A Conversation With Ernest J. Moniz

Monday, September 19, 2016
Peter Bader/Reuters
Ernest J. Moniz

Secretary, U.S. Department of Energy

Graham Allison

Director, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School

U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest J. Moniz joins Harvard’s Graham T. Allison to discuss the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran. Moniz assesses the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, analyzes the agreement’s nonproliferation and verification measures, and describes its effectiveness in blocking Iran’s path to a nuclear weapon.

The Paul C. Warnke Lecture on International Security was established in 2002 and is endowed by a number of Council members and the family and friends of Paul C. Warnke. The lecture commemorates his legacy of courageous service to the nation and international peace.

ALLISON: Good afternoon. Thank you for coming on a busy day in New York City for a spectacular event. We’re honored to have at the Council Ernie Moniz, the secretary of energy, for the Paul Warnke Lecture. It’s very fitting, actually, to have a person who played such a critical role in the Iran nuclear negotiations as the lecturer—the Paul Warnke lecturer, since Paul was the chief negotiator in the first START agreement, back in the late 1970s.

So you have Ernie’s resume there, and I’m not going to rehearse it, simply to undermine three points quickly. I think without question Ernie is the most outstanding secretary of energy the United States has ever had. I don’t say that lightly. His significant—

MONIZ: Are we finished? (Laughter.)

ALLISON: Go through the record item by item, and I could take a long time. Secondly, as I mentioned, he played an absolutely essential role in the Iranian nuclear agreement that stopped the advance of the Iran nuclear program, the implementation of which is just reaching the one-year mark this month. So we’ll have a lot of time to discuss that. And thirdly—and this is, I think, something that’s not been recognized—in his role in the Iranian nuclear negotiations he defined what I think is a unique new activity or role, of something I call a scientist statesman, that is a person who, as scientists, brought to the high table in negotiations capabilities without which an agreement wouldn’t have been possible. And I think one of the fascinating questions that I hope we’ll explore a little bit is whether there are other opportunities in which scientists may be able to bring imagination and operational inventiveness to negotiations that are stuck in symbolic terms by diplomats.

So let me—the game plan today. This is an on-the-record conversation. We’re going to have a conversation for about a half-hour, then we’ll go to the audience for questions. And as well it’s broadcast, so I’ve got an item here where people can send in questions and if there are any good ones I’ll raise those as well. (Laughter.) But in any case, let’s say welcome to Ernest Moniz. (Applause.)

MONIZ: Thank you.

ALLISON: So, Ernie, I had a slide, but they said that they don’t have slides here. So I’ll have to ask the question anyhow, starting at the top. So who is your hairdresser? (Laughter.)

MONIZ: That is publicly known as my wife. (Laughs.)

ALLISON: And is she available for others, or she only does this for you?

MONIZ: You have to have enough hair to qualify. (Laughter.)

ALLISON: Well, I don’t think—but how about Mr. Trump?

MONIZ: I’m not going there.

ALLISON: You’re not going? (Laughter.)

MONIZ: I think—I think it would be a Hatch Act violation to comment. (Laughter.)

ALLISON: OK. So one year into the Iranian nuclear negotiation—

MONIZ: I will note, however—I just will note that I did appear—we were sequential guests on Colbert last fall. There you go. (Laughter.)

ALLISON: Well, the slide that you missed, if you email me I’ll email it to you, has a picture of two distinguished individuals, but their faces wiped out, and the second picture has the picture of Ernie and who? Who would you imagine looks exactly like Ernie? Take a guess? Ben Franklin. Look at Ben Franklin and you can see, almost the same. OK? Even same facial—in any case.

MONIZ: Good scientist.

ALLISON: Good genes. Good genes.

So, one year into the Iranian nuclear agreement, when I’m asked why was this a big deal I tell people, remember five numbers: 15,000, 12,000, 10, five, and zero. If you know the questions to which those are the answers, you will get an idea why this is a big deal. Fifteen thousand, the amount of pounds of low-enriched uranium neutralized. Twelve thousand, the number of centrifuges eliminated. Ten, the number of months added to the breakout time for Iran. Five, the number of bombs-worth of low-enriched uranium eliminated. And zero, the amount of the opportunity for Iran to pursue a plutonium track to a bomb. So that’s in five numbers. Ernie, why is it a big deal?

