The Journal Editorial Report | March 18, 2005 | PBS
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briefing and opinion
March 18, 2005

Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz meets U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in Jerusalem, February 7, 2005. After the meeting, Mofaz said he agreed with Rice that diplomacy is the preferred tool, for now, for trying to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. (AP Photo/Dan Balilty, Pool)
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice meets Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz in Jerusalem, February 7, 2005. After the meeting, Mofaz said he agreed with Rice that diplomacy is the preferred tool, for now, for trying to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. (AP Photo/Dan Balilty, Pool)



1. Overview
2. Inalienable Right?
3. Iran's Latest Offer
4. Worldwide Implications
5. The Restrictions
6. Photo Essay
Q: What would be the possible implications of restraining Iran's enrichment and reprocessing activities on other countries interested in or already pursuing such activities themselves?

A:It depends on what the aim is in trying to restrain Iran's program. If the U.S., the EU-3, and the IAEA simply want to get to yes with Iranian officials, try to bribe them, or settle for one of the limited concessions officials there have offered, the implications of such dealing will be to encourage all of Iran's neighbors and other would-be bomb makers to become nuclear ready and insist that they have a legal "right" to do so as well. Over time, this would mean the end of any effective nuclear nonproliferation restraints.

If, on the other hand, the U.S., the EU-3 and the IAEA use Iran's example to promote a sounder view of what is permitted under the NPT's rubric of "peaceful" nuclear energy, the impact on other countries pursuing enrichment or reprocessing and for promoting nonproliferation could be quite profound. First, it would mean that the IAEA and possibly the UN would have to seek to penalize Iran for pursuing nuclear activities that are not peaceful. To do this effectively, they would have to devise a country-neutral rule that would apply to all nations interested in or already engaged in nuclear bulk handling activities.

In specific, it would require promoting two criteria that nations would be expected to meet to engage in such potentially dangerous activities. The first, would be to establish that the activity was absolutely necessary and economically beneficial. Reprocessing and the use of separated plutonium to make reactor fuel is neither: It is far cheaper to make fresh fuel from uranium. This would mean that for the time being no nation should build any additional capacity to reprocess or to make reactor fuels out of plutonium. Japan, who is planning to open a new plant this December to expand its ability to reprocess would be hit hardest in any such rule making. Enriching uranium, in contrast, is necessary to make fuel for light water power reactors. Expanding the world's existing capacity to enrich uranium, though, is not: By even the most conservative estimates, the world's existing capacity to enrich uranium will exceed demand for the at least the next 10 to 15 years. Brazil, Iran, Russia, China, Canada, Japan, France, and the U.S., who are all thinking about expanding their existing capacity to enrich uranium or building new enrichment plants, could all potentially be affected if a rule restraining these activities was devised.

The second criteria would be to restrict these activities as much as possible to as few places as possible until and unless ways are discovered to safeguard them effectively. Coming up with such a monitoring system is not likely to be perfected anytime soon.