The Day After the "Implementation Day" of the Nuclear Deal With Iran: Prospects for Scientific Cooperation, Safety and Sustainability in the Persian Gulf

Wednesday December 2, 2015 marked a major milestone in the history of peaceful resolution of disputes among nations in the world, when the last step toward full implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) was taken. [The JCPOA was agreed upon by United States, China, France, Germany, Russia, the UK (P5+1) and Iran on July 14, 2014, in Vienna, Austria.] On December 2nd, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) submitted his much anticipated report on "Possible Military Dimensions (PMD)" of Iran's nuclear program to the Agency's Board of Governors, which concluded: "The Agency has no credible indications of activities in Iran relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device after 2009... The Agency has found no credible indications of the diversion of nuclear material in connection with the possible military dimensions to Iran's nuclear programme."

A difficult, tumultuous, and complex almost two-year long process led to achieving the above milestone. As such, it should be celebrated and commemorated as a unique triumph of diplomacy over coercion, engagement over isolation, prudence over pontification, and cool science and engineering over hot rhetoric. As a distinguished international statesman and the legendary former Director General of the IAEA, Dr. Hans Blix, has said recently at a major "EU Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Conference 2015", which was held in Brussels on November 12th, we have "to welcome that patient diplomacy has paid. Without the determination of the political leaders in the participating states, the perseverance of negotiators -- Secretary Kerry, Foreign Minister Zarif, Foreign Minister Lavrov, EU leaders Ashton, Mogherini and Helga Schmidt and many, many others there would have been no Iran deal" (emphasis in original).

When the IAEA verifies Iran has complied with nuclear-related measures (which it has done) and its 35-nation Board notes the report and closes its consideration of PMD on December 15, then we can safely assume that the last hurdle for the full implantation of the JCOPA is removed. On the "Implementation Day", which could occur in early 2016, the EU terminates application of sanctions, "the United States ceases application of nuclear-related sanctions specified in Annex II, (and) the United Nations terminates sanctions."

There are still some concerns about what will happen after the nuclear deal with Iran goes through, in terms of Iran's adherence to its commitments under the agreement, lifting the sanctions, and Iran's newfound financial recourses and the way it may spend them. However, there are little dissuasions about the noteworthy potential non-political: positive safety and sustainability by-products of the nuclear deal with Iran and prospects of serious science and engineering collaboration in the future, not only with Iran, but also among the Persian Gulf countries, which at the end of the day, will greatly benefit the people who live in that region.

As a major pillar of the JCPOA, its Annex III which is entitled "Civil Nuclear Cooperation", is all about "nuclear safety", "safety culture", "international collaboration", and several "cooperative international" efforts. Under the section 8 of the Annex III, "Nuclear Safety" of the JCPOA, a "Nuclear Safety Center in Iran" will be established to support interactions between Iranian nuclear regulatory and safety experts with those from P5+1 "and elsewhere". It is envisioned that they will engage in workshops and training events concerning best nuclear safety practices, lessons learned, safety culture, sever accident management, and other related issues. On multiple occasions, the JCPOA explicitly stipulates that the P5+1 countries, Iran, and with "possibly other states" will be cooperating on many areas of nuclear safety.

The JCPOA also facilitates other noteworthy cooperative efforts such as in commercial aviation, which allows for "safety-related" services for commercial passenger aviation (Annex II, 5.1.1). It is also a noteworthy fact that all the above-mentioned elements/concepts and provisions of the JCPOA have been formally codified and enshrined in the United Nations Security Council Resolution # 2231, which was unanimously passed on July 20, 2015 in New York at the UNSC. This could be the first time in the history that safety and "safety culture"-related concepts have explicitly been cited and endorsed by seven sovereign countries in two major multilateral international agreements.

The Persian Gulf - a semi closed body of water - is at a serious crossroad and facing an uncertain future. Its population is rapidly increasing and its ecosystem is becoming more fragile with growing demands for its water and seafood sources, while its energy sources continue to be exploited extensively. The total population of eight Persian Gulf countries which was around 150 million in 2010, is expected to reach 200 million in 2030. The contribution of seawater desalination in producing potable water for the Arab countries of the Gulf rages from minimum 70% (Saudi Arabia) to 99% (Qatar) with storage capacity for only a few days of fresh water supply as buffer stock. In 2010, according to the UN's FAO, the average per capita consumption of seafood in Arab countries of the Gulf was calculated to be 14.4kg per year. The UAE and Oman have one of the highest seafood consumption rates worldwide, at 28.6 kg per year. Presently there are approximately 800 offshore oil and gas platforms and 25 major oil terminals situated in the region, and expected operation of at least five newly-built nuclear power reactors in the next five years (Iran's operational single reactor at the Bushehr plant along with the UAE-Abu Dhabi's four under-construction reactors at the Barakah plant site). All of these in light of routine heavy maritime traffic of different naval and commercial vessels.

The world has witnessed two major low-probability, high-consequence technological calamites with long-lasting environmental effects and regional aftermaths in just the last five years with serious implications and lessons learned for the Persian Gulf: The BP Deepwater Horizon offshore oil drilling platform explosion in 2010, which killed 11 workers and spilled an estimated 171 million gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico (NRDC, 2015) that its total toll can run up to $68.2 billion (Eaton, 2015), and the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant accident in Japan in 2011 that released radiation to the atmosphere and spilled (which is still seeping) thousands of gallons of contaminated radioactive water into the Pacific Ocean and affecting sea-life.

We have learned that unthinkable disasters can happen regularly; the Persian Gulf would not be immune from the possibility of this fate. As such, we need to be chronically uneasy, and be constantly thinking about the unthinkable and plan for them. A major oil spill or a radiation contamination could seriously hamper the operation and cause closure of seawater desalination plants, which is the lifeblood of most of the countries on the south coast of the Persian Gulf.

According to a recently released report by the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), entitled, IAEA Director General's Report on the Fukushima Daiichi Accident (September 2015), Mr. Yukiya Amano stated: "There can be no grounds for complacency about nuclear safety in any country. Some of the factors that contributed to the Fukushima Daiichi accident were not unique to Japan. Continuous questioning and openness to learning from experience are key to safety culture and are essential for everyone involved in nuclear power. Safety must always come first." This recommendation is vital today for the future of the Persian Gulf countries more than ever, while it is becoming the world's most active nuclear power plants construction region, expect for China.

The nuclear deal with Iran - the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) - provides the best mechanism to operationalize and implement the IAEA's above mentioned bold recommendations in the Persian Gulf. This could possibly become the most notable, long lasting implication and legacy of the JCPOA in the Persian Gulf region and beyond....

------ Najmedin Meshkati is a Professor Engineering and International Relations at the University of Southern California (USC) and was a Jefferson Science Fellow and Senior Science and Engineering Advisor, Office of Science and Technology Advisor to the Secretary of State (2009-2010). He has served as a member and technical advisor on two national panels in the United States investigating two major recent accidents: The National Academy of Engineering (NAE) and National Research Council (NRC) NAE/NRC "Committee on the Analysis of Causes of the Deepwater Horizon Explosion, Fire, and Oil Spill to Identify Measures to Prevent Similar Accidents in the Future" (2010-2011); and the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) and National Research Council (NRC) NAS/NRC Committee "Lessons Learned from the Fukushima Nuclear Accident for Improving Safety and Security of U.S. Nuclear Plants" (2012-2014).