Thursday, September 26, 2013

Iran and Nuclear Safety (or lack thereof)

Belarus, Cuba, India, Israel, Libya, Pakistan, Sudan, Syria. Most would think that being on this list is a bad thing, however, in this particular instance, it is not. These countries have all signed (and most have also acceded to or ratified) the Convention on Nuclear Safety. Notably missing, Iran and North Korea. While I've written on why Iran and North Korea should not be compared, in this one case I feel as though showing that both of these countries are absent from a certain international treaty is important.

The Convention on Nuclear Safety was adopted in 1994 after several years of work. 'Its aim is to legally commit participating States operating land-based nuclear power plants to maintain a high level of safety by setting international benchmarks to which States would subscribe.' As this clearly describes, the treaty is intended to ensure that nuclear power plants are kept at a reasonable safety level. Nuclear accidents can affect many (see Chernobyl and Fukushima, not to mention 3 Mile Island), and regulating and ensuring the safety of these facilities is in the interests of all. 

Of all the states with nuclear power plants, Iran is the ONLY one that has not signed the CNS (they have also not signed other important nuclear treaties including 'the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM), the Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism, and the Joint Convention on the Safety of Spent Fuel Management and on the Safety of Radioactive Waste Management.'). Why is it that a country whose expressed reason for developing nuclear technologies is only power and medical uses, has refused to sign this incentive-based treaty, which ONLY concerns safety and the protection of civilians? 

Iran keeps yammering on and on about how Israel has not signed the NPT (and yes they are right in this case). However after President Rouhani's speech criticizing the double standards of the West in being anti-terrorism yet conducting drone strikes which have killed innocents, doesn't this affair itself also demonstrate an incredibly disheartening example of double standards? 

Iran may claim that the West is imposing an agenda upon them, and that they are trying to force Iran to bend to the will of the West, but this argument is a problematic one. If Iran is so worried about the will of the West, why bother with the UN, or why be a member of any international treaty at all? Even more troubling is the fact that the CNS is purely incentive-based; it applies to safety at nuclear power plants so that nuclear accidents are less likely to occur. It has nothing to do with stopping or limiting enrichment (one of Iran's primary concerns and arguments with both the IAEA and the P5+1), or preventing countries from operating nuclear facilities.

This section of the preamble of the CNS provides important context: 
'…this Convention entails a commitment to the application of fundamental safety principles for nuclear installations rather than of detailed safety standards and that there are internationally formulated safety guidelines which are updated from time to time and so can provide guidance on contemporary means of achieving a high level of safety;'

If I had the ear of Iran (or any environmentalist groups anywhere) I would strongly urge them to commit the government of Iran to this important legislation. It could be an important confidence boosting step for both the P5+1 and Iran. The P5+1 would be encouraged by the fact that Iran is agreeing to an important civilian safety regulation, while Iran would be protecting its own citizens and scientists, and also those of the states near to earthquake-prone Bushehr, the site of Iran's nuclear power station. 

NOTE: I've written about this in the past as well. The blog can be accessed here: 

Ali Vaez has written about Iran and nuclear safety, this publication with Charles Ferguson I find particularly compelling.

Mark Fitzpatrick, the director of the IISS's Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Programme also has an important paper on non-proliferation and nuclear safety which mentions Iran and the CNS. Access here:

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