MONIZ: Well, you’ve just given an answer, but let me answer it a bit differently. Look, first of all, obviously the president, the administration, committed to a negotiation specifically on the issue of the nuclear—a potential nuclear-weapons program and rolling that back very, very significantly; rolling it back in a way that would be transparent, verifiable, and provide adequate reaction time for the United States and our allies and friends should the Iranian program deviate from the commitment to a purely civilian nuclear application.

Now, obviously that’s against a background of a lot of international distrust, because, after all, without that there would not have been what proved to be an extraordinarily effective economic-sanctions regime. In fact, it’s an important part of the theme that we should not underestimate how international collaboration on that sanctions regime was really quite extraordinary. It certainly wasn’t just, you know, the P5+1 or the—in the EU, et cetera, but, you know, in terms of oil receipts, et cetera; you know, Japan, India. You can go on and on.

So the situation was one of substantial distrust. I will not say that that distrust has been dispelled, but the point is the agreement is not based upon trust, as we’ve always emphasized.

So what is the agreement? I think it’s maybe worth repeating in broad terms what the agreement is. There’s two fundamental pieces. One is a very large and growing Iranian nuclear program is dramatically rolled back and constrained for 15 years. I want to emphasize that there are many, many different time scales. It’s very confusing; 159 pages of reading, if you’d like to try that, because there’s many, many different time scales. And they were all in there as part of a construct that was critical for strongly constraining the program 15 years.

I will note that in particular the limitation to 300 kilograms of very low enriched uranium versus, by the way, the 12,000 that they had, including 20 percent enriched uranium, which is all gone, and metered back in small amounts to service a research reactor. For 15 years that is a very, very significant constraint in terms of how the program can operate and is very important in terms of what we define as the breakout time. We can do that—go into that in more detail. But fundamentally, that’s the issue.

I would also add—and you said it, Graham, but let me highlight it—that—and what I’ve just talked about really, in some sense, is the enriched-uranium pathway to a weapon, because, as you’ve said, the plutonium pathway is very, very—with belt and suspenders is really cut back. The core piece of their reactor is filled with cement. We’re helping them redesign a reactor with very, very small plutonium production, order-of-magnitude less, but in addition, sending out the spent fuel from that reactor for the life of the reactor, et cetera; so 15 years, highly constrained program.

Second part, transparency and verification. And that, one can argue, is kind of a forever thing in the sense of a commitment to the additional protocol. Many other elements, including novel elements, like, for the first time, uranium supply-chain transparency, 25 years; centrifuge manufacturing transparency, 20 years, et cetera.

Additional protocol, which I think this audience knows, is the basis for the IAEA going to undeclared facilities, sites, with a timeframe for response added, which again is very important in the regime.

ALLISON: And unprecedented, yeah.

MONIZ: And unprecedented. So that’s really the combination of strong constraints on a civil nuclear program for 15 years, long-term extraordinary transparency and verification.

I’ll add two other things. One is another dimension that is a first is that while NPT countries, of course, say that—other than the P5 and in terms of in the NPT—you know, will not build nuclear weapons, will not have nuclear weapons. There is no constraint on doing research on weaponization activities like special kinds of neutron generators and the like. That is, a number of those key elements are also off the table for Iran permanently. So that’s important.

And the last thing I’ll just add is this agreement, precisely because of its detail, its scope, and its scale, does put enormous and, in some cases, novel requirements on the IAEA, because they are the eyes and the ears. Obviously they are the international inspectors. We obviously are supporting an increase in their resources to manage this. But I will say that—well, actually, Graham, we’re now—there’s many different dates. We’re roughly approaching a year from adoption day, but implementation day was January 16th. So we’re now eight months into the implementation.

The IAEA did a really good job both in certifying Iran’s compliance for implementation day and now subsequently in doing that. But I do say—I do caution that the very success of having certain regimes in place for, say, 25 years also means you’ve got to pay attention for 25 years. (Laughs.) So we are going to have to collectively—the United States, our partners—we’re going to have to stick with this for a long, long time and support the IAEA, because they’re—you know, we just can’t afford to have a weakening of interest and attention on this.

ALLISON: So, Ernie, let me stay with this for a second. The issue that—when you were up at Harvard last spring, we talked about this idea of a scientist statesman. So I’m the director of a center with an odd name. It’s called the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. So I’m particularly interested in the role of science in international affairs.

Now, obviously science has supported negotiations, all the arms-control negotiations. So take the one that Paul Warnke was part of. There was a scientific advisory panel, because there’s a lot of scientific complexities. But this was a case where a scientist as a scientist sat at the head table jointly with the secretary of state negotiating. And I think in a way that would—in which the agreement wouldn’t have been possible otherwise. Explain that a little bit.

