In the inaugural Arms Control Wonk Podcast, Jeffrey and I discuss the alleged “circumventions” of the INF Treaty, the situation in Ukraine, NATO’s security commitments to the Baltic States, and the nuclear weapons related issues associated with the renewal of East-West tensions.
On 6 April 2014, Seymour Hersh published “The Red Line and the Rat Line” in the London Review of Books. The piece builds on his previous article, “Whose Sarin?,” which calls into question the White House’s framing of the 21 August 2013 chemical weapons attack in the Damascus neighborhood of Ghouta. The latest article accuses Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erodgan of working with the rebels to stage the 21 August attack to trip President Barack Obama’s “red line,” so as to trigger a US military strike on Bashar al Assad’s forces. Blogger Eliot Higgins has already written a scathing rebuttal of the piece, that you can read here.
Higgins forcefully argues that the volcano rockets used in the 21 August attack is a clear indication of regime culpability. In September 2013, Dr. Igor Sutyagin, a research fellow at RUSI in London, used open source analysis to confirm that the rockets in question are still in service with the Russian Navy and have likely been exported to Syria. Uzi Rubin, the first Director of Israel Missile Defense Organization, argues, “The ‘330 mm’ rockets discovered in Zamalka and Ein Tarma were not improvised, jury rigged devices that could be casually made in any workshop; rather, they were part of a well designed range of weapon systems contrived to fulfill Syrian Army’s operational needs.” And finally, Dan Kaszeta, a former US Army officer and consultant based in London, has estimated that the perpetrator of the attack would have needed an industrial facility to produce the amount of Sarin used.
Hersh, on the other hand, argues that Erdogan commissioned Hakan Fidan, the director of Turkey’s intelligence organization (MIT), to provide the rebels with “the training in producing the sarin [sic] and handling it.” Hersh’s scenario suggests that Fidan oversaw an effort to illegally produce, or perhaps procure, the distinct volcano rockets that were used in the attack. Second, Turkish intelligence helped the rebels produce a ton of Sarin in what, according to Kaszeta, must have been a very large facility on the Turkish border, or inside Syria in rebel held territory. Third, MIT, working with its proxies, was then able to smuggle 12 volcano rockets into regime held territory in Damascus – why regime held territory?
Well, according to Rubin’s analysis, the White House statements about the 21 August attack, and Human Rights Watch, the rockets were launched from inside a regime controlled military base. Hersh disputes the range estimates in “Whose Sarin?,” but the assumptions from which his piece is derived, places him in the minority of experts, rather than with the majority of missile and chemical experts who have studied the event.
The fourth assumption is that MIT also convinced the rebels to follow-up the attack with a sustained artillery bombardment. And finally, MIT was able to fool the US IC, which, according to the New York Times, relied on “human, signals and geospatial intelligence as well as a significant body of open-source reporting” before placing the blame for the 21 August attack on Bashar al Assad. And finally, Hersh asserts that the Turks, which had heretofore been so secretive about this plan, made the silly mistake of celebrating the strike in such a way, so as to tip-off the United States’ previously “in the dark” intelligence community.
While I could go on, the current list of materials supporting the White House’s portrayal of events is robust. Instead, this piece will outline Turkey’s approach to the Syrian conflict to answer: “Would Turkey make the political decision to launch a false flag chemical weapons attack to trip the United States’ red-line?” My intent is to augment the already robust technical literature with political analysis.
Turkey’s Syria Policy
At the outset of the Syrian crisis, Ankara prioritized diplomacy over military action. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu sought to convince Syrian President Bashar al Assad to make top down cosmetic democratic reforms to appease the growing anti-government protest movement. Yet, after repeated trips to Damascus, Turkey gave up on Assad in August 2011. In turn, Turkey adopted a three-pronged policy of conventional deterrence, border defense, and, by August 2011, outright regime change brought about by external intervention via support for proxy groups.
Turkey partnered with Qatar — and to a lesser extent Saudi Arabia — to arm the Syrian rebels. The formula was simple. The two would work together to organize the Syrian opposition, while also cooperating closely on the transfer of arms to proxies. Qatar provided the networks and funding. And, Turkey facilitated the transfer of weapons via Ankara Esenboga airport. The weapons were then distributed to proxies via Turkish and Arab middlemen, who operate on the border with impunity. (This operation has been marred with numerous screw-ups that have allowed for journalists to document the movement of weaponry. I will discuss this below.)
Turkey partnered with Qatar because the leadership in both countries were deeply disturbed at the images of human suffering in Syria and have become wedded to a policy removing Bashar al Assad, through a combination of military pressure designed to make Assad realize that he cannot win, and diplomatic initiative to force him to relinquish power.
While Turkey has geopolitical reasons to support certain rebel groups (particularly those who are in opposition to the Kurdish PYD), the Turkish leadership’s desire to prevent more bloodshed is an aspect of Ankara’s Syria policy that most analysts often overlook. Erdogan, for example, often cries when speaking about the subject of Syria during television broadcasts and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu’s voice noticeably changes when he speaks about the issue in public. The Syria conflict is not simply some horrible manifestation of the “great game in the Levant,” but rather a humanitarian tragedy that resonates deeply with Turkey’s religiously conservative leadership.
Thus, in order to believe Hersh’s recounting of events, one would have to assume that MIT was able to produce Sarin (no easy feat), manufacture/procure Russian origin rockets, modify them to look like the volcano rockets already in use with Assad’s forces, and then smuggle them into Damascus – and, in addition, Prime Minister Erdogan would have had to authorize the attack, and thereby sign off on the killing of hundreds of Syrians.
Erdogan is a rough and tumble dude, but the assertion that the Turkish Prime Minister would agree to such an attack belies any real understanding of Turkey’s Syrian policy. To be sure, Erdogan did support US military intervention, but Ankara has been vocal proponent of the doctrine of Responsibility to Protect (R2P) since the early 1990s. In fact, Davutoglu, in his book Strategic Depth, lamented the fact that Turkey played such a limited role in the NATO air campaign over Bosnia and argued that in future situations, Ankara should, in conjunction with an international coalition, play a larger military role in protecting civilians. Thus, the Syria policy was not a dramatic policy shift, but rather a continuation of a near two decades old approach to international politics. In fact, Ankara’s embrace of the doctrine – particularly in Muslim majority areas – is a potential trouble spot for US-Turkish relations moving forward.
The False Flag Tape: Hersh Misses the Point
As more evidence of his central assertion, Hersh points to a leaked audiotape of a meeting attended by Hakan Fidan, Ahmet Davutoglu, Undersecretary of Foreign Ministry Feridun Sinirlioglu, and General Yasar Guler. The tape is hard to follow – even for native Turkish speakers – but includes a general discussion on Turkey’s options vis-à-vis a military operation to rescue some 20 Turkish soldiers, who are tasked with guarding the tomb of Suleyman Shah – the burial place of the grandfather of Osman I, the founder of the Ottoman Empire. The tomb is a small enclave of Turkish territory on the banks of the Euphrates River some 20 miles from the Turkish border town of Kargamis. The tomb has recently come under threat from the Islamic State of Iraq and al Sham (ISIS) and Turkish leaders have pledged to defend it, should ISIS attack the tomb.
In the leaked recording, Davutoglu and Fidan discuss options to create Casus Belli to attack the site. While Fidan does flippantly raise the possibility of staging a false flag attack to justify an attack, Davutoglu responds with a theoretical discussion about how Turkey would go about notifying the United Nations, the Syrian embassy, and its allies/partners after an attack. Davutoglu appears to agree with keeping “all options the table,” but reiterates that Ankara must take steps to justify such an attack using international law. At this point, Sinirlioglu jumps in to the conversation to argue that the international law issue won’t be a problem because the group they would be targeting is Al Qaeda – and nobody likes al Qaeda, or will condemn Turkey for attacking it. At this point, the conversation devolves into what I believe to be is a haphazard recounting of the ways in which Ankara used to insert special forces and heavy equipment into Northern Iraq to combat the PKK and a general lamenting at the way in which the political opposition has politicized national security decisions. (If only Turkey could go back to the good old days, where national security issues are simply under the purview of the regime elites is the clear sub-text to the conversation.)
