Does Iran Care About Having Safe Nuclear Reactors?

Judah Grunstein of World Politics Review sees an opportunity for international cooperation on Iran’s nuclear program in what would seem to be a pretty fundamental shared interest: making sure that nobody in Iran is exposed to dangerous nuclear material. Citing James Acton at Arms Control Wonk, Grunstein passes on the hypothesis that the surprisingly large amount of enriched uranium reported by the IAEA the other day was due not so much (or not only) to “Iranian deviousness,” but also to Iran’s reckless disregard for “standard housekeeping” and basic safety precautions. If the fact that Iran has enough nuclear material to produce a weapon is certifiably bad news for its neighbors, then this lackluster care at maintaining safety at its own facility is decidedly ominous for Iranians.

And therein lies the opportunity, suggests Grunstein:

[Iran’s sloppiness] also, however, might present an opening for a Western consortium to become involved in the Iranian program. That, you’ll remember, is one of the proposed compromises for resolving the impasse between the West’s desire for transparency and Iran’s desire to enrich uranium on its territory. Clearly, the safety of the Esfahan facility is in everyone’s interests, and it could become the selling point that allows the Iranians to accept the consortium without losing face.

Well, on its face this premise seems true enough, but I’m rather cynically hesitant to assume that Iran’s interest in safety would trump its evidently stubborn persistence to develop nuclear weapons capabilities. After all, if Tehran has not thus far heeded IAEA safety advice (let alone permitted open inspections) in its headlong rush to build a bomb, then why would that prove an effective pressure point for the Western consortium to gain entry? On the other side, I don’t think the U.S. government’s singular insistence that Iran freeze enrichment will cede much ground to the official interest in ensuring transparency over the issue of preventing nuclear disaster within Iran. Grunstein condedes that the latter would be “icing on the cake,” but it seems unclear to me how the international community could bake a cake from the icing down.