MONIZ: And, first of all, Graham, let me just say—I said it at Harvard in the spring but repeat it here that the degree of coordination and partnership with John Kerry was really fantastic. You know, I think sometimes meeting together for—we were together for 19 straight days for the last part of the negotiation, for example. And sometimes things can wear—can wear a little bit thin. This is a case where we just got closer and closer as—the more we had this partnership, this interaction. So it was really great.

Now, in terms of the question, I think the—first of all, clearly the scientific support in the sense that you mentioned was there from the beginning of the Iran negotiation, and certainly the DOE laboratories, which, you know, are largely the repository of nuclear technology knowledge in this country, nine of our sites actually were active supporters of the negotiation throughout. But that was in a—not exactly publicly recognized, shall we say, until last February, when the president asked me to join John.

And the reason I think, frankly, is that if you think about the Iranian side of the negotiation, they clearly were, in some way or another, February of 2015—exactly how it would happen was very unclear, but, one way or another, they were going to have their nuclear program dramatically scaled back to be able to meet the kind of P5+1 requirements.

So I would argue that without getting Mr. Salehi, head of their Atomic Energy Organization—a vice president, former foreign minister, very, very influential figure—former president or chancellor of Sharif University, a premier university in Iran—so a very major figure running the nuclear program, spent—he’s a well-known—he was—it’s well-known that he’s an MIT Ph.D. in nuclear engineering—

ALLISON: And Ernie is the former chairman of the Department of Nuclear Engineering at MIT.

MONIZ: No, no, physics.

ALLISON: Physics, I’m sorry. (Laughter.)

MONIZ: Oh, physics, excuse me. Please.

ALLISON: Of nuclear physics.

MONIZ: There’s physics and then there’s applied physics.

ALLISON: OK. Right. (Laughter.)

MONIZ: There was—and that pretty much—including—I see Harold Varmus—and that includes biology, by the way, Harold. (Laughter.)

So for this—how this rollback was going to occur is obviously something in which Mr. Salehi had a very, very deep, deep interest.

So then bringing in Salehi and me, as the corresponding member of our government, together was viewed—I think was viewed basically by I guess the leaders in both countries as essential to try to reach these nuclear dimensions in a way that could satisfy both sides—both sides, I mean, of course, U.S.—we were the lead in the actual—in the—in the kind of real negotiations, day to day, if you like, but of course, P5 plus one—and the P5 plus one—or E3/EU plus three—were also quite active and often very important to be—to moving the political dialogue along, especially. But anyway, but I think that’s where—that’s where it came in.

And then, as you’ve emphasized many times, Graham, here, this was—there were so many dimensions to the nuclear program, so it turns out what was important with Salehi was that, you know, we were able to kind of strip it down first to what were the essentials on each side. And we pretty rapidly—it didn’t take more than two sessions, I would say, before we came to the conclusion that despite all the years of struggling with this, that there should be a solution because the absolute requirements were not exclusive. Then came, of course, a very long time for trying to convert that into a—into a specific program.

ALLISON: So Ernie, just to push us one more level down into the weeds: So there’s one part of the—of making a deal that two scientists can figure out that there’s a zone of agreement below the symbolism that’s got people stuck, I think. And there’s a second, which is the two scientists have credibility in their own governments, both of the items that they oversee, like Salehi, the nuclear program, and you—for example, there’s senators whom I know who were not persuaded until they talked to you and you explained to them, you know, about the scientific details. So tell about the two levels, because again, I’m trying to see whether this is a new category that we need to introduce into negotiations in other space to get that kind of imagination or operationalization or maybe credibility. I mean, maybe in the climate space there’s some analog or maybe otherwise.

MONIZ: Well, first of all, let me say—and obviously, I know more about the situation in our government than in their government—but cannot minimize the critical role that the president directly played in providing clarity about what it was we had to get and then not doing further micromanagement in the sense of saying, look, you get me these two or three things; how you get there, you decide. So I think that’s part of the—you know, the credibility and the—and the fact that, you know, we had worked together on other things as well. And also with John, with John Kerry, again, when we—we’re much closer now than we were, but it’s not like we were strangers, either—I mean, especially, as the part of—part of the Boston climate group as well with Gina McCarthy and John Holdren and—you know, Bostoners got to the climate negotiation at hand. Sorry. (Chuckles.)

