As Iran and the six world powers approach the sensitive phases of their negotiations for striking a final deal on Tehran’s nuclear program, political scientists and nuclear experts present new proposals on how a future comprehensive agreement between the Islamic Republic and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany may look like.
There are different viewpoints regarding the possible solutions that can put an end to the decade-long conflict over Iran’s nuclear program. Solutions have been put forth which ensure that Iran will have the sufficient resources for developing a civilian, commercial nuclear program while demonstrating to the international community that it does not intend to pursue a nuclear weapons program.
Prof. Hecker is an American nuclear scientist and metallurgist, who has served as the Director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory from 1986 till 1997. He is a professor in the Department of Management Science and Engineering in the School of Engineering, and a Senior Fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at the Stanford University. Hecker has been awarded the American Nuclear Society’s Seaborg Medal. In 2009, he was a co-recipient of the Enrico Fermi Award, whose winners are selected by the U.S. Department of Energy each year.
Prof. Siegfried Hecker took part in an exclusive interview with Tehran Times last week and provided his viewpoints on the details of a lasting, peaceful resolution of the nuclear controversy. Following is the text of the interview.
Q: In one of your articles in New York Times, you suggested that Iran can benefit from the cooperation of other countries in the construction of nuclear reactors. You cited the examples of South Korea’s building of a nuclear power plant in Jordan and the Argentine-built reactor that has been operating in Australia for six years. In this light, how would it be possible for Iran to enjoy the collaboration of other countries to meet its demands in terms of the construction of nuclear power plants?
A: The point I made is that it is not possible to have a successful commercial or civilian nuclear program without international cooperation. Iran has begun such cooperation for nuclear electricity with Russia. If Iran can convince the rest of the world that its nuclear program is truly civilian through its actions, rather than proclamations, then there will be opportunities for much greater international cooperation
Q: You’ve argued that Iran doesn’t possess sufficient uranium reserves like Japan, and its uranium enrichment program is not cost-effective. However, you know that Iran’s nuclear program was first launched in 1950s as part of the U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower’s Atoms for Peace program. At that time, the United States thought that it’s beneficial to help Iran with its nuclear energy program, because Iran was an ally, but now, Iran is a foe, and does not need nuclear power anymore. Is it really like that?
A: The principal issues have not changed from the 1970s. Iran still does not have sufficient uranium ore for a large nuclear electricity program. It is still not economically beneficial to pursue domestic uranium enrichment – that service is readily and inexpensively available on the international market from a variety of suppliers.
The United States believed it to be beneficial to aid Iran’s nuclear program in the 1950s and insisted that the Shah keep it peaceful. If the Islamic Republic of Iran is truly committed to only a peaceful nuclear program, then I think it is also in the interest of the United States not to oppose such a program. Whether or not the United States would actively support such a program depends on many other aspects of the Tehran – Washington relationship.
Q: Do you think that the economic sanctions imposed against the Iranian people in the recent years over the country’s nuclear program were fair and justifiable? They have cut the ordinary citizens’ access to vital medicine, made it difficult for the people to prepare food supplies for their families and damaged the domestic industries a great deal. What’s your take on that?
A: I am a nuclear specialist and not a specialist on sanctions. However, I have great empathy for the economic plight of the Iranian people. How much of that has resulted from the mismanagement of Iran’s economy in the previous regime and how much is due to sanctions, I am not able to assess.
Q: One of the issues the Iranian officials have regularly complained and talked about in their debates is that Israel, a non-signatory to the NPT, has the freedom to possess more than 300 nuclear warheads, and there’s never been any investigation of its nuclear facilities, in continued violation of the UN Security Council Resolution 487. How do you respond to this paradox?
A: Israel is not a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Iran is and therefore carries additional responsibilities to demonstrate that it has not used its access to civilian nuclear assistance in pursuit of nuclear weapons.
Q: The Geneva interim accord on Iran’s nuclear program was a temporary win-win solution that partially satisfied both Iran and the West. Iran was relieved from some of the sanctions and West was assured that Iran would not further develop its nuclear capabilities. What does a final, comprehensive solution look like? How can it meet the demands of both Iran and the P5+1?
A: I have written in two articles indicating that a solution must allow for Iran to have access to commercial and civilian nuclear technologies. However, for the sake of its people, it should move away from the mistaken notion that such access has to include uranium enrichment and a heavy-water reactor. These are simply not necessary for an economically viable nuclear program. So, the challenge will be how to structure the comprehensive solution to allow for nuclear power, but phase out enrichment and choose a different technical option for a reactor to make medical isotopes.
Q: You’ve acknowledged in your writings that Iranians consider the country’s nuclear program a source of pride and national glory, and suggested that in order for them to preserve this honor, Iran can follow the model that South Korea adopted for some 30 years to develop its indigenous nuclear program. How can Iran adopt South Korea’s model? What are its most important characteristics and features?
A: Commercial nuclear power requires international cooperation. South Korea worked very closely with the United States and with Japan. It spent a couple of decades learning how to master the key technologies while these countries were helping it put nuclear electricity on the grid. During that time, South Korea developed into one of the best, if not the best, nuclear reactor manufacturers and fuel fabricators in the world. The key move that South Korea made early on was to stay away from enriching uranium domestically and reprocessing its used reactor fuel, which could provide it with plutonium for a nuclear weapons effort. In other words, South Korea took the most profitable path to nuclear electricity and stayed far away from taking the nuclear bomb option.
The United States strongly pushed South Korea in that direction by not permitting enrichment and reprocessing in its nuclear cooperation agreement. Now, 40 years after the original agreement was signed, Seoul wants some relaxation of these stringent restrictions for commercial reasons. These issues are currently being negotiated. In my opinion, South Korea will not move in a direction of developing a nuclear weapon option because it simply has too much to lose commercially. That is the place I would like to see Tehran. In other words, it decides that a nuclear program that benefits its people does not include a nuclear weapons option.