On July 14, 2015, Iran agreed to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), a historic nuclear accord, with six major world powers – U.S., Russia, U.K., China, Germany, and France – that would substantially reduce Iran’s known nuclear abilities. These limitations included “dismantling thousands of uranium-enriching centrifuges, shipping tons of low-enriched uranium to Russia, destroying the core of a heavy water reactor capable of producing plutonium, and agreeing to reconfigure the reactor so as to produce less plutonium.” All of these conditions were accepted in exchange for sanctions relief from the participating countries within the accord.
Prior to the agreement, Iran was becoming a nuclear threat to the global community, as they were advancing their efforts in uranium development and concealing certain parts of their progress from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). However, their nuclear development and capabilities did not evolve overnight.
Iran has been ambitious in their nuclear development since the 1970’s. Under the Shah they developed a series of nuclear projects – with assistance from the U.S. and Europe – and launched an extensive nuclear program. Despite their advances, the Iranian Revolution in 1979 halted their progress until the late 1980’s when it was revived under Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani’s presidency.
Throughout the 1990s, entities in Russia and China continued to help Iran, despite occasional pledges from their governments to curtail nuclear assistance. During this period, Iran is also believed to have received uranium enrichment technology through the black market network run by Pakistani scientist A. Q. Khan.
Utilizing this new technology, Iran began to secretly create nuclear sites throughout the country. These sites included “a uranium mine at Saghand, a yellow cake production plant near Ardakan, a pilot uranium enrichment plant at Natanz, and a commercial-scale enrichment facility on the same site.” Additionally, “Iran was continuing work on a 1,000 megawatt nuclear reactor at Bushehr and was building a heavy water production plant at Arak.” These were all very significant discoveries, as the function of each site can individually contribute to the development of a nuclear weapon.
In order to create a nuclear weapon using uranium, there are a few steps that need to be followed prior to it becoming classified as a nuclear weapon. First, the uranium needs to be mined – this was a key part in Iran’s plan to produce nuclear fuel indigenously, by mining it from Saghand. Second, the mined uranium then needs to be processed into a uranium concentrate called yellowcake – in 2003, Iranian authorities admitted to producing yellowcake at a milling plant in Ardakan in Yazd Province. Third, once it’s concentrated into yellowcake, it needs to be converted into a gas, called uranium hexafluoride (UF6), which serves as the feedstock for centrifuges – in 2000 the Iranian government informed the IAEA that a plant for uranium conversion was being constructed at Esfahan. Lastly, the uranium needs to be enriched by using centrifuges – Iran’s centrifuge enrichment program in Natanz began housing 1,000 centrifuges in a facility that had the capability to hold up to 50,000 centrifuges in 2002.
By the early 2000’s Iran had the sources and equipment to start manufacturing nuclear weapons. Although the state claimed that their nuclear enrichment was for peaceful purposes, it still alarmed many countries globally, and eventually led to the IAEA monitoring their nuclear development and countries imposing economic sanctions, which had a profound impact on their economy.
Then, in 2015, Iran and U.S., Russia, U.K., China, Germany, and France signed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) to limit Iran’s nuclear production in exchange for lifting the sanctions. However, in May 2018, the U.S. withdrew from the nuclear accord, stating that it was essentially a poor agreement, and hoped to pressure Iran into a new agreement. There has since been a large amount of opposition by the members of the JCPOA and pushback from Iran, as the U.S. has renewed sanctions against Iran, further isolating them on the global stage.
LET’S THINK ABOUT IT
Your SWAC leader will prompt you with questions concerning the same idea:
If the Iran Nuclear Accord (JCPOA) were to fall apart, Iran would have the resources and capability to develop a nuclear weapon within a year. If you were a head of state in one of the JCPOA’s participating countries would you support continuing the agreement or would you abandon it in hopes of pressuring Iran with a new deal? What would be some of the potential risks of your decision?
Express your thoughts and contribute to discussion with your SWAC peers!
(write your thoughts)
This lesson plan is meant as an aid for the Faculty Sponsor, President or Vice-President to lead their respective SWAC chapter in the discussion of this two weeks’ focus: Iran Nuclear Accord.
Kahoot! Introductory Quiz
Kahoot! is an online Quiz platform. This small four-question quiz is to test the student’s prior knowledge of the JCPOA and nuclear warfare, introducing them to the discussion to come. The quiz does not require the proctor to have a Kahoot account in order to start. Students will use an electronic device in order to answer. The link is below; click START NOW and select Classic mode. After the Game PIN is generated, students will be able to join the session by accessing kahoot.it on their computer or mobile device. Begin the quiz once all students have joined! This activity shouldn’t take more than 10 minutes.
Now is when the handouts should be passed out to students. This handout will cover an analysis of the JCPOA and the United States’ decision to withdraw from the agreement. It is recommended that the handout be read aloud as a group instead of individually. Take some time after the document has been read to cover the material with the students and make sure that its been generally understood. Ask questions to students; get them to summarize what they’ve read and make sure that the students are engaged and understanding. The reading shouldn’t take more than 20 minutes.
We have two video resources below that will present the current event portion of the handout, one focusing on nuclear warfare in general, the other on the JCPOA. Following each link we’ve included a description of the video and possible questions that you can ask students to see what they’ve taken away from watching the clips. Each video clip is between 2 and 5 minutes; coupled with questions this segment should take no more than 15 minutes.
WHAT IF WE HAVE A NUCLEAR WAR?
– This is a 5-minute video that discusses nuclear weapons and the negative impact they could have for populations and the environment.
– After watching this video have your perspectives changed on nuclear warfare or the JCPOA? If so, explain why.
HOW THE IRAN NUCLEAR DEAL WORKS, EXPLAINED IN 3 MINUTES
– This video analyzes the Iran Nuclear Accord (JCPOA), explaining how it limits Iran’s nuclear production, while benefitting their economy.
– In the video, the narrator states that the inspections that were incorporated into the JCPOA were highly effective
– After watching both videos, and learning more about nuclear warfare and the JCPOA, do you think that the U.S. made the right decision in leaving the deal?
– If the U.S. and Iran do not make a new nuclear deal, what could be the potential risks and effects – for both countries?
– Returning to the initial question of how you would respond as a head of state to the JCPOA, has your position changed since the beginning?
(This shouldn’t take more than 10 minutes – total estimated meeting time: no more than 1 hour.)
“A History of Iran’s Nuclear Program.” Iran Watch, August 9, 2016.
Cronin, Richard P, Alan Kronstadt, and Sharon Squassoni. “Pakistan’s Nuclear Proliferation Activities and the Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission: U.S. Policy Constraints and Options.” Iran Watch, January 25, 2005. p. 11- 12. https://www.iranwatch.org/library/government/united-states/congress/congressional-research-service-reports/pakistans-nuclear-proliferation-activities-and-recommendations-911.
Erickson, Amanda. “Iran nuclear deal: What you need to know.” The Washington Post, May 8, 2018. https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/national/obama-legacy/iran-nuclear-deal-policy.html.
Gladstone, Rick. “Iran Sanctions Explained: U.S. Goals, and the View From Tehran.” The New York Times, November 5, 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/05/world/middleeast/iran-sanctions-explained.html.
“Iran Nuclear Deal.” BBC News, May 8, 2018. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-44045957.
Sabur, Rozina. “Donald Trump announces ‘withdrawal’ from Iran nuclear deal.” The Telegraph, May 9, 2018. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/05/08/donaldtrump-announces-decision-iran-nuclear-deal-live-updates/.