U.S. Purchase of Iran’s Heavy Water: Encouraging a Dangerous Nuclear Supplier

by David Albright and Andrea Stricker

May 23, 2016

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Under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) Iran has agreed to a cap on the amount of heavy water it can have in the country. However, Iran wants to produce more heavy water than it needs, and the JCPOA does not explicitly ban additional production as long as Tehran finds international buyers for any excess. The United States intends to buy about 32 tonnes of Iranian heavy water that has been temporarily stored in Oman, and it may buy more. The heavy water sale risks legitimizing Iran as a nuclear supplier despite it not being one. Iran has frequently violated other nations’ export control laws, among other laws, and a series of United Nations resolutions instituting an embargo on its access to nuclear goods, which was designed to prevent it from outfitting its previously sanctioned nuclear programs. Significantly, it continues to violate remaining United Nations and national missile and conventional arms embargos. The sale also risks disrupting a North American commercial supply chain of heavy water at a critical time. The United States should consider ending the planned purchase of heavy water, encourage Iran to stop making excess heavy water, and blend down any excess to normal water. If the US purchase cannot be reversed it should be a one-time occurrence. The use of Oman as an intermediate storage area for excess Iranian heavy water should be ended.

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