbours enrichment facilities.

This is the clay from which Atomic Reporters has emerged. Missteps in nuclear reporting are not uncommon – journalists stumbled at first after the March 2011 Fukushima disaster. And sometimes major stories, such as the nuclear black market – potentially a greater threat than any single state’s nuclear ambitions – are neglected, with few notable exceptions. Mea culpa, I’ve committed my own sins as a reporter stumbling through the nuclear thicket.

But it’s a hell of a good subject for a journalist, and the public deserves to be better informed about a life and death issue.  At the very least it should be reported accurately. This is Atomic Reporters’ purpose – to be a reliable, independent, non-partisan resource for journalists, brokering information and providing access to tools and resources.

By nuclear, we mean the science itself and the various technologies it supports–power, medicine, agriculture and industrial applications–as well as the nuclear weapons file.

Much of the terrain is far from friendly – protected by the pickets of classified information and redaction. State security rules here and secrecy is its friend. Nuclear is also a convenient tool to politicize for various ends and there is scant attention given to fact-checking claims. Reporters approaching the subject need to do so with caution and suspicion.  Nuclear power, a spin off from weapons development, has not completely shed its past. But all the issues associated with nuclear–safety, security, the risks of proliferation–are too important for the public not to be informed about and to be neglected by journalists.

I learned from writing about the environment on The Toronto Star in the seventies and eighties – I cut my teeth on Love Canal – that it requires strong evidence-based technical information to counter the resistance of powerful interests.

Atomic Reporters’ first steps have been to work with journalists from the Middle East, holding workshops in Jordan and the first of two events in June in Vienna attended by participants from Iran, Israel, Syria, Egypt, and eight other countries in the region.

We are also trying to confront generational issues: there are younger reporters writing for whom the Cold War, Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, are names in books. And there is very little transfer of institutional memory in journalism; new skills need to be developed. Another key target group are journalists working in so-called newcomer states to nuclear power who have a vital role in informing the public and acting as watchdogs.

Horgan: What are the worst mistakes the media make when reporting on nuclear issues?

Rickwood: Coming to the story ill-prepared – accepting information offered on a plate and not ensuring a broad variety of independent sources to verify what’s being provided. Unfortunately, there’s a conservative side to news gathering, a tendency to rely on a small community of experts whose focus may be limited, or who may be serving an agenda.  Find as many sources as possible. There are many independent, reliable experts and institutions available to help reporters. Atomic Reporters is erecting signposts pointing to them.

Horgan: Does Atomic Reporters ever take a stance on issues?

Rickwood: Yes, we’ll blow the whistle when we spot egregious and inaccurate reporting. We will draw attention to errors made and information that is clearly not evidence based –  and careless or sloppy reporting. We will also defend the rights of journalists to have access to information in the public interest. The crucial issue of the fate of nuclear arms will not compete with images of grumpy cats but we will encourage more coverage of the subject.

Horgan: Most of my students are unconcerned about nuclear weapons and know little or nothing about them. Why should they care?

Rickwood: Best estimates (states do not post the size of their arsenals on Facebook) is that the hangover of the Cold War is a collection of 16,000 nuclear warheads, most of them in the USA and the Russian Federation, some 1,800 on high alert. Do they pose a greater danger than the security that mutually assured destruction (MAD) claims to offer? Cold War warriors led by US Secretaries of State Kissinger and Schultz have opined that they do. But untying the Gordian Knot has become even more challenging since relations worsened between the two major weapons holders, the US and Russia. The history of nuclear disarmament records that public involvement has driven major achievements. Time for your students to get worried unless they are happy sitting on unexploded Cold War nuclear munitions.

Horgan: What do you say to greens who insist that nuclear-energy proliferation will enable nuclear-weapons proliferation?

Rickwood: Atomic Reporters is agnostic about nuclear power. There is no question that nuclear proliferation is a potential risk from domestic nuclear power. The front end and back end of the fuel cycle are its vulnerabilities.  Most of the countries – except for the P-5 official nuclear weapons states – with nuclear power have not built atom bombs.

