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Will Iran Give Up Twenty Percent Enrichment?

by Ivanka Barzashka

In response to sanctions, Iran’s parliament adopted the Nuclear Achievement Protection Bill on July 18. Among other things, the law requires the government to continue 20 percent enrichment and provide fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor (TRR). Although this aspect of the legislation has largely fallen below the news radar, it raises important questions about the future of nuclear talks, which Iran has postponed until September as “punishment” of the West.

Iran says it is enriching to higher concentrations to manufacture its own fuel for the TRR, but a stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium will reduce by more than half Iran’s time to a bomb (when compared to its current stockpile of 3.5 percent LEU). Now Iran’s higher-level enrichment may have become the connection between sanctions and a fuel deal that will hinder any engagement options. However, there is still time to explore resolutions to the impasse.

Ivan Oelrich and I have co-authored an FAS issue brief that traces the history of Iranian higher-level enrichment efforts in an effort to understand Tehran’s nuclear intentions. We were driven by the question: Will Iran, at this stage, give up twenty percent enrichment? Three distinct periods were analyzed: (1) from the beginning of 20 percent enrichment to the Tehran Declaration, (2) from the Tehran Declaration to the passing of UN sanctions, and (3) after sanctions. Continue Reading →

NPT RevCon ends with a consensus Final Document

by Alicia Godsberg

The NPT Review Conference ended last Friday with the adoption by consensus of a Final Document that includes both a review of commitments and a forward looking action plan for nuclear disarmament, non-proliferation and the promotion of the peaceful uses of nuclear energy.  In the early part of last week it was unclear if consensus would be reached, as states entered last-minute negotiations over contentious issues.  While the consensus document represents a real achievement and is a relief after the failure of the last Review Conference in 2005 to produce a similar document, much of the language in the action plan has been watered down from previous versions and documents, leaving the world to wait until the next review in 2015 to see how far these initial steps will take the global community toward fulfilling the Treaty’s goals. Continue Reading →

Iran Beat Us to It.

Ivan Oelrich and Ivanka Barzashka

Back in October, when Iran put in a request to the IAEA for a new load of fuel for its medical isotope reactor in Tehran, the United States proposed that Iran ship out an equivalent amount of its low enriched uranium (LEU) in exchange. It turns out, purely coincidentally, that the amount of LEU equivalent to about 20-years worth of fuel for the reactor was almost exactly the amount that Iran would need as feedstock to produce  a bomb’s worth of material.  No one seems to question Iran’s right to purchase fuel, but the purpose of the swap was two-fold:  to get the bomb’s worth of LEU out of Iran, which would have left Iran with less than a bomb’s worth of LEU feedstock, and to provide a seed for improved cooperation and trust. Continue Reading →

FAS side events at the RevCon

by Alicia Godsberg

Yesterday FAS premiered our documentary Paths To Zero at the NPT RevCon.  The screening was a great success and there was a very engaging conversation afterward between the audience and Ivan Oelrich, who was there to promote the film.  As a result of some suggestions, we are hoping to translate the narration to different languages so the film can be used as an educational tool around the world.  You can see Paths To Zero by following this link – we will also be putting up the individual chapters soon.

This morning I spoke at a side event at the NPT RevCon entitled “Law Versus Doctrine: Assessing US and Russian Nuclear Postures.”  I was asked to give FAS’s perspective on the New START, NPR, and new Russian military doctrine.  Several people asked me for my remarks, so I’m posting them below the jump.   Continue Reading →

Speaking at the NPT-Review Conference

The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference is Underway in New York


By Hans M. Kristensen

I gave two talks at the review conference of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, both on non-strategic nuclear weapons.

The first was an FAS/BASIC panel on May 10 on Prospects for a shift in NATO’s nuclear posture.

The second was a panel organized by Pax Christi on May 12 on NATO’s nuclear policy.

My prepared remarks follow below:

Continue Reading →

2010 RevCon begins

by Alicia Godsberg

Today marked the opening of the 8th Review Conference to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons at the United Nations.  The general debate began today and will continue through Thursday, with an NGO presentation to the delegates this Friday to end the week.  Today’s plenary provided a few revelations from the U.S. and Indonesia that could impact the rest of the RevCon and the nuclear  nonproliferation and disarmament regime in general… Continue Reading →

Documentary “Paths to Zero” Premiering at the NPT RevCon

by: Alicia Godsberg

On Tuesday May 11 FAS will be premiering our documentary, “Paths to Zero,” at the United Nations during the 2010 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT RevCon).  The screening will be part of FAS’s official UN Office of Disarmament Affairs side event for the RevCon, which will be held from 10 am – 12 pm in Conference Room A of the North Building.  To attend, you must be registered for the RevCon, but after the Conference FAS will be screening Paths to Zero in Washington, DC and we will be uploading the video to our website.

