iran enrichment plant, iran nuclear plant, qom nuclear plant
GeoEye Sateliite Image/IHS Jane's Analysis/AP
This satellite image taken Sept. 26, 2009, shows a facility believed to be a uranium enrichment
plant under construction inside a mountain near Qom, Iran.

Iran Again Challenges Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty

September 29, 2009 06:00 PM
by findingDulcinea Staff
Western leaders are looking to impose sanctions on Iran following the development of a uranium enrichment plant, contending that it constitutes another violation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Dispute Over Iranian Enrichment Plant

The United States is pushing for new sanctions against Iran following Iran’s admission last week that it had secretly built a second uranium enrichment plant. Iranian leaders are scheduled to meet Thursday in Geneva with leader from UN Security Council countries: permanent members the U.S., Britain, Russia, France and China, plus Germany.

Iran says that the plant, located near the city of Qom, is used for peaceful purposes. However, the plant, which can hold about 3,000 centrifuges (the machines used to enrich uranium), is not large enough for a nuclear power plant.

“But 3,000 could produce fissile material for one nuclear weapon a year if run nonstop at optimum capacity,” writes Mark Heinrich for Reuters. “This raises questions in Western intelligence minds whether the site was really for civilian purposes.”

Iran is required under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which it signed in 1970, to give the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog, access to its nuclear programs for inspection. It failed to alert the IAEA to its main enrichment plant in Natanz, which was discovered in 2003. According to the IAEA, it was required to announce that it was building a second plant while it was still in the design stage, a claim disputed by Iran.

A member of the Iranian parliament declared that Iran would consider withdrawing from the NPT if the Thursday talks “do not reach a conclusion” over the plant dispute, though other Iranian officials deny the claim.

“Strategic analysts believe Iran would think twice before quitting the NPT since such a move would betray nuclear weapons ambitions and could provoke a pre-emptive attack by Israel and possibly the United States,” explains Reuters.

Background: Development of the NPT

Post-World War II efforts by the U.S. and U.K. to restrict the development of nuclear weapons were unsuccessful, as the Soviet Union developed weapons in 1949. “And increasingly it was becoming apparent that earlier assumptions about the scarcity of nuclear materials and the difficulty of mastering nuclear technology were inaccurate,” according to the U.S. Department of State.
In 1963, the U.S., U.K. and Soviet Union signed the Partial Test Ban Treaty, prohibiting above-ground testing of nuclear weapons. Through the 1960s, the UN General Assembly debated a comprehensive international agreement to inhibit the production of nuclear weapons, developing the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), opened for signing in 1968.

The NPT designated the five countries possessing nuclear weapons—the U.S., U.K., Soviet Union, France and China—as nuclear weapons states. These states were allowed to retain their nuclear programs, though they were advised to seek disarmament.

Non-nuclear weapon states were prohibited from developing nuclear technology except for peaceful use, such as civilian nuclear energy. Their nuclear activity is subject to supervision by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Nuclear weapons states were prohibited from providing weapons or assistance to non-nuclear weapons states.

The U.S., U.K., Soviet Union and 59 non-nuclear weapons states signed the treaty, which took effect in 1970. The NPT has since been acceded to by almost every country in the world, including France and China. Just four recognized states do not abide by the treaty: India, Israel, Pakistan and North Korea.

The majority of the world’s nuclear weapons are held by the five nuclear weapons states. India and Pakistan openly have nuclear programs that were developed in the 1970s. According to the Arms Control Association, each country possesses fewer than 100 nuclear warheads. Israel, which has not confirmed or denied that it has a nuclear program, is believed to have between 75 and 200 nuclear warheads, according to the ACA.

North Korea signed the NPT in 1985, but it continued developing nuclear weapons at its Yongbyon Nuclear Research Complex and engaged it several standoffs with the U.S. and international inspectors. It withdrew from the NPT in 2003, and in October 2006 conducted its first-ever nuclear test.

Several countries belonging to the NPT are suspected of developing nuclear weapons in violation of the treaty, chiefly Iran. Syria is also believed to be developing a nuclear program, according to the ASA, while countries such as South Africa, Argentina, Brazil and South Korea have dropped nuclear programs.

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