Medical Isotopes

A couple of days before the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will again report on Iran’s nuclear program, the French, U.S. American and Russian Ambassadors to the IAEA have informed its new Director General Yukiya Amano in a remarkable letter (since Russia is aboard), dated February 12, about the so far failed swap of most of Iran’s low enriched uranium (LEU) for getting urgently needed fuel rods for their research reactor in Tehran (TRR) which produces medical isotopes. The letter which had been posted on politico.com, describes the views of one party and claims that far-reaching guarantees were offered in particular by the United States. The letter does not take into account that domestic power struggles in Iran may have prevented the deal which has been worked-out by the former DG of the IAEA Mohamed ElBaradei. It does not consider deep distrust of the Iranians who were afraid that, once their LEU had been shipped out of the country, in particular the United States may use delayed delivery of up to 20% enriched uranium in fuel rods as leverage in order to force Iran to give up its enrichment program. It does mention that Ahmadinejad’s “February 7 announcement that Iran will enrich uranium up to 20%, and Iran’s subsequent formal notification to the IAEA, are wholly unjustified, contrary to UN Security Council resolutions, and represent a further step toward a capability to produce highly enriched uranium.”

“If Iran goes forward with this escalation, it would raise new concern about Iran’s nuclear intentions, in light of the fact that Iran cannot produce the needed nuclear fuel in time to ensure the uninterrupted production of medical isotopes by the Tehran Research Reactor.

“We recognize the need in Iran for medical radioisotopes. If Iran does not wish to accept the IAEA offer, we note that these are available on the world market and could be obtained as a responsible, timely and cost effective alternative to the IAEA’s proposal. Iran’s enrichment of its LEU stockpile to higher levels is not only unnecessary, but would serve to further undermine the confidence of the international community in Iran’s actions.”

Usually, in negotiations one should seek a result which both sides can regard a win. The Iranian Ambassador to the IAEA, Ali Akbar Soltanieh, had reportedly asked the agency in June 2009 for fuel rods for their TRR since the material bought in the 1990s from Argentina would run out in 2010. The counterproposal of a swap of most Iran’s so far in Natanz produced LEU had an interesting aspect for the Iranians: it would have more or less legitimized its enrichment program despite UN Security Council’s resolutions demanding Iran to immediately stop it. On the other hand, shipping most of Iran’s LEU out of the country would have largely diminished western concerns about the country’s ‘breakout capacity’, i.e., its ability to quickly produce the amount of highly enriched uranium necessary for a nuclear bomb. The here claimed “substantial political assurances that the agreement would be fulfilled”, provided by the U.S., may have been regarded not sufficient in Tehran, though. I am afraid the counterproposal of the western powers was fishy from the beginning. It has never been honest. Former UN weapons inspector in Iraq Scott Ritter writes on truthdig.com:

“While Iranian negotiators spoke of a potential swap formula that could unfold over the course of several months, the U.S. spoke of a swap timetable stretching out several years, making such a swap useless for the purpose it was ostensibly being instituted for—the Iranian nuclear research reactor and the manufacture of medical isotopes.”

Iran has no experience in producing fuel rods for the TRR. Own attempts to enrich LEU up to 20% for that purpose may therefore be useless. It might in fact be regarded an act of defiance. When the three Ambassadors now suggest that Iran shuts down the TRR and buys medical radioisotopes on the world market, the swap deal seems definitely to be dead.

Last update February 17, 2010

This entry was posted in France, Geneva talks, HEU, IAEA, Iran, LEU, Natanz enrichment plant, NPT, Russia, USA and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Medical Isotopes

  1. Pingback: Finally, a Swap Deal « Freelance

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