Thursday, August 20, 2009

Making Plutonium, Secretly & Openly

European diplomats have indicated that Iran is now willing to allow inspections of its sensitive Arak heavy water reactor. These rumors are reported by Press TV, still a step short of official Iranian confirmation. It would do no harm to laud Iran’s cooperation and suggest an Israeli or Pakistani quid pro quo. If true, this encourages Iran; if false, this pressures Iran. Seize the moment.

According to an ISIS summary,

Iran’s heavy water production plant was commissioned in August 2006. The location of this facility was first revealed publicly by the opposition group, NCRI, in August 2002. Iranian officials speaking at a March 5-6, 2005 conference in Tehran said that the first stage of the plant was operating. As of 2008, imagery of the heavy water production plant analyzed by the IAEA indicates that it is operating.

Under traditional safeguards, heavy water production facilities are not subject to IAEA safeguards or inspection. Under the IAEA Additional Protocol, however, they are subject to declarations and complementary access. Because Iran does not adhere to the Additional Protocol, the IAEA monitors the status of the facility via satellite imagery.

Beneath the Surface

We may wish the NNP had been written with more care, but if “traditional safeguards” do not cover heavy water production facilities, we cannot blame Iran for refusing to grant coverage for nothing. Rather than condemning Iran, when nuclear Israel offers no transparency at all, effort to determine Iran’s price should be made. Logically, mutual Iran-Israeli inspections would seem a reasonable price.

What kind of inspections would be significant?

The Press TV report refers only to the reactor (still under construction), not the heavy water production plant (working).

Israel, Pakistan, North Korea, India, the U.S., and Russia have, according to Wikipedia, all used heavy water reactors to produce plutonium

The visit reportedly occurred a week ago, but the IAEA is not talking. Why the secrecy? Is Ahmadinejad embarrassed?

Is there a standard procedure (yes, I am joking) for inspecting plutonium production facilities around the world? Well, whether a country joins the NPT or not, might this be a reasonable idea, with sanctions? There really is not much purpose in creating plutonium except to permanently poison some portion of the biosphere.

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