The conversation is a damning portrayal of the relative disorganization of Turkey’s Syria policy and, contrary to Hersh’s contention, portrays a bureaucracy that is out of options, rather than scheming to manipulate the course of the Syrian civil war. In fact, the most revealing part of the tape is Guler’s contention that even if Turkey were to train 1,000 men to fight in Syria, they would first need to ensure that they had 6 months of ammunition, or otherwise risk the fighters returning after 2 months of fighting. At one point, Davutoglu notes that Qatar is desperate to buy more ammo for cash, but are waiting for the “minister’s command.” Most assume that the minister is Erdogan, but no one really knows for certain. The conversation suggests that Turkey has not even stockpiled six-months of ammunition for its preferred proxies and that efforts to do so are marred with bureaucratic delays.
Does this sound like a government actively plotting to force US action with a false flag chemical attack? To be fair, the Ghouta attack took place seven months before the tape was allegedly recorded. However, it seems unlikely that the MIT’s organizational ability in terms of policy making would have deteriorated so radically in such a short space of time.
In actuality, the tape underscores continuity in Turkish security politics – namely that Ankara favors intervention – and may even conduct a very small and isolated raid on its own – but it will take every effort to ensure that its actions are in line with international law and norms. A false flag chemical weapons attack is so out of character with Turkish history, it shifts the burden of proof to the accuser. And, in the case of Hersh, the claims fall far short of passing that test.
The Adana Incident: An Operational Miscue, or a Reflection of Turkey’s CBR Preparedness?
In May 2013, Turkish police raided safe houses in Istanbul, Mersin, Adana and Hatay. In Adana, the Turkish press initially reported that members of Jabhat al-Nusra were in possession of 2 kg (4.5 pounds) of Sarin. The indictment alleged that the men arrested were in possession of chemical precursors that could be used to make Sarin. The pro-government press subsequently reported that the men were in possession of anti-freeze. To be fair, the incident remains murky, but the facts don’t support Hersh’s insinuation that the men were part of the much larger plot to use chemical weapons to trip the US red line.
Turkey’s chemical, biological, radiological (CBR) units are trained in Adapazari – a city some 2 hours drive away from Istanbul. In every Turkish military unit, there is a trained CBR team. However, the general state of the country’s CBR preparedness is poor. The Turkish military’s equipment is old and outdated, with many of the gas masks and protective suits having long expired. To augment these capabilities, the Turkish General Staff elevated the importance of increasing Ankara’s passive defense in a Defense White Paper written and released in 2000. However, as of September 2013, Turkey’s civilian procurement agency still had not prioritized the acquisition of updated chemical weapons equipment. According to Burak Bekdil:
Analysts say all Turkey has are mostly expired gas masks supplied several years ago by the United States, and even if Turkey acquired new masks, these can protect only some Turkish military units — not civilians — near the Syrian border. They fear any chemical attack from Syria would result in heavy losses.
So, if one assumes that Turkey uses US equipment (an absolute certainty) that has expired, one can then piece together the origins of the Adana incident. According to Kaszeta, “By far the most prolific cheap test method for chemical warfare agents is M8 test paper, 1960s vintage litmus-style paper that changes color. This is very cheap <$2 a booklet. Notorious for false positives, including a false color change for ethylene glycol (i.e antifreeze) that looks like a G-series nerve agent (i.e. Sarin/GB).” (See this document for more information about the M8 test paper.)
While the details remain murky, I assume that the gendarmerie was responsible for the raid. The gendarmerie in Turkey is a branch of the armed forces that police rural areas outside of the jurisdiction of the regular police. Thus, if one assumes that the gendarmerie are using outdated equipment like US origin M8 test paper from the 1960s, then one can easily explain why initial tests may have suggested the presence of Sarin.
To be sure, something happened in Adana. However, more recent reports of similar incidents suggest that the city is a transit point for the shipment of conventional weapons to Syrian rebels operating over the border, rather than the operational hub of a chemical weapons production center. In January 2014, for example, the gendarmerie stopped trucks driven by a local NGO (The NGO has reported links to numerous “bad guys” and appear to be a key player in MIT’s gun running funny business) – who were being flanked by MIT driven Audi A-3s (a very conspicuous choice in a place like Adana) – and detected explosives.
The gendarmerie stopped the vehicle and proceeded to arrest the drivers, over the objection of the Audi driving MIT agents. This then prompted the governor of Adana, Huseyin Avni Cos, the provincial police chief, and MIT’s regional director to directly intervene, in order to allow for the trucks to continue in to Syria. Why do we care? Well it points to two general themes that are apparent in the audiotape, but are ignored in Hersh’s story: 1) Turkey’s Syria policy is highly compartmentalized. It is so compartmentalized that even the gendarmerie – who Hersh allege are part of the conspiracy to produce Sarin – are not kept up to date about the comings and goings of weapons bound for Syria; 2) That MIT’s operations are relatively well understood in Turkey and have been thoroughly documented by Turkish and foreign journalists. In turn, this suggests that MIT – which has had its trucks stopped on multiple occasions – succeeded in the very complicated task of producing Sarin, but failed to keep its rather mundane gun running operation under wraps. Frankly, Hersh’s claims make absolutely no sense, when put in the larger context of what is actually happening in Turkey.
The Bottom Line
Hersh is wrong. In addition to the numerous technical reasons that point to serious analytical flaws, the situation on the ground in Turkey does not support the article’s central arguments. While I heard some very wild conspiracy theories when I lived in Turkey, Hersh’s latest tops them all.
 Based on my own research, I’ve been able to piece together this very simple list (open to additions/corrections):
1) Turkey border, Qatari purchased arms with Turkish assistance and transport
2) Turkey border, private Gulf donors working with groups like Ahrar al Sham
3) Turkey border, Saudi money providing safe houses for foreigners wishing to join jihad
4) Turkey border, logistical supplies coming in from a whole host of countries, mostly European union (France)
5) Iraq border, Kuwaiti money and Saudi money in particular funding sectarian division and militias
6) Jordan border, Saudi bought arms, movements of Saudi and US trained rebel forces, cash, logistical supplies
7) Lebanese border, mostly shut but leaky in the top northern part and away from Shia areas in the Beqaa Valley
As the crisis in Ukraine continues to escalate, Russia and the West remain at a standstill, both sides gauging what responses further actions will elicit. Most of the coverage has been focused on the economic and political implications of the current situation. However, the crisis has significant bearing on nuclear proliferation, both in the Euro-Slavic region and internationally. The high volume of nuclear material that had been and still is located in the west of the former USSR makes an unstable Ukraine a possible locus for nuclear sales. Additionally, the confrontation between Russia and the West in Ukraine may strengthen the Iranian position, potentially hampering any development of the November 2013 Joint Plan of Action.
Ukraine has a tumultuous history with nuclear technology. The Chernobyl nuclear disaster occurred on Ukrainian territory, and while the graphite-moderated Chernobyl types have been (predictably) decommissioned, the Ukraine operates 15 pressurized water reactors with 14 Gigawatts (electrical) of generating capacity. While a portion of the uranium ore is mined in the Ukraine, the fuel enrichment and fabrication is supplied by (surprise!) Russia. Used fuel is stored, and hypothetically available to be reprocessed, in the Ukraine at reactor sites and in the “Chernobyl Exclusion Zone.” (Background information can be found here.)
Upon the disintegration of the Soviet Union, Ukraine was home to the third-largest nuclear stockpile in the world, with 1,080 nuclear warheads on its soil, with delivery platforms ranging from ICBMs and bombers to tactical nuclear weapons. In 1994, Ukraine voted to divest itself of its nuclear stockpile and either destroy or sell off its delivery systems, exchanging a large portion of its strategic bomber force with the Russian Federation to pay down its massive oil debt. Ukraine became a nuclear-weapons free state in June 1996.
