Maybe Iran Will Answer The Question Millions Have

Which Nuclear Powers May Fear the Most

Amid the hullabaloo of the news about Iran’s agreeing not to make weapons from its nuclear capacity in exchange for the West’s lifting economic sanctions, none of those cheering—or raging—about this “historic understanding,” as President Obama put it to his email list, bothered to raise a long-standing and important question obvious to most of us since the Fukushima meltdown began in 2011. And millions since the 1986 Chernobyl meltdown.

The question wasn’t why participants and pundits were calling the Lausanne agreement a “framework” for a June 30 meeting instead of a permanent arrangement with the content’s technical points ironed out.

Nor was the question why taxpayers from the seven-nation participants would later once again have to foot the bills for their $500-per-day rate at yet another hotel such as Lausanne’s Beau-Rivage Palace. For decades, five-star Swiss hotels and restaurants have profited enormously by sheltering diplomats attending international negotiations to sign deals hammered out in advance by aides. These sessions were in a nearby schoolhouse instead the usual palace, but it’s unlikely negotiators were dining in the cafeteria with the kids. As for those dedicated and tireless aides hammering out what is being called a “framework” to a pact, perhaps they were housed in hostels and forced to sup at Lausanne’s Domino Pizza.

The obvious question of millions about this upcoming deal: Why haven’t Iran’s leaders decided since Fukushima to follow Germany’s example in scrapping nuclear power for safe and cheap solar and wind energy? After all, Iran’s current renewable push has been ginned up with construction startups announced a year ago of “400 MW of solar and wind projects” and contracts let for 900 MW more.

Germany is No. 1 in solar and No. 4 in wind power with a dozen other countries not far behind. Denmark, now at 40% renewable power, aims to be at 100% by 2050. In terms of safety, Iran is earthquake country what with 11 major “events” ranging from  6.3 to 7.8 magnitude happening since 1972; in 2003 killing 31,000 at Bam. Ninety percent of the country is crisscrossed by fault lines of which a dozen ring Tehran alone. Aside from a nuclear meltdown’s human carnage, subsequent costs would beggar the country perhaps more than the economic sanctions since the 1979 revolution overthrew the Western-controlled Shah.

For example, Japan’s cleanup bill thus far stands at $1,600,000,000, but basic projections are for $12,000,000,000. For Chernobyl, 30-year estimates are $475,022,000,000. Deaths either instantly or through decades of radiation poisoning are incalculable. As an Atlantic Monthly writer visiting Chernobyl three years ago concluded about both disasters and those at the helm of their nuclear facilities:

In both cases, through negligence and poor planning, two of the most technologically advanced civilizations on the planet—the USSR and Japan—effectively dirty-bombed huge swaths of their own territory. The astronomical cleanup costs are just the beginning—the real impact is the fact that key productive areas (grain near Chernobyl, fisheries and rice in Japan) are rendered completely non-productive for decades, even centuries. Having a reactor explode is a disaster on a par with a small-scale war, only it’s as if you can never get all the unexploded munitions out of the ground after the crisis has passed.

Meantime, a Japanese district court just issued what may become a landmark injunction barring restarting a nuclear-power plant in a western town on three grounds: 1) underestimated earthquake risks; 2) non-compliance with new safety regulations; 3) questionable evacuation policies.

The ‘What-If’  Sensation

Think what would have happened at Lausanne recently if Iran’s chief negotiator had started the first session by announcing a total phase-out of anything nuclear and still inviting the same kind of international inspection system (spot-checks by the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency for the next 25 years) now enscribed in that “framework.” Then, asking only that the six nations across the table to underwrite and dismantle the plants: everything from fuel rod and centrifuge disposal to furnishing waste-storage quarters, decontaminating equipment and materials—and buying up its uranium and plutonium.

Iran’s savings from not having to buy supplies and modernizing equipment, or to stock, operate, and maintain those facilities would be astronomical. Part could be spent on paying either American or Chinese solar and wind companies to equip Iranian homes, buildings, factories, and transit systems. Not to mention the end of everlasting worries about a nuclear accident like Chernobyl or Three Mile Island. Add, too, the benefit of providing thousands of new and lifetime jobs installing and maintaining those renewables. Since 2014, 290,000 new jobs have opened in the U.S. solar industry alone.

