Global Insights: Iran Nuclear Deal Positive Step, but No Breakthrough

Global Insights: Iran Nuclear Deal Positive Step, but No Breakthrough

Yesterday's joint declaration by Brazil, Turkey and Iran does not end the Iranian nuclear crisis. With luck, it may mark the beginning of the end, though it will need to overcome some major hurdles even to achieve that goal.

In their trilateral statement, the three governments propose that Iran "deposit" 1,200 kilograms of its low-enriched uranium in Turkey pending receipt within one year of 120 kilograms of more-highly enriched uranium suitable for Tehran's Research Reactor (TRR). Since early last year, the Iranian government has been seeking to acquire specially enriched uranium fuel for the TRR. The reactor, built by the United States in the late 1960s, can manufacture medical isotopes to detect and treat diseases, such as cancer and thyroid disorders, for use by approximately 500,000 people annually. In the early 1990s, Argentina converted the TRR from using uranium fuel enriched to the level of more than 90 percent (suitable for making nuclear weapons) to employ fuel consisting of uranium enriched to the level of 19.75 percent. As part of the deal, Argentina also provided Iran with a large supply of specially designed uranium fuel rods for the Tehran research reactor.

This supply will soon be exhausted. Although Iran had already achieved the ability to enrich uranium on an industrial scale to the level of 3.5 percent, which is sufficiently high to fuel most nuclear power reactors, it had yet to master the higher enrichment level required by the TRR. Iran also lacks the ability to convert the higher enriched uranium into the fuel rods necessary for the TRR.

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