Iran’s plan to begin operating its first nuclear power reactor with Russia’s help will not curb its ongoing uranium enrichment activities, despite arguments that the power plant’s operation makes enrichment unnecessary. “If the Iranians accept that [Russian-supplied] uranium for a civilian power plant, then there’s no need for them to learn how to enrich,” President Bush said back in 2007, after the Russians delivered the first fuel shipment. More recently, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs reiterated that position, saying that Russia’s work makes it so that “Iran does not need its own enrichment capability if its intentions – as it states – are for a peaceful nuclear program.”
And yet, Iranian vice president and head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, Ali Akbar Salehi, announced Sunday that Iran will begin building the first of 10 new uranium enrichment sites in March 2011. Although Tehran first announced it would build the 10 new facilities in late 2009, Salehi’s statement revealed that construction sites had been chosen and work would soon commence. No further details were given.
Iran is already enriching uranium at its internationally-monitored plant at Natanz and is building a second enrichment facility inside a mountain at Fordo, near Qom.
The usual Western powers expressed their concern upon hearing Iran’s plans. British Prime Minister David Cameron’s spokesman Steve Field said the news reports “do not give us any comfort that Iran is moving in the right direction.” And French Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Christine Fages said the announcement “only intensifies the deep worries of the international community about the Iranian nuclear program.”
Sure, the West is worried, but worrying will not prevent Iran from continuing to enrich uranium. So what will the international community do about it, if anything? It was difficult enough passing the last round of UN sanctions with Russia and China dragging their heels, and while Israel and the U.S. have not taken military action against Iran off the table, the time-frame is narrowing. According to former U.S. envoy to the UN John Bolton, once the Bushehr facility is operational on August 21 it will be too late for a military air strike against Iran, as attacking an operational nuclear site would spread radiation, harming Iranian civilians and potentially others, if the substance reaches the Persian Gulf.
As Bolton said, this is a “significant victory for Iran.”