Global Insights: One Step Forward, One Back for Nuclear Nonproliferation

Global Insights: One Step Forward, One Back for Nuclear Nonproliferation

Two developments this week illustrated the "one step forward, one step back" nature of global nuclear nonproliferation efforts. On the one hand, Iran announced further progress in its domestic nuclear program, increasing Tehran's potential ability to make nuclear weapons should it ultimately decide to do so. On the other, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) took an important step toward discouraging the further spread of uranium-enrichment technologies, which could be used to pursue nuclear weapons capabilities, by voting to establish the first completely multinational nuclear fuel bank. Although the IAEA move will not solve the immediate problem presented by Iran, it may help avert future proliferation problems by decreasing the further spread of sensitive uranium-enrichment technologies that can be misused for military purposes,

On Sunday, the head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, Ali Akbar Salehi, told reporters that Iran was now self-sufficient in making uranium yellowcake, a necessary precursor material in the uranium-enrichment process. Salehi said the domestically produced uranium yellowcake, shipped from Iran's Gachin mine under IAEA supervision, would be used in Iran's uranium-conversion facility at Isfahan.

This development will further alarm those countries already concerned about Iran's growing nuclear capacities. Iran's shortage of domestic uranium was one factor constraining the pace of its nuclear progress. If the claims about yellowcake production are confirmed, then Iran will have developed at least some capacity in all key elements of the nuclear fuel cycle, reducing the leverage of Russia and other foreign nuclear partners on its efforts -- and possibly crossing an Israeli red line for triggering some kind of military action.

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