Horgan: Is the U.S. right that Iran’s nuclear program is a cover for a weapons program?

Rickwood: Atomic Reporters defers to the IAEA, which has an extensive verification process ongoing in Iran and whose extensive safeguards reports, issued roughly every quarter, are an open source for assessing and understanding Iran’s nuclear activities. Most of the claims about a weapons program are based on intelligence data provided the IAEA by some of its member states, which cannot be independently verified by IAEA inspectors. To date the IAEA has found no nuclear material diverted from Iran’s civil program and no nuclear weapon activities involving nuclear material. Now it would appear that the most effective way forward is best left to a successful outcome to the EU3+3 and Iran negotiations.

Horgan: Do you see any hope for a resolution of the impasse between the U.S. and Iran over the latter’s nuclear program?

Rickwood: In December 2003 I organized a media opportunity to witness Iran’s then head of mission to the IAEA Ali Akhbar Salehi and DG Mohamed ElBaradei  sign an Additional Protocol to its Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) providing access to important areas previously off limits to IAEA inspectors. The point is breakthroughs are possible although the 2003 deal soon fell apart.

Horgan: Does the International Atomic Energy Agency have any power to achieve such a resolution?

Rickwood: The IAEA has a legal obligation to verify Iran’s nuclear activities under the mandate of Iran’s  Safeguards Agreement. It has been providing regular reports since 2003 and the IAEA has concluded that there is no evidence of diversion of nuclear material from peaceful activities to nuclear weapons. But as yet it cannot provide a conclusion that there are no undeclared nuclear materials or activities in Iran, as it is no longer implementing its Additional Protocol.

Horgan: Are Russia, China and/or any other major powers upgrading their arsenals? What about North Korea?

Rickwood: This a response from our experts: Overall, there is broad upgrade of nuclear weapons and their related systems in US, Russian, China, India, Pakistan, North Korea and Israel (not sure about the validity of claims about the last two).

Horgan: What effect will U.S. decision to rebuild its nuclear arsenal have on non-proliferation efforts?

Rickwood: It will probably mean that nuclear weapons will be with us for another 100 years – and trigger a response by Russia and China to build-up their weapons programs. It does underline the fact nuclear weapons are a clear and present danger and journalists should try to get on top of the issue.

Tehran Workshop Offers Insight Into Nuclear Talks

Lobe Log | October 13th, 2014 | Eldar Mamedov



With only a little over a month to go before the deadline for a comprehensive deal on Iran’s nuclear program, a group of European, Gulf and Iranian academics and policymakers gathered Oct. 6-7 in Tehran to discuss the future of EU-Iran relations. The workshop, which was formally addressed by Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, was organized by a trio of think tanks: the European Council on Foreign Relations, the European-Iranian Research Group, and the Iranian Foreign Ministry’s Institute for Political and International Studies.

The nuclear issue loomed large during the discussions that were held under Chatham House rules. While both sides acknowledged that a comprehensive agreement would unlock the full potential of EU-Iran relations, including improved economic ties and mutually beneficial cooperation in the fight against extremist groups like the Islamic State, their assessments of the EU’s role in the talks varied.

According to the Iranian perspective, Europeans have more at stake in the negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program than the Americans due to their historical and geographical proximity to Iran, their need to meet security challenges in the Middle East, and their desire to uphold a peaceful, rule-bound international order. Hence the Iranian hope that Europe could soften the American position on critical issues in the talks such as the future scope of the Iranian nuclear program and the removal of sanctions.

