The push for a comprehensive agreement on Iran’s nuclear program resumes next week when negotiators from the Islamic republic will meet the EU3+3 (the UK, France and Germany plus the US, Russia and China) in Vienna. Under the interim joint plan of action agreed last November, their aim is to finalize a deal within the next six months.
It has been a long road. Iran’s enthusiastic interest in the peaceful use of nuclear research dates back to 1967, when the US supplied Iran with the Tehran research reactor (TRR), mainly used for medical purposes, under President Dwight Eisenhower’s Atoms for Peace program.
So in fact Iran actually began to utilize this highly sophisticated technology for peaceful purposes 47 years ago. The fuel for the reactor was uranium enriched to 93 percent. It was supplied by the US. Furthermore, following the recommendations of the Stanford Research Institute, Iran was encouraged in the 1970s to begin its own nuclear program with the aim of setting up nuclear reactors generating up to 20,000 megawatts of electricity.
In the aftermath of Iran’s Islamic revolution in 1979, the US and European countries changed their tune and repeatedly refused Iran’s attempts to procure replacement fuel for the Tehran research reactor. Iran’s efforts to pursue the nuclear plans recommended by the Stanford institute were also blocked. Iran’s humble and lawful requests as a member of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT) to acquire the fuel were refused illegally time and again.
Finally, in 1987, Iran and Argentina concluded a deal to convert the Tehran reactor core to use nearly 20 enriched uranium, instead of the original 93 percent. The deal was accepted by Iran. But after further objections were raised by the big powers, young Iranian scientists decided their only alternative was to rely on their own capabilities and make Iran technologically self-sufficient.
In a panel discussion at the Munich security conference this month, Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister and chief nuclear negotiator, recalled those gloomy days of the west’s snobbish approach and its systematic denial of Iran’s rights.
Referring to Iran’s pre-1979 $1.18bn investment in a European nuclear fuel joint venture, Zarif said: “We own, fully paid for, 10 percent of [France’s] Eurodif since 1975 and have not been able to get a gram of enriched uranium from it.” And, referring to the US government’s obstructionism, he added: “We have an American-built research reactor in Tehran and since 1991 we’ve had to go around begging for the fuel for that reactor. We are not a country that begs. We will never do that.”
Zarif clearly said that Iran had been offered no other choice but to rely on its own capabilities to recover its inalienable rights and meet its justified needs.
So, to set the record straight, this long tale simply began by Iranians requesting the fuel for their research reactor that produces nuclear isotopes for 850,000 Iranian patients annually, without initially even thinking of producing it domestically. The repeated refusal to supply Iran with the required fuel eventually resulted in Iran acquiring fully indigenous capabilities to produce 20 percent enriched uranium for the research reactor, which is now operating under the supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors.
Similarly, Iran’s Arak heavy-water reactor project, south-west of Tehran, has also faced much criticism and suffered many exaggerations and innuendos about plutonium production. For Iranians the Arak reactor is a truly significant achievement. But whether anyone believes it or not, it is a by-product of the west’s policy of depriving a nation of access to modern technology for completely peaceful and legitimate use.
Arak was born out of the restrictions imposed on Iran by the west. Iran has designed, manufactured and will complete it indigenously.
To shed more light on this issue, the Arak reactor is a 40-megawatt research reactor. It is now too late to change it into a light-water prototype, as some have suggested in the west. This “generous” offer should have been made much earlier. Iran has made a large investment in the Arak reactor.
However, to ease the west’s uneasiness, the Arak reactor will eventually replace the nearly half a century-old TRR, the sole supplier of radioisotopes for Iran.
In an interview with Press TV, Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, hinted: ” Here, we can make some change in the design in order to produce less plutonium in this [Arak] reactor, and in this way allay the worries [of the west].”
To sum up Iran’s position: there are definitely solutions for all the questions regarding Iran’s nuclear program if there is the political will to address them. An almost concluded deal between EU3 and Iran collapsed in 2005 after last-minute US opposition. A decade later, if the will exists, this tale may find a happy ending for all.