But I think that was—that was really very important. And that then gave us the flexibility to be able to let me say trade in different technical dimensions. But I don’t mean trade in the sense of trading away anything that was certainly core to what we were trying to accomplish. It was more that, yeah, OK, if you do less there and more here, that still satisfies my requirement, let’s say, for your breakout time, and gives him a—Salehi, in this case—a kind of technology program that can more satisfy his needs—I mean, I would say both technical and political.

So there was, you know, again, an awful lot of balls in the air, but we always looked at in terms of how the system would come together, again, to meet his core needs and to meet our core needs.

ALLISON: Let me take you one sort of separate question. What are the half-dozen things that members of the Council on Foreign Relations don’t know about the Department of Energy? Now, I would say there’s a long list, but for example, you mentioned the nine labs. I—if we—I mean, if I gave a quiz today, which department has the most science Ph.D.s? You have a clue, the Department of Energy. But if I did 19 other questions, I think many of us would get it wrong because generally at—foreign relations is not about science or the Department of Energy. So tell us a little bit about things that people—that the Council don’t know about the Department of Energy.

MONIZ: Well, OK, so the department—OK, the missions of the department are sometimes whimsically referred to as weapons and windmills, quarks and quagmires. And—

ALLISON: Weapons, windmills—

MONIZ: Weapons and windmills, quarks and quagmires.

So the weapons refers to the fact that, you know, we are—we have nuclear—broad nuclear security responsibilities. Obviously, the Iran agreement fits into that bucket. But we—the department and its predecessors design and maintain the shrinking nuclear arsenal, the nuclear deterrent—obviously working with our partners at DOD. We are responsible for a lot of the on-the-ground work, certainly in terms of eliminating nuclear materials worldwide, sometimes in collaboration with Russia, even in our current state of less-than-full agreement, shall we say. We also—another thing that we do is with the Navy is we are responsible for naval nuclear propulsion for both aircraft carriers and submarines. So that’s kind of a nuclear security bucket.

Windmills was next. So windmills represents the fact that obviously, we do energy, and in particular major, major—a second major mission. Of course, the nuclear security mission—we all know President Obama right from his Prague speech in 2009 made this a signature of his administration. Climate, another signature of the administration. And I like to say that we are kind of the solutions people, the clean energy technologies that will let us—let us get there in an economic way. But it’s broader, obviously includes energy infrastructure, oil, gas, the whole—the whole thing.

Quarks is that the department is the largest—by far the largest supporter of research in the physical sciences. I think NIH may have a little money in the—in the life sciences, and—but in the physical sciences and engineering, we’re by far the largest—the largest supporter. And that includes supporting very, very basic science, but it also means that our network of 17 national laboratories builds and operates cutting-edge facilities that no university typically could ever conceive of. And so we have 35,000 scientists from across the country who come every year to use these facilities: big synchrotron light sources, neutron sources, accelerators—we can go on and on. So it’s really a backbone of the American research establishment. I might add again—I’m referring—looking at my friend Harold—that we also do more in the life sciences than is generally known. I’m going to just say that Harold is right now co-chairing a task force looking at what DOE might do further in biomedical research, using tools like large-scale computation, that we are the principal drivers of in the government.

In fact, I’ll just—as an aside—I’ll say on that, probably a big surprise to most, is that we have a very special role right now in the so-called cancer moonshot that the vice president is moving forward, based upon our large-scale computation of data.

And, finally, quagmires refers to our responsibility for cleaning up the Cold War mess. It turns out that making tens of thousands of nuclear weapons is a pretty messy business, and expensive one. And we’ll probably be at it another 50 years. We have a $6 billion a year budget just for the cleanup. So you can multiply by 60 or 50. So anyway, so it’s very broad.

The theme, I’ll just end by saying what really pulls all of that together is science and technology. DOE is fundamentally a science and technology organization, with a fairly disparate set of missions—(laughs)—with our national laboratories not as our unique performers, but as certainly a core of our ability to bring science and technology to bear on these important problems.

ALLISON: Well, I’ve got 25 more questions, but I think we should give the audience a chance to put a question or two. You raise your hand, we’ll call on you, say your name and a short question. One speech per, and one speaker. This gentleman here, please. She’s going to give you a microphone, yeah.

Q: My name is Peter Goldmark.