However, Ukraine did not simply give up its weapons. It secured, via the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances, an assurance from the United States and the Russian Federation. Signatory nations (which included the US, Russia, and the UK) agreed to honor Ukraine’s borders, and pledged never to use force to manipulate or influence the nation. Prior to the Russian occupation of Crimea, this agreement had been respected.
The situation in Ukraine is clearly unstable, with a full-blown ground war becoming increasingly possible. As long as NATO avoids any direct clashes with Russia, it’s unlikely that nuclear arms will be employed in this conflict, but a new and enduring confrontation between the two sides raises the question of whether Russia will once again deploy tactical nuclear weapons on its frontiers. The deployment of these weapons in the USSR and Soviet-dominated Eastern Europe gave rise to fears of “loose nukes” — poorly catalogued and secured weapons that might get lost, sold, or stolen — at the end of the Cold War. Thankfully, the removal of tactical nuclear weapons from the front lines in the early 1990s, along with greatly improved Russian infrastructure and governmental stability, eased this threat. Nevertheless, Russia is believed to have a large arsenal of tactical nuclear weapons, and a return to relying on them would raise questions about the future. Furthermore, Russia’s recent termination of the Cooperative Threat Reduction program established under 1992 Nunn-Lugar accords has reduced transparency and cooperation.
Over the long term, too, the government in Kiev may look to nuclear weaponry as a force multiplier to offset Russian military superiority. This motivation becomes more likely if hardline nationalists gain full control of the Ukrainian government, reverting to nuclear arms production to assert themselves on the international stage. An unstable country with a serious threat on its border, nuclear weapons ambitions, and a large nuclear infrastructure raises uncomfortable questions about the future of nuclear security in the former Soviet sphere.
The crisis also may have proliferation effects outside of Eastern Europe, particularly pertaining to the Iranian nuclear negotiations. If Russia’s annexation of Crimea proceeds despite Western threats and protestations, Vladimir Putin will have divided the P5+1 and further eroded the West’s credibility. The US Department of State announced recently that it would not recognize the plebiscite underway in Crimea. However, mere statements will not determine the course of events. The outcome may shift the perceptions of Iran’s leadership, who may calculate that the United States is unable or unwilling to follow through on its threats and warnings in general. If the Iranian nuclear negotiations stall or break down, it will be difficult bring Iran back to the table during the remainder of President Obama’s term, and the Iranian government may make a new calculation about the feasibility of pursuing nuclear weapons.
Iran’s alleged nuclear-weapons research is in the news again, now that Iran has agreed to provide “information and explanations” to allow the International Atomic Energy Agency “to assess Iran’s stated need or application for the development of Exploding Bridge Wire detonators.” (For background and discussion, see this post by Cheryl Rofer at Nuclear Diner.) Aaron Stein provides us with a look at how the work of academic researchers in Iran may have flowed into military nuclear applications. -Ed.
Sharif University after the Revolution
After the 1979 revolution, thousands of Western trained academics left Iran. After assuming power, Ayatollah Khomeini oversaw a so-called Cultural Revolution where universities were closed for three years between 1980-1983 and the curriculum was purged of content deemed to be antithetical to the tenets of the revolution. The mass exodus had a noticeable impact on the country’s scholarly output. In 1975, for example, Iranian scientists published 305 ISI-recognized publications in scholarly journals. In 1978, the number of journal publications grew to 450, before falling to 398 in 1979. In 1980, the number fell further 384. And, by 1985, Iranian academics only published 111 articles in academic journals. 
Shortly before the revolution, a group of physicists and mathematicians began to meet every Tuesday in Balbosar, a town in north Iran near the Caspian Sea, to conduct scholarly research. The Shah graciously picked up the tab. After the revolution, the group disbanded. Many left for positions in the West. Some went to Tehran and began to work at the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI). Others looked for work elsewhere in Tehran. The ones who stayed after the revolution continued to meet every Tuesday at the University of Tehran’s Institute of Physics. The bulk of the Tuesday group’s remaining members worked at Sharif University – the only university in Iran where the core members of the physics faculty remained after the revolution.
Iran formally authorized PhD programs in 1988/1989, after Reza Mansouri, an Austrian-trained physicist, convinced the education minister that Iran had the homegrown talent to do so. Sharif had been holding PhD-style seminars for interested students after the Cultural Revolution and was able to quickly formalize its program after it got the green light to do so from the education minister.
An Illicit Procurement Network?
In 1987, Iranian interlocutors met with S. Mohamed Farouq, a businessman representing A.Q. Khan, at his workshop in Dubai. Farouq provided Iran with a 15-page document describing the procedures for the reduction of UF6 to uranium metal and the machining of enriched uranium metal into hemispheres. He also gave them a list of European suppliers that manufacture the dual-use technology needed to develop the front end of the nuclear fuel cycle. Iran – unlike Libya – initially opted for the do-it-yourself centrifuge model and wanted to build its nuclear infrastructure on its own. However, in order to do so, they needed to import the specialized equipment needed to produce enrichment and conversion technology. Iran appears to have entrusted this task to Dr. Seyyed Abbas Shahmoradi-Zavareh, a former faculty member at Sharif University. As best as I can tell, Shahmoradi was not part of the Tuesday group meetings, but was one of the core group of faculty that chose to stay at the university after the revolution. (I am happy to be proven wrong on this point.)
In December 1993, Mark Hibbs reported that the United States had grown suspicious about the items Sharif University was trying to purchase from European suppliers. The Germans agreed. An unnamed senior German export control official told Hibbs, “If an end-use statement says equipment is destined for Sharif University, the transfer will be categorically blocked.” (Mark Hibbs, “IAEA says it found no non-peaceful activity during recent visit to Iran,” Nucleonics Week, vol. 34, no. 50, 16 December 1993).
In March 1994, Hibbs reported that German Intelligence believed the “Physics Research Center (PHRC) at Sharif University [was] engaged in defense procurement, including procurement of ‘nuclear-related materials’.” (Mark Hibbs, “Sharif University Activity Continues Despite IAEA Visit, Bonn Agency Say,” NuclearFuel, 28 March 1994). We now know that the assessment was based on telex data documenting in detail the PHRC’s efforts to acquire imported vacuum equipment, magnets, a balancing machine, 45 gas cylinders each containing 2.2 kg of fluorine, and a uranium hexafluoride mass spectrometer – all of which could be used in the production of conversion equipment and centrifuges for enrichment. (To be fair, Shahmoradi could have wanted this equipment for the university’s physics department. Gareth Porter writes about the issue here. I am also sure he discusses this in his book, but I have not read it yet.)
The United States intelligence community makes makes clear that they believe that the weapons program was separate from the AEOI’s work at the TNRC, Kalaye, and then Natanz. The IC backdates the start of Iran’s covert nuclear weapons program to “at least the late 1980s.” At least? As Jeffrey noted in this piece for Foreign Policy, the intelligence community uses unique language when drafting National Intelligence Estimates. I presume that the IC used the words “at least” on purpose. I think the “at least” means that the US intelligence community has some level of “confidence” that there were discussions about weaponization before the PHRC procurement network got up and running in 1988/1989.
A Compartmentalized Program
According to my research, Iran made the decision to proliferate sometime after March 1984, but before the end of 1985. However, after making the decision to do so, the Islamic Republic faced a rather large problem – they had very few scientists capable of implementing a top-down directive to develop the front end of the nuclear fuel cycle. In fact, the only place with an intact physics faculty was Sharif University. Sharif was therefore a logical place for a potential proliferator – working outside of the aegis of the AEOI – to go to understand documents describing the manufacture, assembly, and operational processes for the P-1 centrifuge. Thus, if one assumes that the US is correct in its assertion about the start of Iran’s weapons program, Shahmoradi must have been a trusted confidant of someone higher up in the regime, who also happened to work at the right place at right time to support a separate enrichment program. However, it appears that the military program ran into trouble and eventually began to take its cues from the AEOI’s centrifuge research sometime in the early 1990s.
