‘Iran resume uranium enrichment’

Context

In a breach of the 2015 nuclear deal, Iran claims that it has resumed 20 percent uranium enrichment at Fordow site where activity was banned for 15 years.

About

  • What is Uranium enrichment?
  • Uranium found in nature consists largely of two isotopes, U-235 and U-238. 
  • Enriched uranium is produced by feeding uranium hexafluoride gas into centrifuges to separate out the most suitable isotope for nuclear fission, called U-235.
  • Low-enriched uranium, which typically has a 3-5% concentration of U-235, can be used to produce fuel for commercial nuclear power plants.
  • Highly enriched uranium has a concentration of 20% or more and is used in research reactors. Weapons-grade uranium is 90% enriched or more.

The deal

  • Under the 2015 nuclear deal, Iran is allowed
    • to enrich uranium only up to a 3.67% concentration
    • to stockpile no more than 300kg (660lbs) of the material
    • to operate no more than 5,060 of its oldest and least efficient centrifuges
    • to cease enrichment at the underground Fordo facility
  • Another part of the deal instructs Iran not to accumulate more than 130 tonnes of heavy water, which contains more hydrogen than ordinary water, and to redesign its heavy-water nuclear reactor at Arak.
  • Spent fuel from a heavy-water reactor contains plutonium, which can be used in a nuclear bomb.

The concern

  • The move is seen as a significant step toward achieving weapons grade levels of uranium. 
  • The higher levels raise fears that Iran will work toward building a nuclear weapon, which requires 90% enrichment.
  • Iran’s move is its latest away from the nuclear deal as it seeks to pressure the other signatories, particularly those in Europe, to deliver on promises of sanctions relief. 
  • The United States pulled out of the deal in 2018 and instituted economic sanctions, especially targeting Iran’s key oil sector. 

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