But beyond addressing Iran’s energy needs, think of the colossal impact such an changeover would have on global politics, marketplaces, and peace in that corner of the globe.

For one thing, Israel could no longer claim Iran might attack them with nuclear weapons, the usual reason for justifying its own extensive stockpiles.

Moreover, if Israel continued threats of unilateral military action against Iran, its pose as a perpetual victim would be stripped away before a world audience to compound its bullying image from last summer’s destruction of Gaza. Worse, the billions in U.S. military aid given annually for that perpetual defense would be unnecessary and perhaps finally funneled into America’s critical domestic needs.

Another aspect to a nuclear-free Iran would be undercutting American militarists and war-hawking Congressional members constant demands that Iran’s nuclear installations must be unilaterally destroyed before they produce missiles. Of course the real motivation for such action—ever since Iranian revolutionaries ousted the Shah’s regime—has been to seize its vast oil fields and parcel them out to transnational fossil-fuel corporations. That’s what was done in Iraq by the U.S. high command under the pretense that it had a storehouse of WMDs and, besides, probably engineered 9/11 in retaliation for the Gulf War defeat.

Another benefit of an “Iranian surprise” would be ending the hypocrisy that sanctions will strangle Iran. True, lifting sanctions will open its markets to billions in foreign trade, investments and businesses like those solar/wind companies. But until then, sanctions certainly have enriched those adept at multifarious methods of running vital goods—industrial supplies, cars, food, medicine, and technical services—into that country.

Likewise, Iran’s 2013 exports were an eye-popping $61,220,000,000, still resting on 80% in oil and natural gas sold to energy-desperate customers. The remaining 20% has been spread among chemical products, fruit, plastics, metals, and ceramics—some certainly imported by nations giving lip-service to sanctions.

Another benefit, if minor to the world, of such an “Iranian surprise”—would be one less death struggle between President Obama and lock-stepped Republicans’ effort to stop his every action. Right now, Senate Republican leaders have ordered their troops—and 13 Democrats—to override a presidential veto of two bills blocking any Iran agreement. In a counter attack, millions of Democrats and activists have been admonished online to contact those 13 “wayward” and wavering Democrats to vote against the two bills’ passage in mid-April.

So given all the positive benefits listed above, why have Iran’s leaders clung resolutely to its nuclear program despite its negatives?

One answer could be Israel’s constant nuclear threat, though radiation pollution assuredly would cover that aggressor, the rest of the Middle East, and much of the globe. Chernobyl and Fukushima have taught us that radiation has no borders.

Another more likely answer might be protecting its vast oil and natural gas reserves from seizure by the major powers that once controlled them through the Shah. Yet that protection today seemingly can be efficiently handled by Iran’s military and naval forces on land, air, and sea.

So it is impossible not to conclude that the answer to this obvious question involves Iran’s national pride in obtaining membership in the world’s exclusive Nuclear Club, the would-be military equals of its nine members holding a collective 16,300 nuclear weapons (Britain, France, China, India, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, U.S.). Leaders fear losing face in a nuclear “backdown” after spending billions of national treasure on this dubious and dangerous scientific achievement paid for by years of grinding public austerity.

Image and backdown be damned! Immortal fame and good fortune into the bargain are more like it. A nuclear shutdown would be one of the rarest and classic situations in world history where a surrender actually leads to ultimate victory on the globe’s highest ground. It’s a step that could end nuclear proliferation, stop bankrupting some of the Nuclear Nine, and relieve us all of nuclear fears concerning power plants or weaponry.

What if Iran’s leaders took that gigantic step forward and announced it months before this year’s crucial U.N.’s Paris Climate Change Conference on November 30-December 11?

To say the least, it would be a sensation!

Most importantly, Iran would be setting a powerful and influential example of nuclear disarmament to participants, especially the Middle East and the rest of the world. Equally important, it would join Earth’s environmental leaders like Germany and Denmark in rapidly moving into the Age of Renewable Energy—and help save a planet currently poised on the edge of extinction.

Barbara G. Ellis, Ph.D, is the principal of a Portland (OR) writing/pr firm, a long-time writer and journalism professor, a Pulitzer nominee, and now an online free-lancer. Read other articles by Barbara.