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Scientists have warned that the US State Department has committed a grievous mistake by not waiving sanctions on parties redesigning an Iranian heavy water reactor to sharply curtail its generation of plutonium, which can be used to build nuclear weapons.

Writing in Science on May 29, 2020, Richard Stone, senior science editor at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Tangled Bank Studios in Chevy Chase, Maryland, said the move imperils effort to reduce weapons risk from Iranian reactors.

The 27 May decision is “tremendously concerning,” says Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Project at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey. “Heavy water reactors are a substantial proliferation concern.”

Under the 2015 nuclear deal, formally called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the US and other Western powers agreed to relax sanctions on Iran if it dismantled large pieces of its nuclear program and thereby eliminated pathways for quickly building nuclear weapons. In May 2018, the Trump administration withdrew from the agreement, arguing it didn’t go far enough. Other signatories sought to salvage the JCPOA, but flagging efforts prompted Iran, among other steps, to ratchet up uranium enrichment and take other steps it has characterized as reversible.

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