Yesterday, a group of 37 American scientists–including Nobel laureates, nuclear specialists, and former White House advisers–sent an open letter to President-elect Donald Trump in support of the Iran nuclear deal (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA). Trump made his opposition to the JCPOA quite clear during the presidential campaign, at one point calling it “the worst deal ever negotiated,” and his appointment of the virulently anti-Iran Michael Flynn to serve as his National Security Advisor does not bode well for the deal’s future. However, there have been indications since Trump’s election that he may seek to change the deal but will not look to simply eliminate it. In light of that, this letter argues that the JCPOA is working as intended to block Iran’s path to a nuclear weapon and urges Trump not to do away with it once he takes office. Here is the letter:
2 January 2017
Dear President-Elect Trump;
On August 9, 2015 a group of scientists and engineers with understanding of the physics and technology of nuclear power and of nuclear weapons sent an open letter to President Obama about the Iran Deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). We characterized the JCPOA as “an innovative agreement, with much more stringent constraints than any previously negotiated non-proliferation framework.”
Eleven months after “implementation day” we write to provide our assessment of the current status of the JCPOA. As agreed, Iran has deactivated and put into storage under International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) seal about 2/3 of its centrifuges, and it has exported more than 95% of its stockpile of low-enriched uranium—a springboard to weapon-usable highly enriched uranium. Iran no longer produces uranium with enrichment near 20%, as it did before the interim Joint Plan of Action (JPOA), but is restricted to 3.67% enrichment. As a result of the reduced centrifuge capacity and the elimination of the large stock of partially enriched uranium, the breakout time for Iran to produce enough highly enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon has increased to many months, from just a few weeks during the time that the JPOA was under negotiation. IAEA inspectors now have the right to daily access at Iran’s enrichment plant at Natanz, and monitoring devices there make continuous on-line enrichment measurements. We are confident that no surprise breakout at this facility is possible.
The large “calandria” or reactor vessel for Iran’s heavy-water reactor has been rendered inoperable, and Iran’s stockpile of heavy water has been reduced to 130 metric tons and capped at that level. The overage of 0.1 tons recently reported by the IAEA, of no strategic significance, was remedied by export of 11 tons as verified by the IAEA. The redesign of the reactor will ensure that its plutonium production will be about 10% of that from the original design, and, when construction is complete and the reactor has begun operation, the fuel that has generated plutonium will be removed from Iran. These steps eliminate the means for Iran to produce plutonium, the alternative material for nuclear weapons.
Furthermore, Iran has agreed to an enhanced version of the procedures of the “Additional Protocol” to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which gives IAEA inspectors access to, inter alia, centrifuge manufacturing, R&D and storage sites, and uranium mines, as well as any suspect potential clandestine uranium enrichment facilities.
In sum, the JCPOA has dramatically reduced the risk that Iran could suddenly produce significant quantities of nuclear-weapon materials. This has lowered the pressure felt by Iran’s neighbors to develop their own nuclear weapons options and none has announced a new dual-use nuclear program of its own.
In the near term it will be necessary to maintain vigilance using the verification procedures in place. As we noted in our previous letter, if Iran decides to increase its enrichment capacity as allowed by the JCPOA after about ten years, enhanced verification measures would be desirable and consistent with Iran’s commitment in the JCPOA to implement certified modern verification procedures in line with internationally accepted IAEA practice. Multinational participation in what is currently a purely national program for producing power reactor fuel may also be a desirable means to enhance transparency.
The JCPOA does not take any options off the table for you or any future president. Indeed it makes it much easier for you to know if and when Iran heads for a bomb. It provides both time and legitimacy for an effective response.
Our technical judgment is that the multilateral JCPOA provides a strong bulwark against an Iranian nuclear-weapons program. We urge you to preserve this critical U.S. strategic asset.
Richard L. Garwin, IBM Fellow Emeritus
Robert J. Goldston, Princeton University
Siegfried S. Hecker, Stanford University
Martin Hellman, Stanford University
Rush D. Holt, American Association for the Advancement of Science
R. Scott Kemp, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Frank von Hippel, Princeton University
Also signed by:
John F. Ahearne, Member, National Academy of Engineering
Philip W. Anderson, Professor Emeritus, Princeton University
Lewis M. Branscomb, Professor Emeritus, University of California at San Diego
Christopher Chyba, Princeton University
Leon N. Cooper, Brown University
Pierce S. Corden, Former Director, Office of International Security Negotiations, Bureau of Arms Control, Department of State
John M. Cornwall, Professor of Physics and Astronomy, UCLA
Philip E. Coyle, Former Associate Director for National Security and International Affairs, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy
Sidney D. Drell, Stanford University
Freeman Dyson, Professor Emeritus, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton
Harold A. Feiveson, Program on Science and Global Security, Princeton University
Charles D. Ferguson, Federation of American Scientists
Michael E. Fisher, Emeritus, Cornell University and the University of Maryland
Jerome I. Friedman, Nobel Prize in physics 1990
Victor Gilinsky, Former Member of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission
Howard Georgi, Mallinckrodt Professor of Physics, Harvard University
Sheldon L. Glashow, Higgins Professor of Physics Emeritus, Harvard University,
Arthur Metcalf Professor of Science and Mathematics, Boston University
Lisbeth Gronlund, Union of Concerned Scientists
David Gross, Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics, UCSB
Gregory Loew, Emeritus Stanford/SLAC Professor
Allison M Macfarlane, George Washington University
Richard A. Meserve, President Emeritus, Carnegie Institution for Science
Marvin Miller, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
C. Kumar N. Patel, Professor Emeritus, Dept of Physics and Astonomy, UCLA
John Parmentola, Former Senior VP General Atomics and Former Director for Research and Laboratory Management, U.S. Army
Malvin A. Ruderman, Columbia University
Burton Richter, Stanford University
Myriam Sarachik, City College of New York, CUNY
Roy F. Schwitters, The University of Texas at Austin
David Wright, Union of Concerned Scientists
(Affiliations for identification only)