According to Iran, the AEOI’s testing of the P-1 took place at the Tehran Nuclear Research Center before being moved to the Kalaye workshop in 1995. Iran has admitted that it had trouble manufacturing centrifuge components on its own and did not introduce UF6 into the P-1 until sometime in 1999. Thus, it appears that the Khan list purchased in 1987 was given to the AEOI – who then developed their own procurement networks for components – and to Shahmoradi. (It is easy to see the basis for the 2007 NIE’s conclusions.) The two programs, however, appear to have both relied on the same facility to manufacture the centrifuge components. Thus, when the AEOI made progress in 1999, the military program also benefited.
In the late 1990s or early 2000 (who wants to bet it was sometime after the introduction of UF6 into the P-1 in 1999?), the PHRC was consumed by a larger entity, known as the AMAD plan. The AMAD plan’s executive director is Mohsen Fakhrizadeh (Mahabadi), who appears to have moved the focus of the weapons program away from procurement and towards weaponization. The weaponization allegations include cooperation with Vyacheslav Danilenko, a Ukrainian-born scientist who worked at a Soviet nuclear weapons lab on the production of nanodiamonds. Danilenko worked in Iran with Shahmoradi from 1996-2002 before returning to Russia. I hope to publish more on this in the future, but Danilenko is alleged to have provided Iran with the design information for a R265 shock implosion system - a multipoint unlensed system that uses a castable explosive mixture of TNT and RDX to generate a uniform shock wave to compress graphite to produce nanodiamonds.
Iran is alleged to have tested the R265 with Tungsten substituted for uranium in 2003 and used a variety of diagnostic equipment to monitor the symmetry of the compressive shock wave. The timing suggests that Iran had the diagnostic equipment on hand before the August 14, 2002 NCRI revelations prompted Iran to begin to reevaluate its nuclear policy. After the 2003 “halt order,” Fakhrizadeh is alleged to have kept his bureaucratic role in the weapons program, first with an entity known as the Section for Advanced Development Applications and Technologies (SADAT), which continued to report to MODAFL, and later, in mid-2008, as the head of the Malek Ashtar University of Technology (MUT) in Tehran. According to information given to the IAEA, in February 2011, Fakhrizadeh moved from MUT to an adjacent location known as the Modjeh Site, where he now leads the Organization of Defensive Innovation and Research (SPND). Shahmoradi – who reportedly had some role in the AMAD Plan – now works at Malek Ashtar University. (In an indication that Shahmoradi continues to lecture about nanodiamonds, a student at MUT co-authored a paper on the “Influence of Cooling Medium on Detonation Synthesis of Ultradispersed Diamond” in 2009.)
The November 2011 Board Report notes that researchers at Shahid Behesti University and Amir Kabir University have published papers relating to the generation, measurement, and modelling of neutron transport. The Agency also found “other Iranian publications which relate to the application of detonation shock dynamics to the modelling of detonation in high explosives, and the use of hydrodynamic codes in the modelling of jet formation with shaped (hollow) charges.” The Agency makes clear that these publications have civilian applications, but also notes that they could used for the development of nuclear explosives. The same goes for nanodiamonds. The Agency has also been provided with information that SADAT solicited assistance from Shahid Behesti University in connection with complex calculations relating to the state of criticality of a solid sphere of uranium being compressed by high explosives in 2005 – some two years after the “halt order.” The implication, therefore, is that Fakhrizadeh is continuing his weapons work.
Iran claims that some of the Alleged Studies documents are based on open-source research and thereby not indicative of a weapons program. The assertion is irrelevant. If Iran opted to compartmentalize its nuclear weapons work like the United States did during the Manhattan Project, than Iranian researchers asked to do certain computations – or design certain components for say a shock implosion system – probably had absolutely no idea that they were contributing to a clandestine weapons program. In fact, like in the United States, the extreme secrecy could have been one of the reasons for the very slow pace of Iran’s nuclear development. (I suspect it is.) Moreover, if you are concerned that a leak will lead to an American led bombing campaign, I presume you would want to keep the number of people in the know about the scope of the weapons project to an absolute minimum. Thus, I suspect that even certain AMAD Plan employed researchers working on issues related to nuclear weapons were unaware of the work being done on other projects documented in the Alleged Studies documentation. (And, in a Catch-22, if Iranian professors/grad students all of a sudden stopped publishing on these issues, than some in the IC might take that as a sign of a weapons program. All of this is to say that Iran does suffer some unique problems related to its nuclear work that only transparency can resolve.)
The fact that Iranian scientists have published in international journals work that could be used to support a weapons program isn’t all that noteworthy. The more relevant question is how the work may have been used – and this leads one back to Fakhrizadeh. The evidence – while admittedly based on the Alleged Studies documents – suggests a highly compartmentalized weapons program that began in the 1980s. The military program’s link to Sharif University appears to have stemmed from the university’s unique position after the revolution and its retention of most of its physics faculty. Moreover, I think it would be unwise to assume that many people outside of a select number of high-level officials knew what Shahmoradi was really up to. Thus, in order to fully understand the program, Iran needs to be more forthright about the Alleged Studies, so that the international community can be assured that no weapons work is continuing. If Fakhrizadeh’s role in the program isn’t clarified, than questions about what he does all day will continue to be a source of considerable concern. I doubt he is playing solitaire all day. Sorry Jeffrey.
 Farhad Khosrokhavar, “Iran’s New Scientific Community,” in Contemporary Iran: Economy, Society, Politics ed. Ali Gheissari (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009); Farhad Khosrokhavar and M. Amin Ghaneirad, “Iran’s New Scientific Community,” Iranian Studies, Vol. 39, No. 2 (June, 2006), pp. 253-267.
After striking an interim agreement in November 2013, the Islamic Republic of Iran and the P5+1 have been engaged in technical discussions about implementation. Iran’s deputy foreign minister, Abbas Araqchi, has indicated that the two sides are close to reaching an agreement and will likely hammer out all of the details some time in January. Once these talks are concluded – and the interim agreement is implemented – the two sides have expressed a desire to begin negotiations on a broader arrangement that places significant limits on Iran’s “break out capability” in exchange for the further easing of American, UN, and European sanctions.
The next round of negotiations promises to be even more difficult. The United States and other P5+1 members will seek to roll back elements of Tehran’s program, while Iran will seek to maintain its “nuclear rights.” Striking a balance will not be easy. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani recently wrote, “We will never forgo our right to benefit from nuclear energy; but we are ready to work toward removing any ambiguity and answer any reasonable question about our program.”
To overcome the decades of tension, both parties will have to come up with creative solutions that bridge the gap of mistrust. While the inspection regime for Natanz and, perhaps, Fordow are relatively straight forward, the West will certainly continue to be concerned about the possible resumption of weapons applicable experiments. To help ease these concerns, the two sides should look to the past to address the non-fissile material issues related to Iran’s nuclear program. The final agreement should seek to consolidate the locations where Iran conducts nuclear experiments – perhaps even with cooperation from Western nuclear firms. Such a move could help Iran increase transparency and ease some of the suspicions in the West, while also creating the atmospherics for both sides to declare victory.
The Shah’s Plutonium Plans: A Muddled Mess or a Serious Scientific Endeavor?
In 1974, the Shah of Iran announced an incredibly ambitious plan to procure 23 reactors to produce 23,000 MW of electricity by 1992. To help expedite the nuclear project, the Shah created the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) and tapped Akbar Etemad – a physicist trained in reactor physics in Lausanne, Switzerland – to oversee the development of Iran’s nuclear program, including the development of reprocessing technologies.
The United States sought to impose restrictions on the potential reprocessing of U.S. origin fissile material, even though it delayed the conclusion of a nuclear cooperation agreement, which would have allowed for U.S. firms to ink an agreement for the sale of up to eight nuclear reactors to Iran. Etemad, however, was able to reach an agreement with West Germany and France for the sale of nuclear reactors. (The two European countries signed the initial agreements before Iran had concluded a safeguards agreement with the IAEA.)
