*Breaking News Update on the Polonium Issue*Posted: February 4, 2014
We’ve all been tricked.
Basically, the piece by Fredrik Dahl that I referred to in my last post, made a mountain out of a molehill. Amano didn’t in fact bring the polonium issue up at all. He only responded to it very briefly, when a reporter, Joseph Joffe, raised it as a question which he posed to Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif. Frankly, it was a dumb question to ask, but Zarif humored the reporter and answered the question. Only then did Amano make his very brief remarks on the matter, which I think really amounted only to a boilerplate answer that this was among the various issues about which that the IAEA would like more information from Iran. This was not, as the sensationalism of the Dahl article would lead us to believe, something that Amano raised himself out of the ether, during a speech or other pre-planned presentation. This was just Amano responding briefly, and probably fairly disinterestedly with regard to the specific matter in question, to a query from a reporter.
You can see the exchange yourself in this video from the Munich conference. The exchange happens at the 1hr 2 min mark of the video. Here is a rough transcript of the exchange (I don’t guarantee its 100% accurate, but it’s close):
Joseph Joffe: Mr. Minister. I wish we had a few more like you in our Western diplomatic services who can handle words and arguments so nicely as you do. this whole argument has revolved around trust, verification and facts. I think there’s a nice little case study, which you mentioned yourself, which is the Tehran Research Reactor which went online, I don’t know, 1967. What you forgot to say is that it was fueled with highly enriched uranium under the Shah’s reign. So by 1991, the United States, which delivered this stuff, thought maybe it wasn’t such a good idea to give weapons grade uranium to the Iranians. And then the Iranians went around and begged a little bit and scaled down the reactor to the use of 20 percent so that it can be ostensibly for the use of medical purposes. That’s under safeguards and that’s good. However, there’s a little thing that’s called polonium, which this reactor produces. It’s a tiny, tiny quantity which is extremely important for creating neutron, neutron eruptions, which trigger nuclear explosions. And that our friends from the IAEA say that they cannot control. So why not start with that old clunker, which is worthless to begin with, and really open it up and say `you know, you think we’re making plutonium here, why don’t we go and check it out.’ That builds trust! Not [your] appeals to trust. I think if we can start with these things, as we have, I think we’ll be doing fine.
Javad Zarif: I don’t know whether I should take that as a compliment, but I will. We didn’t build that reactor. It was a part of Atoms for Peace. The United States built it. We didn’t ask for highly-enriched uranium to fuel that reactor. It was the United States that did it at that time. Then it decided to convert it to medium-enriched uranium, or low-enriched uranium because 20 percent is just the border line between medium and low. Sorry Dr. Solana, I’m not a physicist, you know this more than I do. And we did, we brought it down. We did, we had to. But then the United States had to give us the fuel. Why didn’t it? Because they don’t have to. That’s the problem. Now that reactor is under full IAEA safeguards. The IAEA controls it. The polonium issue — it’s not plutonium, it’s polonium. We didn’t design that to come out of that reactor. And the reactor is under IAEA safeguards. As I said very clearly to you: nuclear technology for peaceful purposes and nuclear technology for weapons are twin sisters, or twin brothers. It’s the role of the IAEA to make sure that the more benign parts of nuclear technology are implemented and the other side is not and we are open to that. The IAEA has full access to Tehran nuclear reactor and it’s under inspection, has always been, and we’ll continue to work with the IAEA to answer any questions they may have about it.
Yukiya Amano: Just a brief intervention. As Minister Zarif mentioned, the Tehran Research Reactor is under IAEA safeguards and we can tell that stays in peaceful purpose. You have raised issues of polonium. Polonium can be used for civil purpose like a nuclear battery but it can also be used for a neutron source for nuclear weapons. We would like to clarify this issue, too.
Not cool, Fredrik Dahl. Not cool.