In particular, Tehran seeks an understanding with Europe on the “breakout”  issue, which it understands as the American concern over Iran’s capacity to produce enough highly enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon in a relatively short period of time. Yet the Iranian side claimed during the workshop that Iran’s conventional military superiority does not require nuclear weapons to boost its security. To the contrary, even the perception from neighboring countries that Iran might acquire nuclear weapons would trigger a regional nuclear arms race that would be to the detriment of everyone, including Iran. This would, in turn, weaken Iran’s strategic positioning. The Iranian side added that if the real issue is Western distrust of Iranian intentions, then this sticking point could be resolved through non-proliferation mechanisms, such as inspections.

The European participants agreed that an “imperfect deal”—letting some extra thousand centrifuges spin while subjecting Iran to an intrusive inspections regime—would be an acceptable price to pay for an agreement resulting in a new era of positive relations with Iran and alleviating some of the miseries afflicting the Middle East. But they were very skeptical about the political will in the continent to put pressure on Washington in what would inevitably be seen as a favor to Iran. This is because Iran’s “breakout” capacity is also a concern in Europe, and because Europeans see intrinsic value in strengthening the trans-atlantic bond, especially at a time when Europe needs American reassurances against a resurgent Russia. However, as one European participant said, Europe is a “reluctant US ally on Iran sanctions.” If talks fail due to perceived American—rather than Iranian—intransigence, there will be “growing unease” in Europe over sanctions, especially since many European companies are eager to exploit the potential of the Iranian market. Indeed, if the US Congress accordingly imposed new sanctions, the EU would be unlikely to follow suit, except in the event of major new breaches by Iran of its Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) obligations.

The failure to reach a deal is something that the Iranians clearly want to avoid, but not at any price. If the government sees the terms of the agreement as humiliating and politically unsellable to the Iranian public, it would prefer no deal at all. The Iranians are preparing for this contingency, including a renewed sanctions regime. The nuclear program would in the case of failed talks proceed anyway; the Iranians have pointed out that it is not possible to destroy their knowledge and technical capabilities. In this scenario, Iran would likely build new centrifuges to enrich uranium and sell oil at discounted prices to Russia, China, and Japan while waiting for the sanctions regime to go bust.

The message was thus very clear: this Iranian government is ready for a deal, but not desperate. The implication is that the Rouhani government is making the best possible offer Iran can make today, and if that offer is not accepted, a conservative backlash would ensue. Indeed, the hard-line opponents of Hassan Rouhani’s administration would feel their deep distrust of the West vindicated and the efforts of the president’s reformist-centrist coalition to normalize Iran’s relations with the West and set the country on a liberalizing trajectory would be undermined.

The European participants were of the opinion that even if a comprehensive agreement is not finalized, there might be a more limited deal. In any case, a return to the status quo that endured before the Joint Plan of Action was reached in Geneva last year is unlikely. All sides have invested too much political capital and energy into achieving a deal to stand by and watch as the entire diplomatic process is derailed. Striking a deal with Iran would also be a badly needed foreign policy success for the American president. Besides, the ongoing failure of the US-led coalition to significantly harm the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq might provide an additional incentive to reach out to Iran.

Iran Talks: A Painful Choice Looms

Lobe Log | October 7th, 2014 | by Peter Jenkins

The absence of any late September breakthrough on the central issue in the nuclear negotiation with Iran—Iran’s mastery of uranium enrichment, a technology that can be used for both civil and military purposes—has triggered speculation that the November 24 deadline for a comprehensive agreement will be missed. It has also sparked renewed debate on whether no deal would be better than the best deal likely to be on offer…

The nub of the enrichment problem appears to be Iran’s reluctance to give up the potential to produce enough highly enriched uranium (HEU) for one nuclear weapon (a “significant quantity” or SQ) in a matter of weeks (perhaps four to six). This puts Iran greatly at odds with the US and EU (and possibly Russia and China, but that is unclear), since the US and EU want Iran to be unable to produce an SQ (to “breakout”) in less than six months and would prefer at least a year.

This wide gap on enrichment and the lack of any reason to think that Iran’s negotiators will budge on this point are feeding speculation that agreement by the deadline will be unattainable.The underlying assumption is that the US and EU will not budge either.