Etemad described the agreement with France as “[covering] almost all aspects of the peaceful utilization of nuclear energy.” The nuclear cooperation agreement included a provision for French assistance in setting up a nuclear research center in Iran. According to a former AEOI scientist I interviewed, the United States’ Burns and Roe worked with Dr. Reza Khazaneh, the scientist tasked to oversee the development of the Isfahan Nuclear Research Center, for site selection. The two sides eventually chose a large site situated between two mountains near the city of Isfahan that reminded an American team of scientists from Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) of Sandia National Laboratory in Albuquerque.
Isfahan Nuclear Technology Center: The Centerpiece of the Shah’s Program
The facility has since been dubbed the Isfahan Nuclear Technology Center (ENTEC). The original program for ENTEC called for the establishment of five divisions, with the two most important being reactor physics and metallurgy. The other three divisions were to study fuel fabrication, uranium chemistry, and desalinization. Iran set aside $300 million for construction and envisioned employing 1,200 researchers at the site.
The AEOI planned to use the facility “as a base for the implementation of [Iran’s] nuclear projects.” The plan for the Isfahan nuclear research center, according to Etemad, was to use the facilities to train power plant engineers, for research on power reactors, “particularly breeder reactors,” and for experiments to “familiarize [Iran] with the fuel cycles.” Iran was particularly interested in being “able to manufacture the fuel elements of the light water power stations and to learn how to handle uranium and plutonium.”
In 1977, an American team from ORNL visited the site. According to their report, the facility included 15 different buildings and was scheduled to begin operating in 1981. The main building, according to the ORNL team, would be 33,000 square feet and three stories tall. The plan included “a large hot lab facility,” which would have allowed Iran to experiment with spent fuel. The team concluded that, depending on the type of equipment installed, “the unusually large facility makes it theoretically possible to produce [plutonium].” The team, however, pointed out that the facility could also be used to produce “mixed oxide appropriate for reactor cores,” i.e. those needed for breeder reactors, or to develop fuel elements known as mixed-oxide fuel (MOX), which contains plutonium blended with uranium.
The American team reported that the facility was intended to act as a pilot plant for all aspects of the fuel cycle except enrichment. In the original plans, for example, the metallurgy division was tapped to study “materials to be used in reactors and other facilities, in which radioactive substances are manipulated.” At that time, Iran was seeking fuel supply contracts, but was also eager to fabricate fuel rods inside Iran using foreign-supplied fissile material. According to the ORNL team, the AEOI was interested in conducting “fabrication, disposal, and reprocessing” experiments at the facility. The team’s report is consistent with Etemad’s assertion in December 1975 that the facility would be used to study the fuel cycle, including the breeder reactor.
Did Iran have a Breeder Program, or was it Gearing up for MOX Production?
Etemad, according to an AEOI scientist I have interviewed, thought that “Nuclear [technology] had no limit,” meaning that Iran should engage in all aspects of nuclear research to develop expertise. Moreover, given the Shah’s support for the program, it is likely that a small number of scientists at ENTEC could have had access to funding for breeder research. Yet the AEOI scientist I interviewed questioned Iran’s breeder research, saying that such an advanced reactor design was “out of the question for Iran” at that time. However, he did point out that if Iran had chosen to reprocess – certainly not a foregone conclusion – than it would have been to produce mixed-oxide fuel, along the lines of the current programs in Japan and France.
A Shift in Emphasis to the Front End of the Fuel Cycle
In any case, Iran was seriously interested in understanding the back end of the fuel cycle to help support the country’s incredibly ambitious nuclear program. France cancelled its contracts with Iran in 1979. Iran would later finish construction at ENTEC and pursue conversion experiments and fuel fabrication at the facility in the 2000s. The activities at the site, however, have focused primarily on the front end of the fuel cycle.
ENTEC is a microcosm for the shift in emphasis from reprocessing to enrichment. Yet, even in 1976, the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran is known to have been interested in the development of the gas centrifuge. In turn, the emphasis on Iranian nuclear “independence” and the “all of the above” approach to the development of nuclear energy suggests continuity in nuclear decision-making. However, the scope and type of experiments conducted outside of ENTEC raises questions about the ultimate end goal of the Islamic Republic’s nuclear ambitions.
For me, the number and type of experiments that were conducted outside of ENTEC raises a number of questions about intent. In turn, I believe that the construction of large sites, like Lavizan-Shian (which seems to duplicate the declared intent of ENTEC and was reportedly linked to the Ministry of Defense), is strong circumstantial evidence of an illicit weapons program. However, I also believe that the program was halted in 2003 and that the Islamic Republic has an incentive to resolve the “outstanding issues” and reach some kind of nuclear détente with the United States and the rest of the P5+1.
Back to the Future: Consolidating Research at ENTEC
As part of any final agreement, it would behoove the United States to look to history and to encourage Iran to consolidate all of its nuclear-related research at ENTEC (with some carve-outs for legitimate university research). This proposal would have to move in parallel to the current agreement that – if implemented – would lengthen Iranian “break out” times. Such a policy could ease the burden of verifying the non-diversion of nuclear materials in Iran and could help ease the implementation of future Additional Protocol style inspections. Moreover, it could help the Islamic Republic brand any future agreement with the P5+1 as a “win” vis-à-vis its preference for maintaining its “rights under the NPT.”
The President submitted the renewed U.S. agreement for peaceful nuclear cooperation with Taiwan to Congress on January 7. Presumably, Vietnam’s new agreement will soon be submitted as well. You can read the Taiwan package, including the agreement, here.
Bottom line up front: Congress ought to approve the Taiwan agreement. But it should make clear that a trend in these agreements is not consistent with the Congressional role in current law in approving or disapproving these pacts. The trend arises out of the fact that the Taiwan agreement (similar to Japan’s agreement) is of indefinite duration. While Japan’s 123 did have a duration specified, it however also included language that has a negative effect on Congressional review. Unless there is a major renegotiation, or new agreement to replace the Taiwan or Japan agreements for some reason, Congress only ever reviews nuclear cooperation one time with them under review provisions enacted in 1978. The President can do this–nothing in the law says he cannot. However, it would appear to be inconsistent with the intent of all major nuclear cooperation laws enacted by Congress, going back to first Atomic Energy Act (of 1946) that provide a strong legislative role.
These are not treaties under U.S. law. They are Executive agreements that Congress must approve or disapprove. Treating them as indefinite U.S. commitments and obligations for civilian nuclear assistance is unwise. And yes, I can already hear the interagency reply: ”Indefinite duration does not mean infinite duration; we can cease cooperation at any time.” Yes, we know that. But that’s not why the Executive (or our allies) favor this trend. Consistent with former Secretary of Defense Bob Gates’ recently public view of Congress, it’s just another case of Executive power growing where Congress does not do enough oversight.
The Japan Agreement’s Duration
Article 16 of the 1987 US-Japan agreement set a precedent that is now replicated in the Taiwan text.
Article 16 states (in full):
1. This Agreement shall enter into force on the thirtieth day after the date on which the parties exchange diplomatic notes informing each other that their respective internal legal procedures necessary for entry into force of this Agreement have been completed and shall remain in force for a period of thirty years, and shall continue in force thereafter until terminated in accordance with the provisions of paragraph 2 of this Article.
2. Either party may, by giving six months written notice to the other party, terminate this Agreement at the end of the initial thirty-year period or at any time thereafter.
3. Notwithstanding the suspension or termination of this Agreement or any cooperation hereunder for any reason, Article 1, paragraph 4 of Article 2 and Articles 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 11, 12 and 14 shall continue in effect to the extent applicable.
4. At the request of either party, the parties shall consult with each other whether to amend this Agreement or to replace it with a new agreement.
While the legislative history provides no clear view of the USG or the US Congress regarding this unique construction, it is clear that, unless the USG or Japan gives 6-months’ notice under 16.2, or either decides that an amendment is needed under 16.4, then the agreement itself continues for an indefinite period of time, never again coming back to Congress for review.
