Research Analyst Samuel Hickey wrote an op-ed in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists on how the JCPOA could set a new gold standard for ensuring civilian nuclear programs do not pose proliferation threats.
“An underexamined success story from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal negotiations is the effective blocking of Tehran’s ability to collect plutonium for a nuclear bomb. Not only has the nuclear deal, known officially as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), been effective in constraining Iran’s program, but it could, suitably adapted, provide a standard of guidance for research reactor construction that would lower proliferation risks worldwide.
There are two pathways to get the fissile material to fuel a nuclear bomb. The first is to enrich uranium, and the second is to recover plutonium from the spent fuel of a reactor. The JCPOA blocked both pathways. Now, Iran’s advancing enrichment program is the key obstacle for diplomats trying to revive the deal, and those talks have dragged on for months as the program marches forward.
Many nuclear weapons, including that used on Hiroshima, are uranium-based. However, every country that has a nuclear weapon has produced and separated plutonium for weapons. Iran has not reopened this path despite efforts by its conservative-dominated parliament to pressure the United States to lift sanctions in return for nuclear deal compliance. In December 2020, Iran passed a nuclear law requiring a return to a threatening research reactor design. So far, Iran has not adhered to that law because the modifications made to the original design under the JCPOA made the reactor even more efficient. This suggests that even in its weakened state, the JCPOA continues to provide permanent solutions to potential proliferation concerns. Its revival can further cement these gains as a ‘longer and stronger’ deal is sought.” Read more