Mr. Secretary, I’m going to invite you to talk a little bit with us about North Korea. I’m going to suggest, since there’s a lot you can’t tell us, it may be helpful to do it in a general way. This problem that at first looks so different from the Iranian one—a few comments on its structure, its challenge, its dynamics, because it looks like it’s upon us.

MONIZ: Well, OK, you’re right that I will speak generally. Obviously the North Korea situation is extremely serious. And as they keep—well, of course, they just had their fifth test, nuclear test, 10 days ago, whenever it was, and their continued missile testing. And I would just state that, you know, whether they work well or not every time you’re—I mean, this is part of a development program. And so each time, presumably, there is something being learned, progress being made.

There are certainly areas where—you know, in the past, actually, there was some progress. It’s not maybe—has not been sustained. But obviously with the removal of the IAEA inspectors some years back now, our lack of transparency into what’s going on is, itself, I think, an issue. So reaching some kind of agreement where we had more—the IAEA, for example, reengaged would be extremely important.

I’ll just end by saying that the—I think the North Korean situation is one that—and its rapid evolution, perhaps, over these last months and years, is one that does stimulate, I think, a rethinking about a lot of issues around nuclear weapons and deterrence and regional conflicts. I think I’ll just leave it there.

ALLISON: Let me just put one footnote on the North Korean one. I would say it also reminds us why the Iranian nuclear agreement is so significant. I mean, in the case of North Korea, North Korea has nuclear weapons, has had nuclear weapons for many years, is building up an arsenal of nuclear weapons. Iran was—would have—I mean, if we ask ourselves where would be today or a year from now or two from now in the absence of the nuclear agreement, I think we would find ourselves in a North Korean situation. That doesn’t mean that the solution for 15 years is a sufficient solution, as you pointed out. But I think in the North Korean case, we’ve got some lessons to learn about how once a state gets across the nuclear threshold, it’s extremely difficult to cope with. And within the borders of North Korea, they can build up as large an arsenal as they want, and the question of what to do about it. So I think it’s a great question.

MONIZ: Well, and also, I mean, it’s obvious that despite our ongoing many, many issues with Iran, the fact is obviously we’re talking about two societies with very, very different structures, and certainly degrees of transparency, shall we say.

ALLISON: Absolutely. The lady in the front row. Mary Boies. Please get a microphone. Yes, good.

Q: Mary Boies, the law firm Boies, Shiller & Flexner.

You mentioned that you’re responsible for nuclear propulsion on our submarines and aircraft carriers. Can you give us a status report and whether that’s adequately funded and in good shape, or whether the press reports are accurate when they say that they’re not in such good shape, largely because of funding and age?

MONIZ: Hmm, OK. Well, first of all, we just reached a milestone on the aircraft carriers. The new Ford-class aircraft carrier will hit the water pretty soon. Brand new power plants. Much more powerful than previous ones. So that’s very important. On the submarines, we and Admiral Caldwell, is the head of the nuclear navy, continues to work towards the next—beyond the Ohio-class submarine. So that’s going forward.

Now, in terms of the resources, it’s a—you know, the resources have been OK, obviously, to take us to this point, the success on the aircraft carrier, et cetera. The Ohio-class submarines is going to require an increase, which will have to be resolved with the Congress, and the infrastructure certainly is an issue. The infrastructure is in our Idaho laboratory. For example, the advanced test reactor, a nuclear reactor facility for testing materials, et cetera, is the workhorse of the Navy. It’s a very old—(laughs)—very old reactor. And the spent—Navy spent fuel handling facilities are needing rejuvenation, shall we say?

So, yes, so we have some challenges there. But again, the budget has been over a billion dollars a year. And, you know, I think the main lines of work have been progressing. But we will have challenges in the next decade.

ALLISON: Please. And get the microphone that’s coming, right here.

Q: Thank you. Mr. Secretary, my name is Roland Paul. I’m a lawyer. I’ve been in the U.S. government a couple of times.

Concerning the Iranian nuclear deal—first, let me say, I personally think it is the correct thing to have done, and continue to do so. But there are two commentators whose views I highly regard, have spoken publicly against it, and they are Bob Gates and Michael Hayden. And I wondered whether—apparently it something to do with this out years—you mentioned the year 15. And it must be there. And it’s kind of complicated for us laymen to follow. Do you—what is their problem? And do you think they’re right or wrong?

