One of my favorite readers is a high school science teacher from Kansas who blogs at Lone Pony. She recently sent me an email asking for my opinion on some recent articles about Iran. We thought it would be worth sharing the exchange publicly, so here goes.
One of my concerns is the ignorance of people (myself included) in the difference in the material used in nuclear reactors and nuclear weapons.
These articles caught my attention today:
Am I correct in assuming one of the reasons this might not be acceptable to Iran is because they know the uranium they will receive would be only slightly enriched? Also, that it is not capable of sustaining the chain reaction necessary for a nuclear weapon?
Just in case the articles referenced disappear from the web and the links are broken by the time you read this, the topic for both articles is a failure in recent negotiations between Iran and Russia for Russia to provide enriched uranium fuel for reactors to Iran in exchange for Iran giving up its indigenous enrichment program.
Though Iran has some troubling characteristics and its leadership is not what Americans would choose, it is a sovereign nation with a long and distinguished history. Its government is even democratically elected, even if the political system is quite different from ours.
Iran’s leaders are correct in asserting that the country did not give up its rights to independently develop nuclear technologies for peaceful use when they signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. In fact, that treaty specifically protects and encourages the rights of signatories to develop atomic power for non weapons applications.
The politicians that assert that only low enriched fuel is useful for power are ignorant about the technology. Higher enrichments make smaller reactors possible and directly reduces the quantity of highly radioactive left over materials. Both of these characteristics make enriched fuel particularly appropriate for developing nations or countries that do not already have an established nuclear power industry based on reactors producing 100s of Megawatts.
The idea of America trying to force a sovereign, democratic country to depend on Russia for supplies of a useful commercial product is hard to digest for an unrepenting Cold Warrior like me. If you look back in archive issues of Atomic Insights Blog, you will find a number of entries talking about Russia’s very recent use of fuel supplies to influence the politics in their former client states.
I would hate to see a major regional power like Iran forced into a position where their decisions could be strongly influenced by a country that has never given up its desire to be a major power with significant interests in limiting freedom and democracy.
Something tells me that there will be some additional questions to follow. Please join in if you have some of your own.