Iran’s Uranium Enrichment

News: Iran’s stockpile of 20% enriched uranium has reached over 210 kilograms, the latest defiant move ahead of upcoming nuclear talks with the West. Also, so far the Iran agency has also produced 25 kilograms of 60% enriched uranium, a level that only countries with nuclear weapons have the physical capabilities to produce.

What is Uranium Enrichment?

  • It is a process that is necessary to create an effective nuclear fuel out of mined uranium.
  • It involves increasing the percentage of uranium-235 which undergoes fission with thermal neutrons.
  • Nuclear fuel is mined from naturally occurring uranium ore deposits and then isolated through chemical reactions and separation processes. These chemical processes used to separate the uranium from the ore are not to be confused with the physical and chemical processes used to enrich the uranium.
  • Uranium found in nature consists largely of two isotopes, U-235 and U-238. Natural uranium contains 0.7% of the U-235 isotope. The remaining 99.3% is mostly the U-238 isotope which does not contribute directly to the fission process (though it does so indirectly by the formation of fissile isotopes of plutonium).
  • The production of energy in nuclear reactors is from the ‘fission’ or splitting of the U-235 atoms since it is the main fissile isotope of uranium. Naturally occurring uranium does not have a high enough concentration of Uranium-235 at only about 0.72% with the remainder being Uranium-238.

Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), 2015:

  • Under the historic 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and the World Powers, Iran was not meant to enrich uranium above 3.67%. The U.S. unilaterally pulled out of the nuclear deal in 2018 under then-President Donald Trump, but Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia have tried to preserve the accord.
  • Please note that enriched uranium above 90% can be used for nuclear weapons.
  • In September, the International Atomic Energy Agency said Iran’s stockpile of uranium enriched to up to 20% fissile purity was estimated at 84.3 kilograms (185 pounds) up from 62.8 kilograms (138 pounds) three months earlier.
  • The 2015 deal promises Iran economic incentives in exchange for limits on its nuclear program, and is meant to prevent Tehran from developing a nuclear bomb.
  • The U.S. unilaterally pulled out of the deal in 2018 under then-President Donald Trump, but Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia have tried to preserve the accord.
  • Under the deal with world powers, the other signatories were to provide Iran with 20% enriched uranium needed for its research reactor. Under the terms of the nuclear deal, Iran was prohibited from enriching uranium above 3.67% with the exception of its research reactor activities.