In this fourth segment of the series
on nuclear safety, we hear from analysts and nuclear experts on the question of
whether Bushehr is a factor in proliferation.
The world community has increasingly
voiced concern about Iran's nuclear ambitions. The Bushehr nuclear power plant,
to some, is another means by which Tehran can justify nuclear related
activities such as uranium processing.
A number of nations believe Iran is
covertly developing nuclear weaponry.
But Tehran insists that its nuclear program is a legitimate pursuit of
peaceful nuclear power generation. Iran
points to its nuclear power plant, which will start producing
electricity later this year.
The United States is one of the
countries voicing concerns about Iran's nuclear intentions. But history shows
that Washington actually provided the genesis for Teheran's program. At the
Ploughshares Fund, nuclear proliferation analyst Joseph Cirincione told us, "People
forget that it was the United States that sold Iran their first nuclear
reactor, a research reactor still in use at the University of Tehran." Cirincione
continued, "And, the Shah of Iran had plans, similar to those of the Iranian
government today, to build 20 nuclear power reactors in Iran. These plans were
approved by the United States."
Iran's justification for nuclear power
is based on the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Tehran is a signatory to
that agreement, which is explained by Nuclear Threat Initiative analyst Corey
Hinderstein. "The nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, or NPT, is a treaty of
almost all the states in the world, with the exception of India, Pakistan,
Israel, and North Korea. Those states
that did not have nuclear weapons commit to never acquiring nuclear
weapons," she explains. "The NPT provides the right for all states to have the peaceful
benefits of nuclear energy. And, that includes nuclear power, [and] the use of
radioisotopes for medical, or agricultural, or industrial purposes."
Yet another provision of the NPT is
that signatory states are allowed to enrich uranium, a key component in nuclear
weaponry. Iran has justified enrichment
as a way to make nuclear fuel, and recently has opened a facility in the city
of Isfahan to do that. Iran already processes uranium at another facility in
the city of Natanz.
One person who questions Iran's
intentions is Center for Strategic and International Studies senior analyst
Anthony Cordesman. "In reality, we do not know where Iran is headed," he
says. "It clearly has rejected every bit of international pressure to halt its
ability to develop a sophisticated enrichment program which could be used to
produce nuclear weapons materials."
A spotty track record
Iran gets strong scrutiny because of
its history of not following the requirements of the International Atomic
Energy Agency, which watches over NPT compliance.
Corey Hinderstein lists some of the
had built centrifuges and enriched uranium in secret without declaring.
has produced plutonium in a research reactor without declaring.
was committed to announcing the plans to construct any fuel cycle facilities,
which it did not do. So there were real violations of that safeguards
International nuclear experts say
regulators are not as concerned about proliferation from Bushehr, which was
completed by the Russian civilian nuclear agency ATOMENERGOPROM. At the U.S. Brookhaven National Laboratory,
senior scientist Upendra Rohatgi explains why. "The deal, or agreement,
between Iran and Russia is that they [the Russians] will supply the fuel, and
they will take back the spent fuel. This way, it prevents any diversion of
nuclear material for proliferation purposes," says Rohatgi.
Iran's nuclear enrichment facilities
at Natanz and Isfahan, and the heavy water reactor being built at Arak, are
what most proliferation analysts worry about.