The TECRO Agreement’s Duration
Paragraph (3) of Article 15 of the Taiwan agreement is a shorter formulation of the Japan language, but with the same effect:
This Agreement shall remain in force indefinitely unless terminated by either Party on one year’s written notice to the other Party. Prior to termination of this Agreement, the Parties shall review this Agreement in accordance with the provisions o f Article 12.2.
Unlike other 123 agreements, which contain fairly standard duration, termination and entry-into-force requirements, the effect of these provisions could be that the US Congress would not again review an agreement even after it expired (there being no decision by either party under 16.2 or 16.4), in Japan’s case. Japan won an indefinitely extendable agreement that cut Congress out of future review. Japan’s nuclear cooperation with the United States isn’t given the benefit of the review contemplated by the Nuclear Nonproliferation Act of 1978 (Public Law 95-242), despite the fact that it, like the India 123 and the US agreement with EURATOM, involves substantial retransferring and reprocessing of US material. That means that Congress only got a notional picture of the Japanese fuel cycle in 1987–not the the fuel cycle it actually has now. Many of these agreements negotiated since the Japan pact contemplate no clear need to return to Congress for review. Even the India agreement (which, apart from the US-Australia agreement, permits the United States to transfer sensitive nuclear technology, in that case, to India, in the other, from Australia to the United States (for SILEX)) has a duration of 40 years, but then includes rolling 10-year extensions that are not clearly subject to Congressional re-approval once the pact’s set duration expires.
Other allies in Asia will seek similar treatment, now that Taiwan got it. Notably, South Korea will now push (for reasons of prestige and regional competition) for an identical provision in its agreement since Japan and Taiwan now have it.
The Taiwan agreement contains a fairly clear prohibition on any enrichment and reprocessing (ENR) activities in Taiwan, subject to certain conditions that cover routine things like post-irradiation examinations (PIEs) of material and etc. Defined term (T) of Article 1 includes a new term, and definition, to wit, “(T) ‘Sensitive nuclear facility’ means any facility designed or used primarily for uranium enrichment, reprocessing of nuclear fuel, heavy water production, or fabrication of nuclear fuel containing plutonium[.]” Taiwan shall not have these as Article 7 makes it plain that:
TECRO….shall not possess sensitive nuclear facilities or otherwise engage in activities related to the enrichment or reprocessing of material or to the alteration in form or content (except by irradiation or further irradiation or, if agreed by the Parties, post-irradiation examination or spent fuel stabilization) of plutonium, uranium-233, high enriched uranium or irradiated source material or special flssionable material.
Section 3 of the Agreed Minute also appears to make clear that retransfers of U.S. material from Taiwan to other locations require case-by-case consent.
What happens to Taiwan’s spent fuel? France, inter alia. Paragraph (a) of Section 3 of the Agreed Minute to the agreement states that:
The Parties agree that irradiated source material or special fissionable material subject to Article 5 and Article 6 of the Agreement may be transferred from the territory of the authorities represented by TECRO to France, or other countries or destinations as may be agreed upon in writing by the Parties for storage and reprocessing. All such transfers described in this paragraph a. of Section 3 shall be in compliance with the policies, laws, and regulations of the recipient country or destination, including any requirement that indicates a provisional period for the receipt and treatment of such irradiated source material or special fissionable material or that the waste produced as a result of the reprocessing be returned to the territory of the authorities represented by TECRO.
Fuel Supply Commitment
Article 2 contains a relatively unconditional commitment from the United States to TECRO that it will cooperate in “Promotion of the establishment of a reliable source of nuclear fuel for future civil nuclear reactors deployed within the territory of the authorities represented by TECRO[.]” It might have made sense to tie this commitment to other provisions regarding nonproliferation; reading it as a piece of the whole however, a question arises whether we are committed thusly for a very long time.
Weighing the Issues
On balance, despite the fact that the Taiwan agreement could be read as a limitation on Congressional power, it is still a good agreement. As you can read it, there is a long enumeration of things related to fuel-cycle nonproliferation contained in it (Articles 2 and 3).
It’s version of the Gold Standard passes the test imposed by many nonproliferation advocates. No transfers of sensitive nuclear technology nor of restricted data are included (humor aside, we never would).
However, we now have several items in play. Discretely, issues arise combining the questions related to ENR under US 123 agreements and the role Congress has in policy concerning peaceful nuclear cooperation agreements, generally. Is it a reward to Taiwan for adopting the Gold Standard that its agreement has an indefinite duration? Certainly that did not and could not apply to Japan, which has indefinite duration and broad consent rights involving U.S. material in Japan. Would it a be reward for South Korea if it sticks to the 1992 commitments it made on ENR? Regarding Vietnam, does it get an indefinite agreement even though it did not agree to the Gold Standard?
In Taiwan’s case, the original 1972 123 agreement was never renegotiated despite the plain command in the NNPA that it should have been, and not 40 years later. Neither was South Korea’s agreement ever renegotiated, and it now must be extended for two years as it expires in less than 90 days. But Taiwan has something else in common with South Korea besides old agreements–neither nation’s program ever had a Nuclear Proliferation Assessment Statement (NPAS) submitted to Congress regarding its nuclear programs (all of them). Now that Taiwan’s NPAS is with Congress, it will certainly include the complex history of Taiwan’s nuclear weapons effort. Congress would do well to take a long look at the National Security Archive record to which I have linked. It demonstrates a few lessons that were apparently never learned, or are ignored, in other countries. Classified oversight in closed spaces should be used to riddle out what the open record has never shown on US-Taiwan nuclear cooperation, in the past. But significantly, Congress needs to focus on what is and is not included in these NPAS documents and Taiwan’s history will provide Congress with a unique chance to see how much the State Department includes in rendering judgments about a particular country’s proliferation past. It might even lead somebody to finally decide what should and should not be included in an NPAS–something the NNPA, as enacted, never did.
As for South Korea, I recommend against inclusion of indefinite duration in any new 123 agreement–whatever it says about ENR unless it can motivate negotiators to think about things other than the pending extension and pyroprocessing. The forces of change shaping Asian nuclear calculations are in significant flux. China’s 123 will expire in 2015–a year before the South Korean pact will expire, if it is extended, in 2016. That’s no time to take Congress out of the loop on US assistance to foreign nuclear energy programs.
This is a guest post by Ariana Rowberry, Herbert Scoville Jr. Peace Fellow with the Arms Control and Nonproliferation Initiative, Brookings Institution.
The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) is preparing for the arduous task of removing and destroying Syria’s chemical agents and infrastructure. This task faces numerous complications. The chemicals must be sealed and packaged, transported across insecure territory on questionable infrastructure, loaded on two cargo vessels, one belonging to Denmark and one to Norway, at the port of Latakia, which will then transport the chemicals to an Italian port, where they will be transferred to a cargo ship under control of the U.S. Navy.
Here, Syria’s estimated 500 tons of “priority 1” chemical agents—including mustard, VX, and sarin gas and their associated components—will be destroyed at sea, using a Field Deployable Hydrolysis System, a technology that will dilute the chemical agents to a low-level toxicity. The process of hydrolysis has previously been used in the destruction of chemical agents; however, using such a mobile system at sea is unprecedented. The United Nations decision to destroy Syria’s most dangerous class of chemical agents at sea was made after no country volunteered to host their destruction.
What is a Field Deployable Hydrolysis System and how will it operate at sea?
The Field Deployable Hydrolysis System (FDHS) was developed by the U.S. Army Edgewood Chemical Biological Center (ECBC) in conjunction with the Defense Threat Reduction Agency. Development for the system began last winter after senior officials within the Pentagon assembled a senior group to look at technologies that could be applied to Syria’s chemical weapon stockpile. Final testing for the system concluded this summer. A total of seven FHDS systems are expected to be developed. Currently, three units exist, two of which will be used in the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons. One FDHS is roughly the size of two shipping containers.
