Are you feeling confused about things you’re hearing on the pros and cons of the deal to limit Iran’s nuclear program? Wish someone who knew the details would answer your questions?
Last Friday, two highly qualified scientists did just that, answering questions submitted by the public during a Reddit “Ask Me Anything” (AMA) session.
The scientists are two physicists who are experts in nuclear issues and have both served in government. They are:
- Rush Holt, who is trained as an astrophysicist and was director of Princeton’s Plasma Physics Lab before running for Congress and serving as a Representative from New Jersey from 1999-2015. He is currently the head of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). He has worked on international security and nuclear proliferation issues for many years, both in and out of government. He’s also a five-time Jeopardy champion who beat IBM’s supercomputer Watson.
- Frank von Hippel, who is a physicist and professor at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton, where he helped found the Program on Science and Global Security. He has worked for more than 40 years on nuclear arms control, nonproliferation, and energy issues and is the founding co-chair of the International Panel on Fissile Materials (IPFM). He served as assistant director for national security in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy from 1993-4. He also won a MacArthur “Genius” award.
They were two of the authors of a recent open letter to President Obama supporting the nuclear deal with Iran.
You can read the questions and their answers from the AMA here. As usual with an AMA, there were far too many questions and comments (741 at the time of writing) for them to respond to all of them. But they were able to respond to a number of those that readers voted as the top questions.
Here are a couple excerpts from Rush Holt’s comments about the agreement:
“The reasons to like the agreement are 1) provisions of the agreement are more stringent and provide more transparency than existing agreements under the Non-Proliferation Treaty, and so, the provisions should over the next decade be made part of all agreements, 2) it provides much greater assurance than the world has had in any previous proliferation situation and much greater assurance than existed with Iran up to the time of agreement that there is not a weapons program underway, and 3) without this agreement we would be sitting at a distance watching Iran sitting weeks away from having what is needed to build a nuclear weapon.”
“For the declared nuclear facilities, which are what the International Atomic Energy Agency normally spends its time on, there will be continuous, round-the-clock monitoring, with on-demand inspections in Iran. For undeclared, but suspected nuclear sites, this agreement goes well beyond anything ever negotiated before. Only in an occupied, non-sovereign nation could another nation demand to walk in anywhere, anytime. Nevertheless, Iran has agreed to allow inspections after a procedure of claims and counterclaims that would be completed in sufficient time to be assured that significant weapons material production is not taking place.”
“Those who think the agreement is a failure seem to think that no agreement with Iran can be reliable; they simply do not trust the Iran government. I point out that the agreement is not about trust—if there were complete trust, we would not be talking about an agreement—it is about the assurances we gain through verification techniques that Iran will be farther from building a nuclear weapon that they were before the agreement.”
Frank von Hippel noted that one of the problems underlying the situation with Iran is a more general weakness in the current nonproliferation regime and how the global community deals with the proliferation risks of nuclear power programs:
“The agreement focuses on blocking Iran from making enough highly enriched uranium or plutonium to make a bomb. The main problem is that the agreement is of limited duration. The limits on Iran’s enrichment and reprocessing expire after 15 years. But that was inevitable. If Iran complies with all of its obligations under the deal, eventually it should be restored to its full rights under the Nonproliferation Treaty and those rights currently include enrichment and reprocessing for peaceful purposes.”
“Japan is already in a situation because of its plutonium recycle program where it could quickly make 1000 bombs. This is therefore a more general problem with the nonproliferation regime that we should fix over the next 10 to 15 years. The obvious proposal that has been on the table since 1946 is to ban national ownership of enrichment plants. I would also ban reprocessing (plutonium separation) plants since, unlike enrichment plants, they have no economic justification.”
“The crisis over Iran’s program is just one in a long series of crises including India’s and Japan’s plutonium programs (India went for a bomb, Japan didn’t) Brazil’s enrichment program (Brazil turned its back on its weapons program after a civilian government returned to power), South Korea’s interest in plutonium separation and enrichment (so far we’ve talked them out of it), etc. We have to fix the root weakness in the nonproliferation regime.”
Members of Congress return to Washington DC after Labor Day and will vote on whether to support the deal by September 17. If your senator or representative is still on the fence, please contact him or her and urge them to support the deal. The Congressional switchboard (202-224-3121) can connect you to any office, or you can look up direct numbers using the Senate phone list or House phone list.