|Dr. Hans Blix|
Q: Despite willingness to cooperate with certain countries in the Arab world on the building of nuclear reactors, there seem to be certain reservations in the West over countries in the region developing nuclear know-how. What is your view on this issue?
Ans: Well, the reservations are about sensitive parts of the nuclear fuel cycle. It’s about enrichment in particular and it’s also about reprocessing—though I don’t see many going for reprocessing.
However, it is not something that is directed specifically to the Middle East. There is a restraint on export of enrichment technology anywhere in the world. The reasons are that if you can enrich, set up an industrial production of enrichment of, up to 4 percent to get your nuclear fuel, then you can also go on to 94% (weapons grade level). This is what they fear that the Iranians could do—although the Iranians haven’t gone up anymore than just below 20% . They say they need it for their research reactor—but they could at any moment, and that means that if the intention were there, they (the Iranians) could get close to a nuclear weapon and tensions could increase. This is what has happened here with the Iranian enrichment program. They say themselves that they will not go for nuclear weapons, but many people aren’t assured. Maybe they won’t but they are getting closer toward the option and even that—getting closer toward the option—is increasing tensions considerably in the region.
Therefore, I think it would be desirable if the region could agree, both not to have any weapons but also not to have any enrichment because there is ample enrichment capacity in the world. It is cheaper to buy it. There is no economic reason to go for it. South Korea has 20 nuclear power reactors, they don’t enrich but they buy it in the international market. My own country, Sweden, has 10 nuclear reactors, we do not enrich but we buy it in the market. So anyone comes around now and says we would like to enrich our own raw uranium, well I will be a little suspicious—as it can’t be for economic reasons but for some other reasons.
Maybe in the future the whole Middle East may rally around developing one joint capacity, and there may be transparency, and then perhaps it may be fine; but not now and I don’t think it is directed specifically at the Middle East, it is a general concern.
Q: In view of the climate of military tensions in the Middle East, how feasible is it to build nuclear reactors? Many experts in the Gulf region have voiced concerns over the probability of an accident in one of Iran’s nuclear reactors or a military strike targeting them, with the fallout engulfing the region. How valid are such concerns?
Ans: Well, you could even get pretty good bonfires if you bombard fossil fuel facilities. Nothing is particularly secure from missiles, or cruise missiles for that matter.
It is true that Iraqis shot missiles at the Bushehr plant and I have myself seen the two holes at Bushehr, but nowhere has there been an attack on a nuclear power plant. Moreover, if there were to be a conflict, I am sure they would shut off the nuclear plants because what you fear above all in a war is damage to big and valuable installations as well as emissions of radioactivity. That can be prevented. In the first place they (nuclear power plants) are very secure; they are built to withstand an airplane crashing into them. But you actually want them to be shut off so that the uranium fuel is stocked.
There is also an international agreement prohibiting the bombing and attack on nuclear power plants, although it does not apply to enrichment plants or reprocessing plants. The framework also seals installations like the Aswan Dam. In addition, one should not have about 80 percent of one’s energy generated from nuclear power plants because then it would be difficult to shut them off.
Q. You are an advocate of a Nuclear Weapons Convention for the elimination of nuclear weapons, but currently how realistic is it to make progress in this regard?
Ans: Right now disarmament has had an intermission. Obama and Medvedev met in London in 2010 and there was a tremendous wave of enthusiasm for their willingness to go for disarmament. The NPT 2010 Conference went rather well. However, when it all came down to the US Senate, it was like running into a wall of conservative and defensive attitudes. So it was realized that the resistance in the US was so strong that there was no chance for putting forward the Comprehensive Test Ban Agreement through the Senate. And that’s where we are! We have not made any progress since the autumn of 2010. START came through, but I don’t really have much hope for any great progress until the US presidential election. After that, if Obama is reelected then there is a real chance for it.
Similarly, the Geneva Disarmament Conference is going into a second decade of coma. They have not been able to agree on their agenda for over 10 years and they are not doing it now. The Comprehensive Test Ban Agreement is standing still and the US cannot present it to the Senate yet, maybe after the US presidential election. A Fissile Material Cut-off Agreement is blocked by Pakistan and NATO does not seem even ready to withdraw 200 tactical nuclear weapons in Western Europe when everybody agrees that they are useless. So far from nuclear disarmament, no disarmament is panning well at the present moment.
Worst! you have a fair amount of rearmament, not so much in nuclear but in other areas. The world is spending around $1,500 billion a year now in military expenditure, 40% of which is happening in the US, about 6% of it in China, 4% in Russia, and a tremendous increase in the Gulf region, India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Singapore, and Australia.
Q There has been criticism in some quarters over the evenhandedness of international organizations when it comes to inspections of nuclear sites of some countries vis-à-vis others, particularly in the Middle East. How should international agencies conduct themselves under such intense international pressure?
Ans: I think the international organizations try very hard to be independent and faithful servants of the world community. At times, they come under pressure from all sides and I have experienced it. However, it is very important that they remain international civil servants, because if you are not evenhanded, then you will lose the confidence of those whom you are to inspect.
Syria is now suspected of having perhaps violated their safeguards agreement. At the same time, when an agency deals with Syria it should not assume guilt but it should carry out an impartial investigation. It may be that they come out with criticism and if they say to Iran that Iran has not lived up to its safeguards agreement, it’s perfectly right and they should do so, but at the same time they should guard their innocence, as it were.