The two FDHS will be placed on the motor vessel Cape Ray, a cargo ship that is part of the United States’ Maritime Administration’s ready reserve force. The ship has undergone special renovations at Norfolk, Virginia to host the FDHS capability. The FDHS systems will be placed below deck complete with carbon filters and an analytical laboratory. The FDHS is able to be deployed anywhere in the world within ten days and takes a crew of 15 individuals to operate. Around 100 people will be aboard the Cape Ray, comprised of civilians and contractors from the Department of Defense, in addition to members of the OPCW.
How does the Field Deployable Hydrolysis System Work?
The FDHS uses water, sodium hydroxide (NaOH), sodium hypochlorite (NaOCl) and heat to neutralize the chemicals with 99.9 percent effectiveness. The chemicals are broken down in a 2,200-gallon titanium reactor. The system has the capacity to destroy between 5 and 25 tons of chemical agent per day. Therefore, the FDHS has the potential capacity to destroy Syria’s priority 1 chemical agents within 45 to 90 days.
The waste resulting from the dilution of the chemicals will be stored on board the Cape Ray, assuaging environmental concerns that the effluent could be dumped into the sea. The FDHS generates between five and fourteen times the volume of chemical agent being destroyed. After the chemicals are diluted, the effluent can be commercially stored.
The FDHS is self-sufficient, complete with its own power generators, personnel decontamination station and chemical agent filtration system. The FDHS will only need the outside resources of water, reagents and fuel to operate.
A proven technology or cause for concern?
The international community considered alternative technologies to destroy Syria’s chemical agents, including incineration. However, the FDHS was ultimately selected, given the United States’ extensive experience destroying chemical agents through hydrolysis, including at the former chemical weapons sites at Newport, Indiana and Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland during the 2000s. According to officials in the Department of Defense, the FDHS is a “proven technology.” The only change is that this technology is now mobile.
However, some chemical weapons experts are expressing concern. Raymond Zilinskas, director of the Chemical and Biological Weapons Nonproliferation Program at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies remarked that, “There’s no precedence. We’re all guessing. We’re all estimating.” Mr. Zilinskas also drew attention to the fact that no assessments of possible environmental impact are being conducted, as would be done if the chemicals were destroyed on land. Despite these concerns, it appears that, given the security and diplomatic complications, paired with a strict time frame for the complete elimination of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile, the FDHS provides a relatively low-risk alternative for ridding Syria of its most dangerous chemical agents.
What follows is a piece by Aaron Stein, a research associate at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) and a doctoral candidate at King’s College London. Aaron has agreed to be an Arms Control Wonk “pinch hitter” and contribute posts about nuclear-related issues in the Middle East. He blogs at Turkey Wonk. Follow him on Twitter: @aaronstein1.
A Turkish Success Story?
After the revolts in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya the Turkish model was, once again, back en vogue. While the idea of a Turkish political model has been around since shortly after the end of World War II, the culturally conservative and democratically elected Justice and Development Party (AKP) appeared to be an ideal model for the “Arab Spring” states to emulate. The AKP’s leadership strongly supported the Egyptian revolution and sought to leverage its regional popularity to carve out a larger role for itself in the Middle East. These efforts have failed. Yet, its recent nuclear energy related successes with Russian and Japanese nuclear energy firms may signal the start of a “Turkish nuclear financing model” for other cash-strapped countries in the Middle East to follow.
Turkey Opts for the “Pay Later” Option
In 1983, Ankara began to insist on a unique financing model for its nuclear tender known as Build, Operate, Transfer, or BOT. The financing model demands that the foreign supplier pay for the cost of construction and operate the reactor. The foreign firm was expected to recoup expenses through guaranteed electricity sales and then transfer the power plant to a local company. In return, the new local operator would pay the the foreign firm a percentage of the profits made from the sale of electricity until the reactor was decommissioned.
American nuclear companies have balked at these demands, but companies from Canada, Japan, and Germany have traditionally entered into negotiations with Ankara. However, in every case, Ankara’s refusal to include an off-take agreement – whereby the Turkish government would guarantee the cost of construction – derailed negotiations.
After a court case in the mid-1990s, Turkey changed its financing model from BOT to Build, Operate, Own, or BOO. The updated model kept the basic framework of the BOT financing model in place, but removed the demand for the foreign firm to transfer the nuclear plant to a Turkish partner company. The updated BOO model mandated that the foreign firm establish a local subsidiary to direct and oversee the financing and construction of the power plant. Ankara, however, refused to provide an off-take agreement and continued to demand that the foreign supplier assume the financing risk. This specific disagreement about guarantees plagued Turkey’s negotiations with foreign suppliers in the 1980s and 1990s and was the single biggest reason for Ankara’s inability to conclude an agreement with a foreign supplier for nuclear power plants.
In 2010, however, Turkey was finally able to reach an agreement with Russia’s Rosatom for the construction four VVER-1200 reactors at the Akkuyu site near the small city of Mersin. Rosatom has agreed to take a 100% equity stake in the project company (Akkuyu NPP JSC), to operate the reactor, to oversee the decommissioning of the reactor, to provide the fuel, and to take back the spent fuel.
Turkey has agreed to pay $12.35 U.S. cents per-kilowatt hour for 70% of the electricity produced at the first two plants for 15 years, or up until 2030. Turkey will also purchase 30% of the electricity produced from reactors three and four at the same price and for the same length of time. Akkuyu NPP JSC will then be able to sell the remaining electricity on the open market at normal market rates. After 2030, the project company will pay 20% of the profits to the Turkish government. If there any delays, the cost will be borne by the responsible party. Complicated enough?
The financing model, however, now appears to have hit a snag. According to Nuclear Intelligence Weekly, Russian President Vladimir Putin told Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan that “Russia is hoping to see Ankara provide both tax incentives and guarantees of a long-term price for power output from its four planned VVER-1200 reactors at Akkuyu on Turkey’s Mediterranean coast.”
Rosatom is also looking to sell 49% of its equity stake in Akkuyu NPP JSC to help decrease the financing risk. Russia’s demands likely have to do with Turkey’s recent selection of Japan’s Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) and GDF Suez as the winner of a recent tender to construct nuclear reactors at a second site on the Black Sea coast known as Sinop. Mitsubishi plans to build the Atmea-1 and GDF Suez will operate the reactor. However, unlike the Akkuyu project, Turkey’s state-owned utility EUAS has agreed to take at least a 35% stake in the Japanese/French project company. Rosatom received no such perk!
Jordan Follows Suit: The Death of the “Turn-Key” Model?
Despite these problems, the BOO financing model represents a real challenge to the “turn-key” reactor concept. Moreover, it represents a model for other emerging nuclear states to follow.
Jordan, for example, recently considered bids from Rosatom and Mitsubishi/GDF Suez. Both consortiums are reported to have offered Amman a “Turkish style” deal. Jordan eventually selected the Russian consortium, after making clear during the tender process that it expected heavy vendor financing. Yet, in a key difference from the Turkish case, Rosatom has only agreed to take a 49% stake in the project under the BOO model.
According to Nuclear Intelligence Weekly “Jordan w[ill] rely at least partially on funds from Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states, who in the wake of the Arab Spring pledged financing for poorer Arab states … which suffered repeated and prolonged disruptions in natural gas piped from Egypt.” It is unclear if the GCC will follow through on these pledges for a proposed Jordanian nuclear program, but such an arrangement could help ease the financing burden. If the GCC financing does fall through, Jordan could, like Turkey in the case of the Sinop arrangement, use a state-owned utility to partner with Rosatom to guarantee electricity sales.
Russia is reportedly going to supply Jordan with the reactor fuel and will take back the waste. The risk, therefore, is not proliferation, but rather the implications of the spread of BOO financing model for nuclear safety.
The model has some notable drawbacks. U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) Chairman Allison Macfarlane has warned that the BOO model allows for nuclear energy novices to outsource all aspects of nuclear energy development – including the regulatory provisions – to foreign companies. Such an arrangement could be problematic from a safety point of view, or, in the event of an incident, could lead to questions about who is responsible for responding to a nuclear accident.
The BOO model works like a concession, whereby the foreign operator works through a local subsidiary to manage a foreign nuclear power plant. If that plant melts down, will the foreign operator then have to pay for the cost of clean up? And, if so, will they then look to their own government, or the government that hosts the reactor for help financing the expensive clean-up operation? Such details will surely be addressed in the inter-governmental agreement, but things have a way of getting murky when billions of dollars are at stake.
Yet for the non-oil producing states in the Middle East, the BOO model offers a number of very attractive features. As more and more states in the region look at ways to deepen their scientific base, the potential for local scientists/engineers/operators to work with foreign operators in the project company will continue to be a particularly attractive feature. Moreover, the BOO model allows for the host government to sidestep the cost of developing nuclear energy. Lastly, the model allows for states still enamored with the prestige of nuclear power to develop a nuclear power plant without first having to go through the timely process of training and developing suitable personnel to oversee construction and then operate the plant.
The approach is dangerous, but policymakers appear to have accepted that the benefits outweigh the risks. Turkey was the trendsetter in this regard, and now has a chance to establish itself as a “model” for other emerging nuclear countries.
Our President yesterday at the Brookings Institution shared the podium with Haim Saban, the founder of Power Rangers bringing my short 17 year old life full circle. (In a storage bin somewhere, I still have my hundreds of Power Rangers action figures, with their Megazords and all.)
During the Q&A [link], the President stated: “If you asked me what is the likelihood that we are able to arrive at the end state I was just describing earlier I wouldn’t say it was more than 50/50″. The backup to the end state was informative:
But precisely because we don’t trust the nature of the Iranian regime I think that we have to be more realistic and ask ourselves what puts us in a strong position to assure ourselves that Iran’s not having a nuclear weapon and that we are protected. What is required to accomplish that and how does that compared to other options that we might take. And it is my strong belief that we can envision a[n] end state that gives us an assurance that even if they have some modest enrichment capability it is so constrained and the inspections are so intrusive that they as a practical matter do not have breakout capacity. Theoretically, they might still have some, but frankly theoretically they will always have some because as I said the technology here is available to any good physics student at pretty much any university around the world. And they have already gone through the cycle to the point where the knowledge we are not going to be able to eliminate. But what we can do is eliminate the incentive for them to want to do this. And with respect to what happens if this breaks down I won’t go into details. I will say, that if we cannot get the kind of comprehensive end state that satisfies us and the world community and the P5+1, then the pressure that we’ve been applying on them and the options that I made clear I can avail myself of, including the military option, is one that we would consider and prepare for. (ACW unofficial transcription of the Brookings website mp3.)
Initially, 50% seems like a number that one can throw out, regardless of any statistical analysis, and support due to “back of the napkin logic” after Iran’s previous. However, 50% actually represents a calculated probability, created via the Bayesian method that I proposed in Statistical Diplomacy during October on Arms Control Wonk. This probability is extremely defensible, and demonstrates rigorous critical thought from the White House. Perhaps his analyst read ACW?
First, the term failure must be defined. It would be reasonable to assume that failure means Iranian production of a nuclear weapon. It does not necessarily mean Iran reaching breakout capability. Only an actual warhead would constitute negotiation failure (which is not to say that negotiations could not break down otherwise, as we saw this fall during the marathon of talks between the Islamic Republic and the P5+1). However, the most likely proof of failure would be Iranian production of a weapon. Therefore, we can equate failure and Iran’s production of a weapon, regardless of the additional probabilities of various events, such as Iranian breakout, or Iranian refusal to give up the Arak reactor.
Now, after settling that issue, we can move on to the statistical side of the argument. My method that I first discussed in Statistical Diplomacy states that Bayesian analysis can yield conditional probabilities on a variety of negotiation events. By laying out each event in sequential order in an “event tree,” with nodes of yes or no for each occurrence, one can easily apply Bayesian analysis to the probabilities each event is assigned. One of the simplest calculations that one can make with the event tree is the final probability of a certain occurrence. The only calculations required are the discovery of the product of each node in a certain branch of the event tree. Once each branch probability is calculated, one can sum the final probabilities of each event occurring. Logically, the final event in the Iranian negotiations tree is the Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon. Thus, by summing and multiplying the required probabilities, one can create a rough estimate of the chance Iran will produce a weapon.
Here is the part where Obama’s estimate of 50% begins to make sense. Initially, I assigned probabilities to each node in the event tree before the negotiations, and before the Geneva deal, when I wrote the first paper. These probabilities were laid out in the abridged version of Statistical Diplomacy that I published in October. Using those estimates, I calculated that Iran had a 52.2% chance of producing a nuclear weapon. Following the November 23rd deal, I modified several probabilities in my tree. (I have submitted a version of the paper with those probabilities, and an analysis, to the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists “Voices of Tomorrow” column.) In that version of the paper, I calculated that Iran has a 47.2% chance of producing a nuclear weapon. Obama’s 50% is “close enough for government work”.
Of course, the probabilities in my tree are subjective as are the President’s. However, the fact that this Bayesian method explicitly results in Obama’s 50% estimate indicates that the White House’s assessment can be reasonably backed up by calculation. Further, the fact that the Obama himself recognizes that the Iranian true intentions and the negotiated results can only be estimated with probability indicates that our President and ACW do not differ too greatly in opinion.
Well, it’s been a while, but it has returned!
Safeguards Report – IAEA Board of Governors | “No additional major components have been installed at the IR-40 Reactor; the production of UO2 for fuel assemblies for the reactor has continued at FMP; no additional fuel assemblies have yet been completed.” That’s a win. Although we must not forget this refers to reactor construction, not necessarily enrichment. Nevertheless, even with France’s antics, this news has Mr. Dahl (Reuters), Mr. Richter (LA Times), Mr. Peterson (CSM), and Al Jazeera excited. I wonder how this factors into the tree…(hint: possible follow-up in the future).
Oren Dorell – USA Today | According to an Iranian dissident group, the Islamic Republic has been constructing a secret nuclear site, although it is unclear as to what Iran is actually constructing there. Former Deputy Director-General Olli Heinonen comments:
One of the biggest questions at this point is are these only plans or have the plans already been executed. Are these plans on paper, or plans where someone’s digging a hole somewhere or are they installing machines somewhere? It would be important from the beginning of the negotiating process to know where the centrifuges are, to know if there is another centrifuge site other than Natanz or Fordow, is there a stockpile of centrifuges somewhere or are they enriching somewhere we don’t know.
P5+1 Preview – US Dept. of State | The briefing released before the latest round of talks. According to “Senior Administrative Official,” the US was willing to offer “…limited, targeted, and reversible sanctions relief.” We will see if that holds true for the next round, and if Obama will be able to follow through on sanction relief.
Peter Foster – The Telegraph | Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, is confident in an upcoming deal. Michael R. Gordon of The New York Times holds similar sentiments. We now know that Khamenei need not explicitly review the deal, which could expedite the process of acceptance.
Stephen L. Carter – Bloomberg | Mr. Carter disparages any hope that the West has in sealing a deal. He states that Senior Administration Official implied that military action might not even knock out Iran’s nuclear sites. Mar Kirk agrees with Mr. Carter, and urges the West to hold out for a better deal. Bloomberg’s esteemed editors fire back.
Lexington – The Economist | Lexington elaborates on the strained state of Israeli-US relations in the context of the current nuclear talks.
NPR | Apparently, Iran is enlisting the help of modern technology in their diplomatic efforts. The new website nuclearenergy.ir uses a pretty layout to explain Iran’s perspective on its development of nuclear technology.
Michael Crowley – Time | Mr. Crowley reminds us of the importance of finessing discussions about the word “rights.”
Kenneth M Pollack – Boomberg | Mr. Pollack contends that we can learn many of Kennedy’s tactics against the USSR to the current Iranian nuclear situation.
BBC | Iranians have not forgotten the Green Movement.
We hope you enjoyed this edition of FYRP.