I have accepted a poisoned chalice from the editors of Lobelog and will try with the following points to explain why tolerating the Iranian operation of nine or ten thousand—let’s say 10,000—first generation centrifuges (IR-1s) would be the lesser of two evils—the greater evil being no deal—provided it paves the way to a satisfactory settlement of all the other points on the agenda.

1) In the long run the US and EU will have to rely for a non-proliferation assurance, where Iran’s nuclear program is concerned, on the deterrence provided by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) monitoring of compliance with Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) obligations, and on Iranian fear that the consequences of non-compliance could be devastating. Perpetual restrictions on centrifuge numbers would imply a perpetual double standard for which there is no basis in international law—and would therefore be totally unacceptable to Iran.

The US and EU tell themselves that relying solely on deterrence will feel more comfortable in ten or twenty years time, because during the intervening years Iran will have been able to build confidence in the peaceful nature of its intentions. In doing so, they tend to overlook that since 2003 the IAEA has not reported any Iranian failure to declare the possession of nuclear material and has not detected any undeclared nuclear activities. Nor has Iran attempted to produce HEU during the last four years, when it could easily have done so.

These years could be seen as evidence of Iran’s intention to comply with its nuclear non-proliferation obligations, and as grounds for confidence that it will not seek to breakout in the coming ten years…

The US and EU may also be overlooking that, if ten years from now Iran has had the potential to breakout in under six weeks but has not attempted to do so, then that will be a stronger reason for confidence in its peaceful intentions than if rapid breakout had not been a possibility.

2) A sense of perspective can be obtained by reflecting that several NPT Non-Nuclear-Weapon States (NNWS) have been and are in a position to breakout rapidly and that this is not generally considered cause for concern. Why not? Because it is assumed that they have no intention of acquiring nuclear weapons. Nearly 30 years after Iran, also an NPT party, was first in contact with the A.Q. Khan nuclear supply network, to obtain enrichment technology, there is still no conclusive evidence that Iran intends to acquire nuclear weapons. Indeed, the US intelligence assessment is that no such decision has been taken.

3) The risk of Iran using the 10,000 centrifuges that it wants to retain to breakout is small. IAEA monitoring, and the impossibility of predicting the consequences of detection are deterrents. If Iran wanted one SQ of HEU, it would be better advised to try to build a small unmonitored enrichment facility to house more efficient second- or third-generation centrifuges.

(In that case, some might ask, why are the Iranians so determined to retain a capacity to produce one SQ in a matter of weeks at a monitored facility? In my view, the explanation must be that they want a quasi-deterrent. Being known to be able to breakout rapidly is not much of a deterrent but it is better than nothing—and it has the merit of not entailing any violation of the NPT.)

4) The US and EU reason that a reaction time of at least six months is needed in the event of a detected breakout, to allow the UN Security Council or a coalition of the like-minded to go through the gears before stopping Iran short of one SQ by destroying its means of production. Going through the gears means first persuasion and then coercion (sanctions). But it is highly unlikely that in breakout circumstances even good friends could persuade Iran to turn back; and there is now ample evidence that the greatest effect of sanctions is to stimulate Iranian defiance.

So in reality the US and EU, faced with evidence of an ongoing breakout, would have only one option: to destroy the 10,000 centrifuges as quickly as possible (unless, when it came to the crunch, the consequences of such action seemed likely to be worse than tolerating Iranian acquisition of HEU). To render the 10,000 centrifuges at Natanz inoperable would be an easy task for the US Air Force, and could be accomplished in well under a month.



5) Assuming that other outstanding issues can be resolved satisfactorily, a comprehensive agreement on Nov. 24 offers a much fairer prospect than no agreement. A final agreement that includes the following provisions will generate a helpful reduction in tensions on at least one Middle Eastern front: frequent IAEA access to Iranian centrifuge workshops and assembly areas, and to Iranian fuel cycle facilities; changes to the design of the 40 MW reactor at Arak; and all the enrichment-related restrictions Iran offered in November 2013 and that Iran could hardly retract under a comprehensive agreement.