MONIZ: Well, first of all, I may be—I may be incorrect in this, but I thought Bob Gates’ position was maybe not favoring it initially, but having it done, feel that it’s very important to implement it. That’s my impression, but whether—right or wrong. Two points. I mean, one is—and I’m not associating this necessarily with either Gates or Hayden. But two critiques that one years. One, first of all, is that—are critiques of not what the deal is, but what the deal isn’t. So it didn’t address terrorism. It didn’t address missiles. Well, that was the design. The design was, address the existential threat of nuclear weapons.

By the way, not different, I would argue, than, say, in the Reagan administration negotiating arms control with the Soviet Union while we had lots of other problems—proxies, immigration to Israel, all kinds of things. You focused on that problem, and then if you can resolve that problem, well, maybe other problems will become easier to address. But if they don’t, you’ve addressed the problem in any case. So I want to emphasize that. And I want to emphasize there’s a flip side. And how much this means, Graham and I can argue. But the flip side of negotiating on the nuclear-weapon dimension is that the sanctions relief was strictly on the nuclear sanctions and not on all the other sanctions that are present, which is clearly at least a complicating factor in their reentry to the global economy. So I want to emphasize, that’s—(laughs)—there’s a logic, right, there.

The second is on the 15 years. Frankly, there have been a whole bunch of critiques initially in terms of specifics—how many days before there’s access in the additional protocol, et cetera. I think those have largely been put to bed. But the 15 years, OK, what happens after 15 years is the question.

Well, first of all—and Graham essentially alluded to this—well, what would have happened in these 15 years without the agreement?

ALLISON: Maybe next year.

MONIZ: Yeah. I mean, yeah. I mean, you don’t have to wait 15 years, because at the pace we’re going, you know, we’d be in the—you would be adding another significant digit, for example, to the number of centrifuges operating. I want to emphasize as well, on the R&D side, that there were rollbacks there as well in the R&D in terms of the pace of R&D, et cetera.

So after 15 years, as I said earlier, we are in an unparalleled transparency and verification regime. And the international community has all the options if, in fact, Iran chose to deviate from a civilian program. So that’s the deal, I mean. And frankly, it’s working. At least up to now it’s being implemented. As you probably hear—now you hear more complaints, if you like, from the Iranian side in terms of the pace of economic development than here, frankly, we got the rollback that we required before the deal was ever implemented. All of that had to be verified, certified, by the IAEA before the deal was implemented.

ALLISON: My apologies for adding just one footnote, because I talked to both Mike and Bob about it, and I think whenever I’m arguing with this, I say American critics are slower to change their mind because they’re not looking at the facts as carefully than Israeli critics. And if you want to ask who bears responsibility for the security of Israel every day on his shoulders, it’s the chief of staff of the Israeli army, Mr. Eizenkot. And if you ask what he thinks about the deal, he thinks it’s made Israel significantly safer. And if you have any doubt about that, go to the Belfer Center website. You’ll see a piece I wrote about it.

MONIZ: Could I just add on that, just quickly to note that—I’m not going to name names, but let’s just say that very senior military figures in our active military have gone out of their way, frankly, to thank John and me for this as being a major improvement in their views.

ALLISON: Yeah, I think for people that are into this in an operational sense, there’s very little debate right now.

Gary Sick, speak. Got a microphone? Yeah.

Q: Thank you very much.

And Secretary Moniz, thank you very much. I understand that your role was absolutely critical in getting that final result, and your expertise.

As you know, after an agreement is done like in a situation such as this, suddenly other experts begin to appear who begin to take exception to some of the things that was done. Recently we’ve had one expert who discovered that there was the sludge that was left on the nuclear production and some of the contaminants in the labs was not included in the sum total and that somehow secretly this gave Iran a precedent or an advantage that was not included, one, on the secrecy of the thing, and two, on whether you can build a bomb out of sludge remains and contaminants in the lab; whether this was, in fact, considered. And since you were there, I thought you could probably speak to this better than anybody else.

MONIZ: Yes. The assertion is incorrect. The—we—it’s well-known, including the Iranians, very explicit, in terms of our breakout time requirements of a minimum of one year. We have a technical working group of the P5+1—and, of course, IAEA is involved in all the verification measures—about evaluating any uranium—enriched uranium-bearing materials.

The question is, do they in any way contribute to a potential breakout? Is there a practical pathway? Sometimes the answer is yes and it counts, and sometimes the answer is no. One clear example, which is already embodied in a position paper, is, for example, what happens when material is irradiated? Well, we have a quantitative standard. And if it’s irradiated to that standard, it does not count, because it is not practically usable in going towards a nuclear weapon. So those are the kinds of judgments that are made and holed up in the EUPP plant and across the board.

