US Senators Graham and Menendez propose new approach to contain Tehran’s nuclear ambitions

Iran would stop enriching uranium and a regional fuel bank would supply it with fissile materials

US Sense. Bob Menendez, DN.J., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee; and Lindsey Graham, RS.C., a senior member of the Senate Budget Committee, introduced a bipartisan resolution calling for an alternative approach to Iran, aimed at avoiding a destabilizing arms race in the Middle East.

The proposal includes an international fuel bank to supply the Islamic Republic’s nuclear power plants, which would supply Iran and other countries in the region with low-enriched uranium “if they renounce enrichment and uranium reprocessing”.

Kevin Bishop, Graham’s spokesperson, told The Media Line that the proposal had already been sent to the committee.

This could prevent a massive arms race in the Middle East, the senator explained at a press conference attended by The Media Line in Jerusalem on Monday. Graham suggested that if Iran acquires nuclear weapons, Sunni Arab countries will quickly seek to do the same.

“The creation of a regional fuel bank supported by the resolution would enable the commercial development of nuclear energy throughout the region while eliminating the need for dangerous and destabilizing national nuclear programs,” according to a media statement outlining the proposal. .

A commitment by Iran to the project would in turn lead to a commitment by the United States to lift “certain ‘primary’ sanctions, if appropriate.” Further U.S. sanctions should remain in place until Iran verifiably ceases its other malign activities, including its support of terrorism, human rights abuses, hostage-taking, and activities destabilizing forces in the region,” the statement said.

The Iranians enriching uranium, given that they have a nuclear power plant, does not seem economically justified, and so you have to look at other reasons why they are considering doing it.

Chris Gadomski, head of nuclear research for New York-based Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF), told The Media Line that Iran’s enrichment intentions were “uneconomic”.

“It’s much cheaper for them to buy uranium from the Russians, since they [the Iranians] only have one nuclear plant,” he said.

However, the Islamic Republic has its own ambitions.

Matthew L. Wald, an energy consultant and writer who was formerly a policy analyst and communications adviser at the Nuclear Energy Institute trade association and a New York Times reporter, explained that the precise form of fuel needed differs from a reactor to the other.

“So to make fuel from the material in the [proposed] deposit, the cylinders containing the UF6 would have to be shipped to a manufacturer,” he said.

UF6, or uranium hexafluoride, is a volatile white solid used in the enrichment of uranium, which produces fuel for nuclear reactors and nuclear weapons.

Wald explained that there are several commercial fuel manufacturers in Europe, the United States and Russia. The Russians are currently manufacturing fuel for Iran’s Bushehr nuclear power plant.

He added, however, that Iran reportedly told the Russians in December that it wanted to make its own fuel.

Gadomski said Tehran has good relations with Moscow and the Bushehr reactor is of Russian design, so there should be no problem for Iran to use Russian uranium. “You need a critical mass of nuclear power plants before it makes economic sense to go ahead and build enrichment facilities,” he added.

Even countries like South Korea, which operates 24 nuclear power plants, don’t have an enrichment facility, Gadomski said.

Wald says building an enrichment complex or a fuel fabrication plant for a single reactor, or even a small number of reactors, would be unusual. “It would be like owning a single car factory and building a steel mill to supply just that factory,” he said.

Gadomski says it’s time to examine why Iran is enriching its own uranium. “The Iranians enriching uranium, given that they have a nuclear plant, doesn’t seem economically justified, and so you have to look at other reasons why they are considering doing it.”

“I wonder why the Iranians focus on enrichment. It does not appear to be solidly for peaceful purposes,” he added.

Li-Chen Sim, a nonresident researcher at the American Institute of the Middle East, told The Media Line that, in any case, the proposed fuel bank only addresses the uranium enrichment part of the fuel cycle. nuclear fuel.

“It doesn’t deal with fuel fabrication, the process of making fuel rods for reactors. Thus, Iran could still be incentivized to have its own processing, enrichment and manufacturing facility,” she said.

“The question is also that of Iran’s prestige and national pride. So simply reducing the problem to nuclear fuel does not address its multifaceted nature,” Sim said.

However, Gadomski said that if a well-stocked international fuel bank was created, “it should be a positive step in persuading Iran that it does not need to enrich uranium.”

Bishop said the proposed facility would either be a “regional fuel bank or an existing fuel bank outside the Middle East”.

Several fuel banks already exist outside the United States, including in Kazakhstan, Russia, and the United Kingdom, justifying yet another, although, like the one in Kazakhstan, it is administered by the International Atomic Energy (IAEA), is unclear, says Sim.

Wald said the senators’ proposal includes the idea that a current IAEA standby facility could simply be expanded. “It probably wouldn’t take very long,” he said. “The IAEA maintains a stockpile in Kazakhstan,” he added.

The objective of our proposal is to ensure that these Middle Eastern states, including Iran, have access to fuel to power their commercial reactors.

Gadomski explained that uranium is currently relatively cheap, around $43 a pound; at one point it was $140 a pound. And the installation in Kazakhstan, for example, is already operational. All that is needed, he added, “is additional funds to produce low-enriched uranium.”

Iran says it enriches uranium because it has been prevented in the past from buying the fuel it needs to power its nuclear facilities, Gadomski said. “Establishing the facility in Kazakhstan should eliminate that concern. It solves the problem by providing Iran with the ability to acquire enriched uranium without having to do it itself,” he said. added.

Regarding the participation of Sunni Arab countries in the proposed fuel bank, Sim said it would depend on where it is located and who controls it.

Bishop said Graham believed Sunni Arab countries would participate.

Graham said in a statement that the fuel bank “would allow Iran and other countries in the Middle East to purchase low-enriched uranium (LEU) from a regional fuel bank or provide of LEU from an existing fuel bank outside the Middle East”.

He continued: “The purpose of our proposal is to ensure that these Middle Eastern states, including Iran, have access to fuel to power their commercial reactors.”

“There is no reason to enrich uranium [yourself] if your goal is to have peaceful nuclear energy. I believe this proposal will be welcomed by our allies in the region and should be welcomed by Iran if peaceful nuclear energy is truly what they desire,” Graham said.

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