By Ina Sattlegger
- Fission in the centre of Vienna: The ATI-TU-Triga Mark Reactor II
- Panel Discussion on US Nuclear Diplomacy
- Panel Discussion on the Iranian Nuclear Program
- Concluding Remarks: Praise, Pizza and Certificates
Fission in the centre of Vienna: The ATI-TU-Triga Mark Reactor II
Briefing and tour by Mr. Helmut Böck, Ms. Karin Poljanc and Mr. Hartmut Abele.
“It is not enough to take this weapon out of the hands of the soldiers. It must be put into the hands of those who will know how to strip its military casing and adapt it to the arts of peace.” This belief, laid out as part of Eisenhower’s ‘Atoms for Peace’ initiative, and the underlying ideology are what initiated, amongst other factors, the building of the Viennese Triga Mark II research reactor between 1958 and 1962. Today, it still operates as one of approximately 30 research reactors of this type.
A visit to this reactor, Austria’s only (non-medical) nuclear research facility was first on the list of Friday’s program. Starting with briefings by Mr. Helmut Böck, Ms. Karin Poljanc and Mr. Hartmut Abele, we were presented with an insight on the history and workings of the Triga Mark II. The reactor operates on 19,8 % enriched uranium-235. Contary to atomic power plants, it is not aimed at producing high temperatures to power turbines. It actually behaves quite the opposite way: If temperatures get too high, it shuts down automatically. This is part of the power pulse process, which lasts for about 40 milliseconds.
(Vertical Cross Section of the reactor – Slides provided by Mr. Böck)
Power pulses are performed for research purposes, mainly analyzing the effect of radiation on various samples of materials. Further purposes lie within the areas of Training Isotope Production. Due to its close relationship to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the Atominstitut has been established as a training facility for safeguard inspectors from all over the world.
The talks were followed by a tour of the institute’s facilities and the reactor itself, the highlight of it being a glance right into the center of the reactor, where we were able to witness a power pulse. Concerning the issue of radiation: The dosimeters we were equipped with before the tour, afterwards showed exactly what Mr Böck predicted – Nothing.
Panel Discussion on US Nuclear Diplomacy
An off-the-record briefing on US nuclear diplomacy by representatives of the US Mission to the International Organizations in Vienna (UNVIE) followed the visit to the ATI .
Iran and the bomb
Panel Discussion on the Iranian Nuclear Program with Mr. Martin Senn, Assistant Professor at the University of Innsbruck, Ms. Gudrun Harrer, Senior Editor at “Der Standard” and former Special Envoy of the Austrian Presidency of the European Union to Iraq and Chargé d’ Affairs of the Austrian Embassy in Baghdad and Mr. Hakan Akbulut, Lecturer and Research Fellow at the Austrian Institute of International Affairs.
The closing highlight of the Nuclear Politics Week was a panel discussion on the topic of Iran’s nuclear activities. Since the final round of diplomatic talks was just about to take place in Vienna, this took place at a highly sensitive time.
The Hatching Game
Embedding his talk in a thorough theoretical framework, namely on the scientific work of Paul (2000) and Solingen (2007) as well as Hymans (2006), Mr. Senn as the first speeker approached the issue from a demand sided perspective by asking what a nation’s motivation behind the acquisition of nuclear weapons might be. In other words: Why do some nations, in this case Iran, aim for nuclear proliferation and how?
The answers are manifold, though the outcome is obvious: Iran is realizing that the potential cost of nuclear proliferation such as international isolation, the risk of a chain reaction in the Middle East and the danger of foreign (US) intervention are currently a price too high to pay. So Iran goes for hatching, the strategy of putting into place the best available infrastructure capable of building a nuclear weapon without actually going nuclear seems to be Iran’s current path. This calculus, however, is not written into stone and could change any moment. Though, Iran is a rather week player when it comes to its military power which partly explains why the acquisition of ballistic missiles is of such importance it. This is perceived as highly problematic by the international community, not only for their dual use capability. Nonetheless, Senn sees a window of opportunity by pointing out that, with Rohani as a more outward looking president, new ways of dialogue are possible to emerge.
A chronicle of failure
Starting her talk by briefly reflecting the timeline of the current conflict, Ms Harrer pointed out the important milestones that led to the 2014 talks in Vienna:
In 2003, suspected illicit nuclear activities and subsequent pressure by the International Atomic Energy Agency led Iran to suspend its enrichment activities. In 2004, it became obvious that the dealthis had unraveled. Though following discussions aimed towards a new deal on Iran’s enrichment known as the ‘Paris Agreement’ failed due to conflicting preferences furthering the hostile standoff between Western countries and Iran. A deal to resolve the nuclear crisis was probably most realistic in 2009, when a settlement deal linked to foreign uranium enrichment was proposed, but later deemed unsatisfactory by Iranian diplomats.
More recently, in 2013, the ‘Joint Plan of Action’ was seen as ground-breaking as it coerced both, the international community to soften their sanctions and Iran to accept certain impediments to its enrichment program. Also, it provided the IAEA with possibilities to gain more sophisticated information.
“Trust but Verify”
Coming back to the 2014 Vienna Talks between the P5+1 and Iran, Harrer concentrated on Iran’s rationale, emphasizing its aim to maximize benefits in the course of the negotiations. A major obstacle on the way to a deal stems from Iran’s insistence on the production of its own fuel. Further, she interestingly remarked that Iran’s standoff concerning its enrichment program vis-à-vis Western countries mirrores the imbalance within the Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Regime. Thus, Iran is effectively working towards more equal rights for the ‘Not-Haves’, the Non-Nuclear Weapons States according to the NPT. One main objective for the international community is to guarantee that during the years of the next deal, there will be no more unexpected enrichment, said Harrer.
Mr. Akbulut went even further back in the nuclear history of Iran: The country initiated its program under Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi with strong international and, most importantly, US support. But following the Iranian revolution, contracts were suspended and the bilateral relations between the two nations deteriorated. Further, the Iraqi use of chemical weapons in the 1990s had a big impact on Iran’s security policy preferences.
Since the revolution of 1979, the nuclear program is the first issue that all Iranians subscribe to. Thus, even the election of Rohani as a potential peace broker should not cloud one’s view: There is a high interest in the program on behalf of the Iranian populace but his mandate is very limited. Akbulut also pointed out the current interest to upscale missile programs among Middle Eastern nations – Primarily supplied by the US.
Praise, Pizza and Certificates
(***Family photo of Nuclear Politix 2014***)
The official part of the program was concluded by some final remarks by the organizers Clemens Binder, Fabian Stricker and Dominik Rastinger and a lot of positive feedback coming from the participants as well as the presentation of the participation certificates. This was followed by some casual drinks and Pizza in Vienna.