The second reason is that finding out if fuel is diverted from Bushehr is actually fairly easy. The reactor is subject to monitoring by inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and they won't have any problem determining if fuel supplied by the Russians isn't being used as it's supposed to. Fitzpatrick points out that the Iranians would probably have to change the operation of the reactor if they wanted to use it to create enough plutonium for bombs. "If [Iran] operates it for power generation normally, the spent fuel conceivably could still be used for weapons," says Fitzpatrick. "But it would be hardly ideal and Iran would still have to acquire a reprocessing capability which it does not now have." The point here is that, however you look at it, the Iranians are extremely unlikely to gain weapons-grade material from the plant.
So should everyone else in the world be happy that Bushehr is finally going on line? Not necessarily. Iran already stands accused by the IAEA of being less than forthcoming about other parts of its nuclear program. "Diverting the fuel would be hard under IAEA safeguards," says Fitzpatrick. "Nobody is really worried about that. The worry is that if there is diversion the world won't do anything about it. Enforcement depends on a political decision." When North Korea expelled IAEA inspectors and diverted fuel to its weapons programs before withdrawing from the NPT in 2003, the reaction from the world's governments was essentially a big yawn.
Some also worry that allowing the Iranians to run a nuclear reactor -- even if it's allowed under international law -- sets an ominous precedent for the Middle East, a region still riven by conflict and governed by autocrats. If the Iranians can have a nuclear reactor, then why can't, say, the Syrians? It's worth noting, perhaps, that one of the most intense expressions of concern about the start of operations at the Bushehr reactor came not from John Bolton but from Saudi Arabia.
In short, if the Bushehr reactor poses a threat, it's a primarily political, not military, one. And while it's sometimes possible to solve political problems by military means, the danger is always that use of force will create more problems than it solves. That point has been made about Iran's nuclear program many times over the past few days. Let's hope that someone takes it to heart.