The Putin – Bushehr Connection

A Russian “side deal” probably exists at the facility where Iran plans to build eight more nuclear reactors.

When the text of the deal first became available, Bill Gertz noted that the deal did not mention either the Parchin military facility or the Bushehr nuclear facility, which is home to a pressurized water reactor.  We learned soon after that the Parchin military facility was covered by a secret side deal between Iran and the IAEA.  We have yet to learn of any specific limits governing the Bushehr facility.

Is there a separate side deal covering Bushehr of which Congress has yet to be informed?  There is reason to think there might be, but it would not be a third deal between Iran and the IAEA.  The IAEA itself disclosed the existence of two and not three side deals to visiting US Congressmen, though not the text of the agreements.  It is true that part of the agreement is that the text cannot be disclosed to American officials.  The Obama administration has admitted that it does not have the text, and Secretary Kerry has likewise confessed to having agreed to it sight unseen.

Nevertheless, these secret deals do not cover Bushehr.  The IAEA deals are between the IAEA and “a second country” – that is, Iran – only.  No “third country” is involved.  This much has been revealed by Iran’s ambassador and permanent envoy to the IAEA, Reza Najafi.

Reza Najafi, Iran’s ambassador and permanent envoy to the IAEA, stated over the weekend that no country is permitted to know the details of future inspections conducted by the IAEA. In addition, no U.S. inspectors will be permitted to enter Iran’s nuclear sites.

“The provisions of a deal to which the IAEA and a second country are parties are confidential and should not be divulged to any third country, and as Mr. Kerry discussed it in the Congress, even the U.S. government had not been informed about the deal between IAEA and Iran,” Najafi was quoted as saying by Iran’s Mehr News Agency.

Due to the secretive nature of these agreements, IAEA officials vising with lawmakers are barred from revealing to them the details of future inspections.

No deal treating Bushehr could be between the IAEA and Iran only, however, because the facility is run as a joint venture between Iran and Russia.

Russia is already a nuclear power, and also a holder of a United Nations Security Council veto, and thus is able to assert authority over its own nuclear programs against any claim by the IAEA.  Just last year Russia agreed to build eight new atomic reactors in Iran.  The agreement was made in spite of an approaching P5+1 deadline to cut off new nuclear development in Iran, of which Russia was quite aware as it had helped negotiate it.  The building of the second reactor is set to begin this year.

Russia claims that it will provide the nuclear fuel for all the reactors it builds, and will return spent fuel to Russia for reprocessing.  The reason this is important is that spent fuel contains plutonium, which can be used to create both fission and fusion bombs as well as dirty bombs.  Unlike uranium, which must be refined through a complex enrichment process to “weapons grade” before it can be used to create a bomb, plutonium does not need to be enriched to serve as nuclear weapon fuel.  Light-water reactors are considered “proliferation resistant” since extracting plutonium from its spent fuel rods must be done shortly after reactor start-up, before the rods become contaminated with other difficult to remove radioactive isotopes.  It is nearly impossible to remove fuel rods from a light water reactor without being detected by intelligence overhead satellites since shutting down a reactor can be detected.

Claims in the press differ about whether Bushehr will fall under the 24/7 inspections regime as a declared nuclear site, or whether foreign inspectors will not be admitted.  What is clear is that American inspectors will not be admitted.  Only nations with “normal” diplomatic relations with Iran will be allowed to provide inspectors.  The Putin regime thus has two roads to blocking effective inspections of the Bushehr facilities.  It can assert a proprietary interest in the facilities it is constructing via its state energy agency.  Also, it can insist on Russian inspectors to do the work.  This would be in line with the IAEA’s plan to allow Iran to inspect itself by providing its own samples for testing.

Bushehr’s nuclear facility has a long and troubled history.  Its design is unique because the German engineers who began it were forced to leave by the Iranian revolution, and the Russians who later took up the project had to adapt Russian technology to a German basis.  Earthquakes threaten the region as it is located on a tectonically active area.  A 6.3 in 2013 damaged the facility. In 2010 the facility was apparently targeted and damaged by STUXNET in a mark of how critical this facility is to Iran’s nuclear quest in the eyes of whoever deployed the cyber worm.