Tag Archive | "nuclear energy"

iran nuclear agreement negotiators

The Interim Iranian Nuclear Deal: Enforcement and a Right to Enrichment

On January 20, 2014, an interim agreement over Iran’s nuclear program will go into effect. The agreement is a compromise between Iran and major Western powers reached on November 24, 2013. The terms of the agreement provide that Iran will scale back activities under its nuclear program, but not dismantle it entirely. This compromise has prompted criticism that the agreement will not prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, begging the questions, is there an international right to enrichment, and will enforcement of this agreement be adequate?

iran nuclear agreement negotiators

Representatives from France, Britain, U.S., and Jordan in Paris (Thierry Gesnot/Getty Images)

The agreement itself contains no explicit recognition of Tehran’s right to enrichment. While Iranian news proclaimed that it did recognize such a right, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry emphasized that it did not. The question then turns on an interpretation of Article IV of the U.N. Treaty on Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, which Iran signed in 1968. It states, in part, that “[n]othing in this Treaty shall be interpreted as affecting the inalienable right of all the Parties to the Treaty to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination….” Many countries have read this to create a right to enrichment, whereas the U.S. has taken the position that each case should be considered individually. This view is not in alignment with the other parties to the treaty. Moreover, the U.S. does not have authority to interpret the agreement unilaterally without ratification by other parties to the treaty.

The other question raised following the announcement of the interim agreement was the means of enforcement and the consequences for Iran breaching the terms. Some of the International economic sanctions on Iran will be lifted as part of the agreement, and U.S. President Barack Obama said that the U.S. would give “modest relief” on sanctions on Iran, but would increase sanctions if Iran reneged on the deal. The International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA] will play a central role in verifying that the terms are met. Reuters reported the IAEA as saying that there will be “…a significant increase in the frequency of inspections in Iran, access to more sites in the country, a need for more equipment and more analytical work….” The additional cost will come to around 6 million euros. The IAEA requested 5.5 million euros from its 160 member states to voluntarily help cover the expenses. The parties to the interim nuclear agreement are confident that the additional inspections and economic consequences of sanctions for the oil-dependent Iran will be sufficient to prevent the development of nuclear weapons.

Despite the criticism surrounding the agreement, most notably from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, it remains a six-month interim agreement intended to provide additional time for negotiations to a final settlement in the decade-old nuclear dispute. The next few months will help elucidate Iran’s motivation for enrichment and any right that exists thereof. But perhaps it would also be beneficial to revisit the terms of the Non-Proliferation Treaty in the wake of the Fukushima disaster. Nuclear energy is no longer the golden child of clean energy when considering the progress of alternatives like solar, wind and hydro. The U.N. could consider clarifying Article IV to narrow the permissible scope of research and production of nuclear energy in recognition of its limited potential and substantial risk.

It is possible that Iran’s nuclear activities are politically motivated and its insistence on a right to enrichment is rooted in principle. Regardless, diplomacy prevailed, and the path to a permanent agreement has been established. To quote a statement from the White House:

[W]e have made concrete progress. I welcome this important step forward, and we will now focus on the critical work of pursuing a comprehensive resolution that addresses our concerns over Iran’s nuclear programme.

Alex Milgroom is a 3L at the University of Denver and the Online Editor-in-Chief of the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy

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The Image of Fukushima in the Japanese Mind (Guardian)

Critical Analysis: Fukushima Reactor and Japanese Nuclear Policy

In the wake of wide-scale protests in Tokyo on June 29 over the restart of two Kansai Electric Power Co. nuclear reactors, the Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission released an 88-page report that describes Fukushima as a “profoundly man-made disaster.” The report disputes the government’s argument of the failure of the Fukushima cooling systems as due to an unavoidable natural disaster; instead, it argues that the events of March were born out of Japanese culture and willful negligence by Japanese executives, regulators, and government officials.

The Image of Fukushima in the Japanese Mind (Guardian)

After being hit by an undersea megathrust earthquake and the subsequent tsunami in March 2011, the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan lost connection with the electrical grid and its backup generators, which crippled the cooling system and subsequently melted down the plant. However, according to the recent report released by the Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission, the failure of the Fukushima reactors, which triggered a series of reactor safety investigations across the globe and widespread backlash against the nuclear energy industry in Japan and overseas, “cannot be regarded as a natural disaster.” The report departs from other government-sanctioned reports that concluded the reactors withstood the earthquake, only to be disabled when the ensuing tsunami slammed into the plant. Instead, the report argues that the plant’s cooling systems were likely damaged during the earthquake due to a lack of safeguard brought about by the “collusion” between Tokyo Electric and the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency to avoid implementing new safety regulations.

The report accuses the government, the Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco), and nuclear regulators of failing “to correctly develop the most basic safety requirements — such as assessing the probability of damage, preparing for containing collateral damage from such a disaster, and developing evacuation plans.” According to the report, even though the government Nuclear Safety Commission revised earthquake resistance standards in 2006 and mandated that nuclear operators in Japan inspect their reactors, Tepco did not carry out any of the mandated inspections, and regulators neglected to ensure that Tepco was following through with the inspections. However, while the report assigns widespread blame from government regulators to the private sectors, the report avoids calling for the reprimand of specific executives or officials, claiming that criminal prosecution is out of its scope and “a matter for others to pursue.”

Instead, the report attributes the country’s failure to adhere to its own nuclear safeguards to what it deems a prevalent culture in Japan: one of willful negligence in the name of suppressing dissent and maintaining social harmony. The opening message of the report from the commission’s chairman describes the failure of the Fukushima reactors as “a disaster ‘made in Japan’.” The report goes on to attribute the fundamental cause as ingrained in the “conventions of Japanese culture: our reflexive obedience; our reluctance to question authority; our devotion to ‘sticking with the programme'; and our ‘insularity’.” In turn, neither Tepco nor the government agencies involved emerged with any credit for “effectively betray[ing] the nation’s right to be safe from nuclear accidents” as “the root causes were the organizational and regulatory systems that supported faulty rationales for decisions and actions, rather than issues relating to the competency of any specific individual.”

With newspaper polls in June showing as much as 71 percent of the Japanese population opposing the restart of Japan’s nuclear energy program, this attribution of the failure of the Fukushima reactors to a cultural phenomenon may be seen by some as (and may very well be) an attempt by the Japanese government to win back the Japanese public through calming their fears of the dangers of nuclear reactors.  Regardless, whether or not the report is a policy ploy, the failure to safely use nuclear energy and adhere to proper safeguards for any reason remains a concern for the international law community at large. Indeed, Japan is a member to the Nuclear Safety Standards (NUSS) of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). However, because IAEA was not involved with the nuclear activities of the Fukushima reactor, the safeguards were binding only on a voluntary and selective basis.  Even nuclear problems cast as “made in Japan” are not mindful of state borders: problems”“made in Japan” are exported to other countries as demonstrated by recent cases of radioactive material from Japan washing onto U.S. shores. As such, in the wake of the Fukushima disaster, ensuring that state actors utilize nuclear energy in a safe way may require a global examination into best practices and possibly into whether non-binding standards need to become binding commitments.

Cassandra Kirsch is a rising third year law student at the Univeristy of Denver and a Senior Editor on The View From Above  

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