Is Iran's Nuclear Plant Safe?

Sunday, March 1, 2009

The Feb. 23 news story "Iran's First Nuclear Power Plant Set for Tests Before Launch" described plans to bring into operation the long-delayed, Russian-built Bushehr nuclear power plant. This step will add nuclear safety concerns to the proliferation concerns regarding Iran's nuclear activities.

The article quoted Ali Akbar Javanfekr, a media adviser to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, as saying that "our production of a nuclear energy program is completely within the framework or structure of international laws."

This statement is inaccurate in light of Iran's failure to sign or ratify the 1996 Convention on Nuclear Safety (CNS), to which 63 countries adhere. When Bushehr begins to generate power, Iran will become the only nation operating a nuclear power plant that is not bound by the provisions of the convention. The CNS contains important obligations concerning the safe regulation and operation of nuclear plants, including the submission of national reports to periodic peer review meetings of the parties to the CNS.

The head of Russia's state nuclear company, Sergei Kiriyenko, visited Iran last week and stated that "basic construction and assembly work has been completed at the nuclear power plant, and we are now switching over to start-up operations." Mr. Kiriyenko evidently missed an opportunity to tell his counterpart, Iran's Atomic Energy Organization chief Gholam Reza Aqazadeh, that Russia would not assist in bringing Bushehr online unless and until Iran adheres to the CNS.



The writer was principal U.S. negotiator of the Convention on Nuclear Safety and serves as chairman of the International Nuclear Law Association's Working Group on Nuclear Security.

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