So there’s no relaxation of the 300 kilogram, up to 3.67 percent. That does not mean that there are not technical judgments about when material does or does not count in that 300 kilograms. The criterion is, again, very simple. Is it usable? If it is, it’s in.

ALLISON: OK. This gentleman, please.

Q: I’m Allen Hyman, Columbia Presbyterian.

Given that climate change is an existential threat for many, many people in this world, do you see the further development and expansion of nuclear energies being part of the solution?

MONIZ: So the answer is yes. The—but what I want to emphasize is that we have a number of technology pathways to low-carbon energy supply. And I think in particular we’re talking here about electricity, because I want to remind you there are harder challenges, like industry, for example, et cetera. But particularly for electricity, there are many—there’s nuclear and obviously a whole raft of renewables. There is carbon light right now in terms of natural gas. And in this country over half of our carbon reductions have come from gas substitution for coal. There is carbon capture with fossil-fuel combustion, et cetera, et cetera.

Our view is that we’re going to need all of these tools to get to deep decarbonization. Paris was a big first step, but I also want to emphasize, besides the big, the first, because the Paris commitments are in typically a 2030 timeframe. Beyond that, we’re going to need increasing ambition to go to deep decarbonzation.

So our view is that there will be—there will not be any single low-carbon solution in different countries or even in different regions of our country. So our view is therefore we need all the tools on the table. Some will choose some. Some won’t. Germany, for example, I believe, will not—will phase out nuclear. But in other countries, maybe including in our own, we will see more.

I think one of the issues there, by the way, is, again, going back to innovation, is that, you know, I’m not going to be Pollyannaish, but I have to say I’m pretty bullish on the possibilities of small—much smaller reactors, small modular reactors, because they have very good safety characteristics and because they can change the financial structure requirements for moving forward with nuclear power; so long way of saying yes.

ALLISON: Bill Luers.

Q: Mr. Secretary, thank you for all you’ve done for this agreement and for so many other things. I agree with Graham that your role as a scientist-diplomat is important. And I’ve followed this rather closely, what you did. And one—I have a number of questions, but one specific one was how was the plutonium deal worked out? My understanding was that we and maybe the Chinese were involved in redesigning the plutonium reactor by closing off the core, but allowing them to continue to have a functioning reactor, and that there was even a memorandum between the United States, China, and Iran on how to do this. Did this involve Iranian, and Chinese, and American scientists working together? And how much role did you play in that?

MONIZ: Well, so—

ALLISON: I told you we would get into some weeds, and this is an extremely interesting weed. (Laughter.)

MONIZ: So let me clarify the situation. Iran was close to completing a reactor that made—would have made a lot of plutonium per year. So what’s happened is, again, the calandria, a piece—part that kind of holds the core—was taken out, filled with cement. So that design is not going forward. Now, what’s going forward is—so they do not have a functioning reactor there, and it will take some years. So what’s happened is that in different parts of the agreement, you know, different countries—especially among the P5+1, although not exclusively—Norway, for example, has been a big contributor to implementation of the deal—but here different countries picked up various tasks. Russia has gotten a whole bunch of them in terms of removing the 12 tons of material, for example.

So the United States and China co-chair a P5+1 working group to oversee the redesign of the Arak reactor. Make no mistake about it, Iran owns the project. And China is the liaison from our oversight group to the Iranian project management. So that’s now going on. And so, you know, there were designs, I mean, worked out in general terms during the negotiation so that we could define the parameters of the new reactor. But now it’s getting into the detailed design, and ultimately, of course, getting into something you can actually build something off of. So that’s going to take a little time, but that’s what’s going on.

Q: Did our scientists work together?

MONIZ: So the—technically the P5+1 is an internal working group of the P5+1 and China is the liaison. Sometimes those things might be co-located.

ALLISON: OK. This lady here in the front, please. This one and then we have two in the second row. Yeah.

Q: Vedhi Vasham (ph).

South Korea has a lot of outstanding marine scientists. Are we developing any programs with them that could be used against North Korea, or to build up our presence in that area?

MONIZ: I’m sorry, that’s just not an area that we work in.

ALLISON: OK. This lady.

Q: Hilary Cecil-Jordan.

How great a concern do you have of a nuclear arms race, now that the Iran deal has been completed, in the region?

MONIZ: Well, actually, we hope that this will dampen any risks there because we believe we have a verifiable approach to they’re not doing nuclear weapons. I mean, the degree of transparency now, compared to previously, is night and day—or, day and night, I guess I should say, in that order. So we think that this should basically help in that—in that dimension. Now, there is the issue of working—in fact, just, frankly, this morning I met with the UAE, building nuclear reactors with a strong nonproliferation agreement with us.

So our approach has been right from the beginning that, again, verifiably no nuclear weapon program. Or, if there is an attempt to do so, plenty of reaction time, if you like, there. But at the same time, to build up our overall security relationship with the Gulf countries, with Israel, with our other friends in the region. I want to make it clear, I said earlier that, you know, a lot of the critiques of the agreement are about what it’s not. And as I made it clear, I think those are ill-founded. But the reality is, it reflects the fact that we’ve got a lot of other problems to deal with, with Iran. And we got to deal with them. And if anything, you know, turn it up.

ALLISON: This gentleman, please. And get a microphone.

Q: Yes. Dick Huber from InVina Wine Group.

Mr. Secretary, we’ve talked about one rogue nuclear weapons country, North Korea. But there’s one that sits right there like an elephant in the room, that we never seem to talk about, and that’s Israel. Has there been any effort to get Israel to become a little bit more transparent, to join the International Atomic Energy Association, to sign the NPT? We have, we think, quite a bit of leverage, having $38 billion that we’ve just given to them. Is there any idea to use that leverage to get them to also join the international community?

MONIZ: Well, there are many discussions about, you know, nuclear security issues with Israel. And those are principally in the diplomatic channels. So I think John Kerry would be an appropriate person—(laughter)—to ask.

ALLISON: OK. This lady with your hand up. Yeah.

Q: I’m Reagan Thompson. I work for Congressman Pompeo.

Last week we learned that the U.S. payed for heavy water electronically, which contradicts the president’s previous statements. And I know you are very technically—you’re a technical expert. So details about how Congress was notified and the public was made aware of the payment and the payments details may be outside of your expertise. But they definitely impact the payment. So I’m wondering how you might do the heavy water purchase again? And if there are changes to make, what they might be?

MONIZ: Well, first of all, let’s make it very clear up front that we were completely transparent with the heavy water purchase. That was reported to Congress and discussed with Congress and—

ALLISON: Ernie, give us just two lines on what it is, because not everybody’s—

MONIZ: Oh, I’m sorry. OK, thank you good. Good point, Graham. So one of the—one of the conditions in the—in the agreement is that Iran is limited to 130 tons of heavy water. Heavy water is associated with these plutonium production reactors. So the Arak reactor, when it’s redesigned, our current estimate—because it’s not fully designed, as we said earlier—our current estimate is that they will need, including contingency, about 130 tons to start. And once it is fully operational, that limit will drop below a hundred tons. But for now, it’s 130 tons.

When the agreement—when implementation day came around, they had substantially more than 130 tons. Once again, we worked in a problem-solving mode. Heavy water, by the way—maybe I should add for the group—heavy water is associated with these reactors, but it has many other industrial uses. So we—in the United States, we use quite a bit of heavy water in our industry. So they moved sufficient heavy water out of Iran into essentially like a bonded warehouse in Oman, under IAEA supervision, so that they would then go and sell this on the international market.

And we agreed—it wasn’t a requirement in the JCPOA; it was in the spirit of trying to get things moving, and they have not been involved on the international market before. So we said, OK, look, we’ll buy some, 32 tons. Some of that is being used to upgrade our Oak Ridge National Laboratory facility. I mentioned earlier these user facilities. This is a big one. And it turns out, this heavy water will really inexpensively upgrade the power of that machine. The rest is being sold, or transferred for appropriate compensation, to industry that is—that was interested in this—in this heavy water.

So that was the transaction. There was no mystery about it, no—there’s no secrecy. It’s done; I mean, the material has arrived. Everything has been fine.

As far as the payment, that really is something that Treasury would have to answer in terms of the specifics of the—how it was done. But I do want to emphasize this was all, of course, licensed by Treasury, as have—as have been other commercial interactions with Iran. And, OK, so the $8 ½ million, roughly, was then transferred in non-U.S.-dollar resources. And that’s all that I can say.

ALLISON: Unfortunately, we haven’t come to a conclusion on all the issues, but we’ve come to the end. So, as a citizen, I would like to say how proud I am to be served by Secretary Moniz. (Applause.)


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