Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Iranian-Russian Nuclear Plant Cooperation

Today it was announced that Russia and Iran intend to build two additional nuclear reactors in Iran with the possibility of building six more. Iran has long stated its intentions to pursue nuclear power as an alternative to fossil fuels, yet despite this commitment, serious safety concerns persist. As I've written several times (herehere, here and here), Iran has yet to sign the Convention on Nuclear Safety, an incentive-based program intended to improve safety standards at nuclear power facilities. Iran, in fact, is the ONLY country in the world with a nuclear power plant that has not joined the convention. Even Israel, which is not a member of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, is party to the convention. Iran is located in a seismically sensitive part of the world, and the decision to build further nuclear plants given the safety concerns is troubling.

There are a few reasons why Iran has chosen to work with Russia again. Russia took over the Bushehr project from a German company after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, and even though the project was delayed many times and problematic, it has finally been completed. Russia is also one of the leaders from the anti-Western camp, and Iran values this position. There may be better, cheaper alternatives for cooperation on a nuclear power facility, yet for now Russia is the logical partner.

Personally I am still very worried about nuclear power facilities in Iran. The safety issues are well-documented, yet no one is paying attention to the potential environmental hazards. A whistleblower from the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran provided a document to The Times which stated that:
...Bushehr, which began operating last month after 35 years of intermittent construction, was built by "second-class engineers" who bolted together Russian and German technology from different eras; that it sits in one of the world's most seismically active areas but could not withstand a major earthquake; and that it has "no serious training program" or a contingency plan for accidents.
This corroborates other claims about problems including cracks resulting from earthquakes, and a broken cooling pump which forced a shutdown of the plant. The plant is designed to sustain up to a magnitude 8 earthquake without serious damage, yet the several meter long cracks mentioned in the previous sentence were the result of a mere 6.4 earthquake.

Even though there are many problems with Iran's nuclear power plants, the Iranians are continuing to build. I hope that they take steps to address these issues, especially the ones relating to safety. The Iranian ambassador to the UN promised that Iran would be working to join the Convention on Nuclear Safety in January 2013, yet this has not happened yet. The world does not need another nuclear disaster, especially so soon after Fukushima.