The International Atomic Energy Agency reported on Wednesday late that Iran had taken another step to bring the country on track in line with its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.
Iran’s decision to invest 20% of its uranium enrichment at a research facility reduces the risk that the Islamic Republic will move faster to build an atomic bomb, according to Robert Kelley, a U.S. nuclear weapons engineer and former chief inspector general.
The International Atomic Energy Agency reported on Wednesday late that Iran had taken another step to bring the country on track in line with its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers. The country produced 3.6 grams of natural uranium ore – about the size of a pencil eraser – at its petrol station on February 6, according to a two-page restricted text seen by Bloomberg.
The action confirmed by the IAEA inspectors is the first in terms of fuel production at the Esfahan facility. Iran announced last month how it will convert its 20% iron-containing uranium into metals from its research institute, which also produces a staple for pharmaceutical and industrial use.
“They took the goods out of the pipeline,” said Kelley, a former U.S. Department of Energy program centrifuge and plutonium metallurgy at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. He also said that it removes uranium from a list of weapons which can be used.
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Iran has been intensifying pressure since early December, when its parliament passed a law requiring engineers to start extracting high-quality uranium and then adding metal to Tehran Research Reactor fuel.
But the actions do not only make renewing the moribund nuclear deal more difficult for the administration of Biden, which is open to doing so once Iran returns to compliance. And it could make it harder for Iran – which wants the US to first lift sanctions imposed on Trump’s administration – to turn it into a weapon, according to Kelley.
Most of the current advanced uranium reserves are stored in a gas-fired system, where they can be operated with centrifuges cassettes in a very short time. Those machines, which rotate at high speeds, break down the isotope of uranium-235 needed for the chain reaction in power plants and bombs. Most nuclear weapons use 90% enriched uranium. Iran’s reserves are between 3% and 20% enriched.
Iran has told IAEA inspectors that it intends to mix their uranium and silicon steel to produce uranium silicide fuel, a power source used for decades atomic energy taking the form of small pellets.
“This is not a step that allows for a weapon,” Kelley said. “The uranium-silicon computer is not very suitable for continuous enrichment per centrifuge.”
The test could give Biden management a chance to join Iran as the clock moves to a new deadline on February 21 – a day when IAEA inspectors have been told they will have some vigilance without U.S. sanctions lifted.
“Until that day, Iran continues to be under the full oversight of the IAEA, which allows for a better understanding of Iran’s fuel cycle operations,” said Andreas Persbo, a nonprofit nuclear analyst at the European Leadership Network. Although throwing uranium into a metal can make a sprint a weapon, the message sent by Iran is still worrying.