We Taught Them to Fish and They Are
Harold M. Agnew
There is an old saying if you give a person a fish he has one meal but if you teach him to fish he will have many meals. Many of us who opposed the Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) called it a license to steal because it provides a signing nation any and all technical nuclear help it requests so it can develop its own completely peaceful nuclear capability. In return, the nation agrees not to use the technology to develop a nuclear weapon capability. But upon giving six months notice, after receiving all the relevant nuclear technology, it can do whatever it wishes with the technology which it has received with no penalty. It can really become a complete nuclear “fisher-man.”
Iran, since signing the NPT, has received extensive nuclear technology available under the NPT. One aspect of the peaceful use of nuclear technology is to develop nuclear reactors for electrical power. Most nuclear reactors today use uranium which has been enriched to a few percent. So a nation wishing to develop nuclear reactors either has to contract for enriched uranium or develop the technology to enrich natural uranium to at least a few percent. (Several reactors have been built and operated very well on highly enriched (weapons grade) uranium and even plutonium.) But once a nation has developed the capability to enrich uranium to a few percent it is relatively easy to enrich the material to weapons grade. This is the concern today with regard to Iran.
If one is concerned with global warming and appreciates the need for electrical power, especially in developing nations, then one should support the development of safe modern nuclear power reactors in lieu of burning coal, oil or gas, all of which release carbon dioxide. In the case of coal fired plants there is also release of mercury, lead, and even uranium to further pollute the atmosphere and contribute to global warming. If Iran develops its enrichment capability solely for low enrichment reactor fuel and allows full IAEA inspections then we should encourage its plan to develop a nuclear electrical power and set an example for Middle East nations.
In any event, if it doesn’t allow full IAEA monitoring of its nuclear endeavors, just remember that the NPT allowed it to become a nuclear fisherman.
But if it does become a nuclear weapons capable nation, we should not follow the path which we followed with Pakistan and India. Sanctions are of no use. The real problem with new nuclear capable nations is that of preventing unauthorized use of their weapons. Their weapons are not under physical control of the nation’s president or king. Somewhere a colonel or lieutenant or sergeant has actual physical control of the weapons. Until the early 70’s even the U.S. President did not have a positive control system over our nation’s nuclear weapons. If a nation develops a nuclear weapons capability, we should offer the technology to guarantee no unauthorized use. But under the NPT this is not allowed according to DOE legal council.
So much for the license to steal.
Harold M. Agnew
Harold Agnew was born in Denver, Colorado in 1921 and is now an adjunct professor at the University of California at San Diego. In 1942, he was part of Fermi's group that constructed, and then operated, the first nuclear reactor. He subsequently moved to Los Alamos for work on the development of the atomic bomb. There, he became the Weapons Division leader (1964-1970), and then Director of LANL (1970-1979). He was scientific advisor to Supreme Commander Europe at NATO (1961-64), a member of the President’s Science Advisory Committee (1965-73), and a White House science councilor(1982-89) . He received the E.O. Lawrence Award in 1966 and the Enrico Fermi Award of the Department of Energy in 1978, and is a member of both the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering.