Diplomats from six world powers are due back in Kazakhstan on Friday for talks with Iran about its controversial nuclear program. From the hawkish “bomb-bomb-bomb-Iran” crowd to the “jaw-jaw-not-war-war” folks, there is no shortage of ideas about how to resolve the Iranian nuclear issue.
Lost in the din is the prospect that the United Nations agency charged with monitoring Iran’s nuclear activities could settle the most pressing issue – by helping Iran convert its enriched uranium gas stockpile to safer metal form. If only the world powers will encourage it to do its job.
The U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) not only monitors member states’ nuclear programs to make sure they are in compliance with required safeguards obligations, but it also provides technical cooperation in the peaceful use of nuclear technology.
The most serious Western concern about Iran’s nuclear program is the enrichment of fissile uranium to 20 percent in their gas centrifuges. Building up this stockpile is a big step toward having the fuel needed for a nuclear bomb, should Tehran ever decide to kick off a weaponization effort.
This is not to say that it is what Iran intends to do. On the contrary, the Iranians have been converting some of the enriched uranium gas into metallic fuel plates for the Tehran Research Reactor, which produces medical isotopes for use in cancer therapy.