Why is Iran turning its uranium reserves into powder?
Azerbaijan, Baku, Feb. 13 / Trend /
Dalga Khatinoglu, Trend's Iran News Service Chief
Iran has officially confirmed that it turns stocks of 20 percent enriched uranium (UF6) into uranium oxide (UO2) partly to produce fuel.
Iran turned a half of its 20-percent enriched 189-kilogram uranium stocks into powder last year. In May, the number of centrifuges at Iran's Fordo plant was 1,064, but in August doubled to 2,140. This means Iran's capacity for producing 20 percent refined uranium doubled. In any case, the new centrifuges installed at Fordo have not been active yet, but operating centrifuges produce 10 to 20 kg of 20 percent enriched uranium per month.
Thus, 20-percent enriched uranium means that the density of the isotope U235 is 20 percent in UF6. If the density of these isotopes is over 90 percent, uranium can be used in nuclear weapons. In normal conditions, i.e. in raw uranium, the density of this isotope is 0.7 percent.
Producing 5 to 6 kg of 90 percent enriched uranium from 250 kg of 20 percent refined uranium is possible, some volume that enough to make a simple nuclear bomb.
Thus, in regards to its reserves of 20 percent enriched uranium, Iran is trying not to exceed 200 kilograms, and occasionally processes uranium into fuel.
Taking into account that in June, Iran's reserves of 20 percent uranium amounted to below 100 kilograms, presently those reserves can reach about 200 kilograms.
It is almost impossible to convert uranium processed into fuel back into uranium. And even if possible, it is very risky.
20-percent enriched uranium fuel is used in the production of radioactive drugs for Amirabad research nuclear reactor in Tehran.
Iran has once converted about 100 kilograms of its mid-level enriched uranium stockpile into fuel, and this fuel will last for many years of Amirabad reactor's operation. The reasons for continuing the production of 20 percent enriched uranium remains unknown. Iran announced the construction of 20 nuclear reactors (including Bushehr) and each one is aimed to produce 1,000 megawatt-hours of electricity.
However, 1,000-megawatt reactors run on uranium fuel enriched to 3.5 percent, not 20 percent. And this plan still remains on paper. Iran announced that it planned to construct pool type 20-megawatt nuclear power plants, but this is on the paper as well and construction of each power plant would take several years time.