Understanding the Iran Nuclear Deal

Image: Ernie Moniz, Secretary of Energy, and John Kerry, Secretary of State; both are supporters of the recent deal with Iran.

by Aidan Stoddart

Most of us have probably heard about the Iran Nuclear Deal, which is being hailed by some as a historic accord and by others as an insufficient agreement that will lead to destruction. But what is the deal? What are its ramifications? Why is it important?

The middle eastern Islamist state of Iran has a developing nuclear program with alarming prospects: nuclear bombs, weapons that in Iran’s hands are very frightening things, considering Iran’s connections with terrorist groups and its belligerence towards nations like Israel.

The P5+1- a diplomatic union of the five permanent United Nations Security Council members (the USA, the UK, France, Russia, and China) plus Germany- has teamed up with the European Union to negotiate a nuclear deal with Iran; the deal aims to block all pathways to an Iranian nuclear weapon.

Currently, Iran has enough material to produce 10-12 bombs, and if it wanted to rush to create a nuclear weapon, it would take about 2-3 months to do so. With the deal, the ‘breakout time’ will increase; Iran’s resources will be so limited that it would take a year to reach enough material for even one bomb.

In return for surrendering nuclear resources, the deal provides for anti-Iranian sanctions to be lifted over time, including economic sanctions that have drastically harmed the Iranian economy and people, and one hundred billion dollars in frozen assets that will be gained after sanctions are lifted.

To build a nuclear bomb, Iran needs uranium, a naturally occurring element, and it needs to enrich that uranium to weapons-grade quality. The Iran Deal dramatically reduces Iran’s stockpile of uranium by 98%, and remaining uranium may only be enriched to about 3.67%, considerably less than the required 90% enrichment for weapons-grade uranium.

Uranium is enriched with machines called centrifuges, and without the deal, Iran has around 20,000 operating. With the deal, the centrifuge number will be reduced to a mere 5,000 or so for the next decade. Only the oldest and least efficient centrifuge models of centrifuges, the ones worst at enriching uranium, will be allowed to operate.

Uranium is not the sole possible pathway to a nuclear weapon. Plutonium is a waste product of nuclear reactors, and is not found in nature. Weapons-grade plutonium does exist, but it is not easily produced by Iranian nuclear reactors, and is not as likely a threat as enriched uranium. All the same, to be safe, the deal also provides for Iran to send its irradiated fuel, containing plutonium, out of the country.

“To be clear,” stated Ernie Moniz, the White House Secretary of Energy and a former faculty member of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, “this deal is not built on trust. Iran has agreed to extraordinary transparency and verification.”

The IAEA (the International Atomic Energy Agency) is a formidable agency charged with monitoring nuclear activity in all nations that signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Its inspectors will have access to known Iranian nuclear sites with only a couple hours’ notice, and will also have consistent access to the entire uranium supply chain, including mining and centrifuges. This access has a 25 year commitment.

As the deal is not built on trust, one may wonder “What if Iran cheats?” But in the opinion of Moniz, trying to disregard the deal secretly would be impossibly difficult for Iran.

“To evade detection, Iran would need to successfully hide an entire supply chain, and that would be an extremely risky and difficult undertaking,” said Moniz.

This is because inspectors will also have access to undeclared sites suspected of nuclear activity in only a day’s time. “If Iran disputes access to a site,” said Moniz, “this agreement provides a crucial new tool by providing a specified time, 24 days, to gain access.”

This deal has been divisive among Americans, meeting both staunch supporters and strident opponents. Dennis Prager of Prager University, a youtube-based education organization, had little positive to say of the deal.

“The 2015 agreement between America, Europe, Russia, China and Iran mirrors 1938,” argued Prager in the Prager University video on the Iran Deal, going on to compare Iran to Hitler’s Nazi Germany, asserting that the nation is an anti-semitic, domination-minded police state that is only appeased by the Iran Nuclear Deal.

Arguments like this one against the Iran Deal assert that the deal does not do enough. With a reception of one hundred billion dollars in frozen assets, lifted sanctions that eventually will include sanctions on ballistic missiles, and the semblance of an Iranian nuclear program, opponents of the accord argue that the deal allows the danger to persist and increase rather than slow down and improve. Many Sunni nations, as well as Israel, a country that the Iranian government despises, fear that the deal will actually be quite harmful to peace in the region, considering sanction-relief that would eventually allow Iran to use ballistic missiles. Prince Bandar, a former ambassador from Saudi Arabia, said that the deal will “wreak havoc in the Middle East.”

But, many supporters of the deal believe that it is the only choice. “The real fear of that region should be that you don’t have the deal,” said Secretary of State John Kerry in an interview with CNN, and later, “If Congress were to kill this, then we have no inspections, we have no sanctions, we have no ability to negotiate because, I assure you… if the United States… kills this, you’re not gonna have another negotiation, and they will feel free to go and do the very things that this prevents.”

“We’re expanding that [the] breakout time from those two months to one year for ten years and longer, and we have lifetime inspection adherence to the IAEA… twenty five years of tracking and monitoring their uranium… that’s unprecedented! And we would not have had that without this agreement,” said Kerry. To him, to Moniz, to the President, and to many supporters of the deal, there is no alternative.
Ernie Moniz concluded the White House scientific breakdown of the deal saying, “the science that underpins this agreement gives me confidence that this is the best possible opportunity to eliminate the existential threat of an Iranian nuclear weapon, and protect America, our allies, and global security.”

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