Iran Fuel Negotiations: Moving Muddled Goalposts

Moving Goalposts

by Ivanka Barzashka and Ivan Oelrich

A year ago, France, Russia and the U.S.—called the Vienna Group—proposed a deal in which Iran would ship out some of its worrying low-enriched uranium (LEU) in exchange for fuel for its medical isotope reactor, called the Tehran Research Reactor (TRR). These narrow technical discussions about the TRR were meant to serve as a confidence-building effort. The negotiations fell apart because of differences about timing of the exchange of material, but they may be about to restart. A year later, the facts on the ground have changed. These new circumstances may call for new negotiating terms, but changes have to make some sense. Calculations show that numbers recently floated by the State Department seem ad hoc and arbitrary and will not have the touted threat-reduction benefits.

On October 27, The New York Times reported that a senior U.S. official believed that the Vienna Group were “very close to having an agreement” on how the original fuel swap offer, made in October 2009, should be changed. One of the new terms would be an increase in the amount of LEU provided from 1,200 kg to 2,000 kg. The State Department explained a day later that “the proposal would have to be updated reflecting ongoing enrichment activity by Iran over the ensuing year.” Iran’s larger LEU stockpile changes Washington’s threat-reduction calculus, which ultimately undermines the confidence-building aspect of the deal.

Another new circumstance is Iran’s production of 20 percent enriched uranium, ostensibly to produce TRR fuel domestically.  This is a worrying development because, compared to LEU, a stockpile of 20 percent material would cut by half Iran’s time to a bomb.

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Nonsense about New START and ICBMs

Because of what appears to have been a computer glitch, a group of nuclear-armed intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) was temporarily off-line last week and not ready to launch on a moment’s notice. According to an article in The Atlantic, some Republicans have suggested that this means that New START, the nuclear arms control treaty awaiting Senate ratification, is unwise and should be rejected. This assertion is nonsense but is a useful illustration of how much of current nuclear “thinking” is just a holdover from now irrelevant Cold War doctrine. Continue reading

Ridding the World of Rinderpest

Cattle dead from rinderpest circa 1900. (Credit: Texas A&M University)

Humanity’s 5,000 year struggle with the cattle disease rinderpest is over according to the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization.  In 1994, the FAO launched an aggressive program to eradicate this dangerous disease through vaccinations and monitoring, and the last known case was detected in 2001.  Ten years later, in 2011, FAO will officially mark the end of disease.  However, the debate over the strategy to prevent a recurrence and how best to safely store the virus for study is just beginning. Continue reading

FAS High Performance Building Guide Featured on the Building America website

 FAS’ High Performance Building Guide for Habitat for Humanity affiliates is now published on the Building America (BA) website. To check out the Guide for yourself,  see the “Latest Additions” sidebar on the publications page or find the Guide on the BA website here or the FAS website here.

Want to know more about the High Performance Building Guide?  Read a summary of the Guide and what it offers affordable housing builders in our earlier Earth Systems blog.

The Building America Program is an industry-driven research program, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy, designed to accelerate the development and adoption of advanced building energy technologies in new and existing homes.

The publications and products of the Building America Program are developed and written by Building America Builders Challenge teams, which consist of building scientists and engineers, builders and developers, and high performance housing advocates from private corporations and companies, national laboratories, the Department of Energy, and non-profit organizations.