Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Tuesday that his country will start designing and building nuclear-powered ships in response to the expected renewal of sanctions by President-elect Donald Trump.
Rouhani said in letters read out on state television that the U.S. will likely break last year’s nuclear agreement and told Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization to begin building nuclear-propelled ships which could be military in nature.
“Rouhani’s orders today were for Iran’s nuclear agency to begin planning to design maritime nuclear propulsion and to begin research on producing fuel for maritime nuclear reactors – they weren’t orders to actually begin producing any of these things,” John Gay, executive director of the John Quincy Adams Society and coauthor of the book “War With Iran,” told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “This doesn’t meaningfully threaten America’s national security, it doesn’t appear to violate the nuclear deal, and the nuclear deal helped reduce the leverage Iran gets against the United States from the maritime nuclear propulsion option.”
Iran’s renewal of naval nuclear propulsion was in response to a recent vote by American lawmakers to renew 10-year-old sanctions legislation against Iran. President Barack Obama is expected to sign the bill into law soon, claiming that it will not effect last year’s agreement because the White House will continue to suspend all the sanctions linked to Iran’s nuclear programm.
The sanctions were not only about nuclear issues, but also ballistic missile-testing and human rights. The deal Iran is accusing the U.S. of violating belongs to the outgoing Obama administration. The deal was also not a treaty confirmed by the U.S. Senate and, therefore, has no actual legal force.
“A key challenge in the global nuclear nonproliferation regime is that there aren’t many fundamental restrictions on uranium enrichment (a key step in the production of a nuclear weapon), provided the enrichment is for peaceful purposes,” Gay continued. “There are peaceful uses for enriched uranium, and even for the highly enriched uranium used in nuclear weapons – for example, US nuclear submarines use weapons-grade uranium in their propulsion reactors.”
Under the terms of the deal, Iran was supposed to reduce its stockpiles of enriched uranium along with its capacity to enrich new uranium. The deal allowed Iran to enrich uranium over the next 15 years, but limited the level of enrichment to below that required to produce a nuclear weapon. In exchange, U.S., European, and United Nations economic sanctions on Iran were to be lifted.
Iranian lawmakers were previously using the prospect of building nuclear-powered ships and submarines during the height of tensions with the international community over its nuclear program in 2012 as part of threats to escalate. Many analysts think that the threat to build nuclear ships is probably a bluff by Iran, because the costs of doing so would be immense compared to the benefits.
The nuclear-powered ships Iran is considering building would not require the sort of highly enriched uranium which could also be used for weapons.
“Prior to the nuclear deal, Iran was able to threaten that it would enrich uranium to higher levels to develop maritime nuclear propulsion a technology it does not have and does not really need, but, again, not one that the core elements of the nonproliferation regime restricted,” Gay told TheDCNF. “With the nuclear deal, Iran’s threats to develop maritime nuclear propulsion are less concerning, because Iran has committed not to enrich beyond a low level for the next fifteen years and has committed to restrictions on the size of its stockpile of low-enriched uranium.”
As part of the deal with Iran, the U.S. Department of Energy agreed to help modernize Iran’s Arak nuclear reactor. Iran’s porition of the deal was to agree not to build any new uranium-enriching facilities, except the Arak facility.
The Arak modernized reactor will not produce weapons-grade plutonium, but will be redesigned to a lower power level to produce smaller quantities of plutonium that won’t be weapons grade. Lower quality plutonium, however, could still be used to make low-tech nuclear explosives often called “dirty bombs.”
The deal was the result of secret talks by the Obama adminstration which began in March of 2013. Iran and the United States agreed to a deal in 2015 despite heavy opposition from congressional Republicans. House Republican lawmakers rejected the Iran deal last September in a 269 to 162 vote, arguing it was dangerous to legitimize Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Critics also argued Iran could violate the agreement. Senate Republicans, however, failed to get enough Democrats to vote against the Iran deal.
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