Iran’s nuclear fusion plans in tatters after Trump blocks agreed deal

2 Nov 2017

The Azadi Tower in Tehran, Iran. Image: Kanisorn Pringthongfoo/Shutterstock

Iran’s attempts to harness nuclear fusion have been dealt a major blow as the US has seemingly blocked it out of a major international experiment.

The ascension of Donald Trump as US president could dash Iran’s hopes of beginning a nuclear fusion research programme, according to recent reports from Science.

As per the nuclear deal signed under former US president Barack Obama, Iran agreed to not pursue the development of nuclear weapons on the condition that it would be able to develop nuclear energy.

However, despite that deal being nearly two years old, little progress has been made. Now, Iran has been told that it can’t pursue one of the major linchpins of that agreement: the chance to collaborate on the massive nuclear fusion project in France, known as ITER.

The US government is believed to be behind the block as, for months now, Iran had been expecting to put pen to paper on the research collaboration.

Ali Akbar Salehi, president of the Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran, put it quite bluntly: “It was all moving well, until [Donald] Trump took office.”

Hopes not completely dashed

Under anonymity, an ITER official has confirmed the US’s part in the deal’s collapse for Iran as, in order for a country to be included in the project, all participating nations must unanimously agree to each other’s membership.

Officials in both Iran and Europe have also said they now believe other elements of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – the official name for the Iran nuclear deal – to be compromised.

The decision should come as little surprise, however, given that Trump has openly criticised the JCPOA, saying it is not in his country’s interest and that, in the period where the US government re-evaluates its participation, it could seriously compromise the deal’s future.

Iran’s nuclear fusion work might still continue though, as it has plans with other European nations such as Italy, where dozens of Iranian scientists will train at a new facility in the city of Trieste.

Also, Iran has held early talks on participation in the Joint European Torus fusion project in the UK, although that too could be under threat from international influence due to the result of Brexit.

The Azadi Tower in Tehran, Iran. Image: Kanisorn Pringthongfoo/Shutterstock

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic