Last week, Boulder got a visit by the Secretary of Energy, Ernie Moniz, who gave a talk at the CU Law School on the Iran deal. While the DoE is one of the primary funding agencies for nuclear and particle physics, the general public doesn’t seem to realize what the DoE does. One of the main purposes of the DoE has always been nuclear research and security. Thus, the DoE is one of the main agencies that can evaluate the efficacy of nuclear nonproliferation agreements.
Moniz mostly gave a summary of the deal, which reportedly is much stronger than any previous such nuclear deal with any other country. I was hoping for some more technical discussion, but since this was a law school talk, it mostly dealt with the general terms and not too many technical details. Moniz did highlight the importance of the DoE and its staff in helping the US negotiation team.
Again, as this was a law school talk, time had to be spent on political reactions to the deal. Moniz obviously is pushing the position of the Obama administration, and I find his main argument to be pretty persuasive. The Iran deal as it stands now has been agreed to by all the countries involved (the so-called P5+1). Failing to pass the deal in the US does not bring the international sanctions back and the US has already had sanctions on Iran for so long that our sanctions alone can’t do much of anything. No one has offered a credible alternative (even military action isn’t particularly credible and would undermine US interests on all sorts of issues). My understanding is that building a basic nuclear weapon (similar to the ones the US built in 1945) is not actually that difficult once scientists work out how to enrich fuel, so the only long term solution to stopping someone from building a bomb is to convince them that they don’t need one. Basically, if the US hopes to achieve its foreign policy goals (and not just on this issue), approving the deal is the only realistic option. Anything else would make the US government seem like an unreliable partner in major international problems.