What Iran Really Wants

President Bush will soon ask Congress to "not veto" a U.S.-Russia "civil" nuclear deal – "not veto" because Russia is a "have-nuke" signatory to the Treaty on Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. Hence, the U.S.-Russia deal – unlike the U.S.-India deal – will not require modification of the Atomic Energy Act or repeal of other laws.

Nevertheless, the U.S.-Russia NPT-friendly deal – unlike the U.S.-India NPT-busting deal – could face significant opposition in Congress.


For the same reason many members of Congress had a cow when North Korea unsuccessfully test-fired a missile the Koreans claim is intended for launching satellites – but is capable of reaching Hawaii, according to the Cheney Cabal. Those same lawmakers didn’t even seem to notice when India, a few days later, also unsuccessfully test-fired two missiles, one of which the Indians claimed was intended for launching satellites – but is capable of reaching Beijing, according to the Cheney Cabal.

The Washington Post suggests that Bush concluded the civil deal – which the worldwide nuclear power industry wanted – in return for some kind of promise by Putin to "pressure" the Iranians into giving up "any aspirations for nuclear weapons."

Now, if that’s all Bush got in return for virtually insuring the success of Russia’s plutonium-uranium mixed-oxide [MOX] fuel cycle, he’s been had. Because, as everyone knows, the Iranians have sworn on a stack of Quran’s that Islamic law prohibits their having "any aspirations for nuclear weapons" to give up.

But back to MOX.

The avowed purpose of the U.S.-IAEA-Russia Trilateral Initiative – launched by Russian Minatom Minister Mikhailov, IAEA Director-General Blix and Secretary of Energy Hazel O’Leary in 1996 – was "to fulfill the commitments" made by Presidents Clinton and Yeltsin concerning IAEA verification of the disposition of weapon-origin fissile materials and to "complement their commitments regarding the transparency and irreversibility of nuclear arms reductions."

Under the Trilateral Initiative, we and the Russians were each – under IAEA supervision – to dispose of 34 metric tons of plutonium, obtained from the dismantlement of thousands of nukes.

In a separate agreement, Clinton agreed to help Russia financially and technically dispose of their 34 metric tons of plutonium as plutonium-uranium mixed-oxide nuclear power plant fuel.

Now, in the operation of a plain-vanilla nuclear power plant, the reactor is loaded with uranium with the U-235 "enriched" to about 5 percent and the U-238 reduced to about 95 percent. After a fuel-element has been in the reactor about five years, it is replaced. About a third of the U-235 is unburned, but in addition there has been "bred" from the U-238 an almost equal amount of "burnable" plutonium. Hence, as fuel, the "spent" fuel element is worth about two-thirds its original value.

In Russia and in Europe – but not in America – that spent fuel is reprocessed, the uranium and plutonium chemically recovered and new fuel produced, with enough burnable plutonium added to the uranium to get it back up to 5 percent U-235 equivalent.

A large fraction of the operating nuclear power plants in the world are American built or fueled and are, hence, prohibited by U.S. law from participating in the Russian MOX fuel cycle.

Five years ago, Senate Energy Committee Chairman Pete Domenici called for the secretary of energy to develop a "National Spent Nuclear Fuel Strategy."

Domenici said that Congress urgently needed that strategy to determine "whether the spent fuel should be treated as waste, subject to permanent burial" (at Yucca Mountain) or whether it "should be considered to be an energy resource that is needed to meet future energy requirements."

Five years later, it appears that strategy has been developed and it involves our treating "spent" fuel as an asset, not a liability.

Hence, it appears the principal provision of the U.S.-Russia "civil" nuclear deal will be to allow owners and operators of all U.S. built or fueled nuclear power plants to participate in the Russian MOX fuel cycle program.

Now, it may be that Bush has realized that a solution to the current Iranian uranium-enrichment "crisis" would be for the Russian nuclear power plants at Bushehr to be fueled from the get-go with MOX fuel.

With Iran cooking with MOX, the need or even desirability of their having a uranium-enrichment capability would be obviated.

However, this U.S.-Iran confrontation has never been about Iranian nuke ambitions.

What have the Iranians been seeking ever since Bush launched his war of aggression against Iraq?

A promise not to be nuked.

Unfortunately, as long as the mullahs are in power, Bush is not going to take the nuke option off the table.

July 17, 2006