However imperfect, in Western eyes, such an agreement might seem if Iran continues to operate 10,000 IR-1s, it would be a better platform for developing the West’s relations with Iran in positive ways than no agreement. If Iran were given sufficient time, were offered EU as well as Russian civil nuclear cooperation, and were invited to join the Nuclear Suppliers Group, it might decide to adapt its nuclear program in reassuring ways. An agreement would ease political inhibitions to cooperation when Western and Iranian security interests coincide.

Conversely, no agreement could lead quickly to renewed expansion of Iran’s enrichment capacities, a reduction in IAEA access to the minimum required by the NPT, abandonment of the plan to modify the Arak reactor, and who knows what else on a broader canvas.

Those who have been advocating “no deal” seem to assume that a nice alternative would be on offer: continuation of the confidence-building measures that have been in place since January under last November’s Joint Plan of Action. But there is no guarantee that this would be the case.

To date, Iran’s gains in return for those measures have been modest (US and EU sanctions relief having been paltry and, in some cases, ineffective); they would not lose a lot by walking away from the Joint Plan. US and EU negotiators could also find it hard to detain them—their negotiating hand is weaker than “no deal” advocates imagine. If it were strong, this problem would have been resolved to Western satisfaction years ago.

Of course it would be wise of Iran to bear in mind that it will be very hard for the Obama administration to persuade Congress of the merits of a deal that does not make it impossible for Iran to breakout in under six months (irritating though it is for foreigners to be told by US negotiators that Congress will or will not tolerate this or that). It is a regrettable reality that this breakout issue has become totemic. The Iranian negotiators ought to be trying to identify room for compromise on some aspect of it. If they could find some way of excluding the option of using Iran’s stock of low enriched uranium as centrifuge feed material in a breakout, this would extend potential breakout estimates by several months. However, it would also make a quasi-deterrent less impressive. That may put this option on the wrong side of an Iranian “red line.”

Better Deal?

I can see that US and EU negotiators face a very difficult choice. They are not to be envied. All their instincts drive them in the direction of depriving Iran of an option (uranium enrichment) that other NPT parties enjoy. So often since 1979 the Islamic Republic has behaved in ways that have alarmed the West, or offended our moral sensibilities, that it is hard for us to leave Iran in possession of the capacity to make a nuclear weapon.

But, as Senator Dianne Feinstein reminded her colleagues in January, the nature of a nation can change over time. The Islamic Republic has sometimes shown scant regard for international law, not least breaching its IAEA obligations over more than a decade prior to 2003, but it does not follow that they are bent on using their enrichment capability to acquire nuclear weapons. There are plenty of reasons why it would be foolish for them to do so. And, frankly, it is not obvious that the US and EU will have a better option on Nov. 24 than to cut a deal on the basis of Iran continuing to operate 10,000 centrifuges.

IAEA Suggests Progress Limited At Iran Nuclear Talks

Eurasia Review | October 9, 2014 | RFE RL

Iranian officials said on October 9 that they’ve had “constructive” talks with UN nuclear experts aimed at resolving outstanding questions about Tehran’s disputed nuclear program.

But a statement from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) suggests only limited progress was made at the Tehran talks on October 7 and 8.

The IAEA is trying to clarify two points about Iran’s nuclear program. It says negotiations will continue, but did not announce a date.

Iran’s ambassador to the IAEA, Reza Najafi, said the negotiations were “constructive in terms of content” and “were also direct.”

Iran failed to meet an August 25 deadline to provide the IAEA with information meant to ease concerns that it is trying to develop nuclear weapons.

Tehran says its nuclear program is only for peaceful purposes.

Six world powers have set a November 24 deadline for a permanent nuclear deal with Iran.