The world’s combined stockpile of nuclear weapons remains at a high and frightening level – over 24,000 – despite being two decades past the end of the Cold War. In the documentary film Paths to Zero, Federation of American Scientists Vice President Dr. Ivan Oelrich explains the history of how the nuclear-armed world got to this point, and how we can begin to move down a global path to zero nuclear weapons.


Twenty Percent Solution: Breaking the Iranian Stalemate


by Ivanka Barzashka and Ivan Oelrich

Iran and the rest of the world are stalemated. Obama’s deadline for Tehran to address concerns about its nuclear program passed at the end of 2009, so the White House is moving to harsher sanctions. But the US is having trouble rallying the needed international support because Iranian intentions remain ambiguous. The deadlock includes negotiations on fueling Iran’s medical isotope reactor. With no progress on that front, Iran has begun its own production of 20-percent uranium for reactor fuel, a worrying development that could put Iran closer to a nuclear weapon. Yet, even while talk of sanctions escalates, Tehran says it is still interested in buying the 20 percent reactor fuel from foreign suppliers.

The Tehran Research Reactor (TRR) deal has backfired. The offer, to trade a large part of Iran’s low enriched uranium (LEU) for finished TRR fuel elements, was meant to abate the potential Iranian nuclear threat by reducing Iran’s stockpile of enriched nuclear material. By artificially coupling two distinct problems, re-fueling the TRR and Iran’s enrichment program, the US, France and Russia have given Tehran a reason, even a humanitarian one, to enrich to higher concentrations. The move to 20 percent enrichment will reduce by more than half the time needed for Iran to get a bomb’s worth of material. Continue Reading →

The Revelation of Fordow+10: What Does It Mean?

by Ivanka Barzashka

According to a recent article by the New York Times, Western intelligence agencies and international inspectors now “suspect that Tehran is preparing to build more [enrichment] sites”. This revelation, according to the newspaper, comes at a “crucial moment in the White House’s attempts to impose tough new sanctions against Iran.”

However, these “suspicions” come months after Iran publicly disclosed such intentions. Tehran declared  plans to build 10 additional sites on 29 November 2009, a couple of days after an IAEA Board of Governors resolution called on Tehran to confirm that it had “not taken a decision to construct, or authorize construction of, any other nuclear facility” and suspend enrichment in accordance with UN Security Council resolutions.

At the time, the Iran’s decision to construct more enrichment sites was widely dismissed in the West as an act of defiance and unlikely more than mere bravado. On 30 November 2009 the New York Times wrote that “it [was] doubtful Iran could execute that plan for years, maybe decades”. The same article referred to a high-ranking Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) official claiming that taking the declaration seriously was “akin to believing in the tooth fairy” and that this effort would likely produce “‘one small plant somewhere that they’re not going to tell us about’ and be military in nature.”

In fact, a week before Iran’s original announcement, Ivan Oelrich and I argued in an article at the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists that Fordow is likely one of many similar sites. A technical analysis of the facility’s planned capacity showed that, alone, it was not well-suited for either a commercial or a military function. The facility’s low capacity also undermined other strategic roles suggested by official and quasi-official Iranian sources – that Fordow is a contingency plant in case Natanz were attacked or that Fordow was even meant to deter an attack on Natanz. Continue Reading →

Judging the Mood at the IAEA

by Ivanka Barzashka and Ivan Oelrich

The latest IAEA report on Iran has been widely touted as containing new evidence of Iranian weapons work and as a sign of the Agency’s new hard-line attitude toward the Islamic Republic under its new Director General Yukiya Amano. We believe the document has been seriously misrepresented in the media and elsewhere, which could have dangerous consequences.  We made this argument in a recent op-ed in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

We should all bother to do a little reading and get our facts straight. If there was a case for new crippling sanctions or for bombing Iran before, the report adds nothing new.    The February report contains no new evidence of Iranian weapons work that was not already in the public domain. There is no independent IAEA assessment that Iran currently has or has ever had a nuclear weapons program. This is also hardly the first time that the Agency has addressed outstanding questions pertaining to the possible military dimension of Iran’s nuclear program and has asked for Iran to respond.

Very limited space in our brief Bulletin op-ed did not allow us to address the issue of Amano’s allegedly new tougher tone. The February document, being Amano’s first, has been subject to an exegesis to discern potential attitudes from the director and has been described by Western media as blunt and even confrontational. Inside Iran, the issue of tone has been viewed by some as a “direct result of a change in leadership, and not the outcome of an unbiased evaluation.” Continue Reading →