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Enriched Uranium Stockpile by Iran

  • 06 Nov 2021
  • 3 min read

Why in News

Recently, Iran’s atomic agency said that its stockpile of 20% enriched uranium has reached over 210 kilograms.

  • In April 2021, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said Iran had begun the process of enriching uranium to 60% fissile purity at an above-ground nuclear plant at Natanz.
  • Under the historic 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and the World Powers, Iran was not meant to enrich uranium above 3.67%. Enriched uranium above 90% can be used for nuclear weapons.

Key Points

  • Uranium Enrichment:
    • Natural uranium consists of two different isotopes - nearly 99% U-238 and only around 0.7% of U-235.
      • U-235 is a fissile material that can sustain a chain reaction in a nuclear reactor.
    • Enrichment process increases the proportion of U-235 through the process of isotope separation (U-238 is separated from U-235).
    • For nuclear weapons, enrichment is required upto 90% or more which is known as weapons-grade uranium.
    • 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 purity of 20% or more and is used in research reactors.

  • Associated Concerns:
    • The tricky process of enrichment becomes far easier and requires fewer centrifuges as it moves into the higher purities.
    • In other words, getting to 90% purity is much easier starting from 20%, and easier still starting from 60%.

  • 2015 Nuclear Deal:
    • In 2015, Iran with the P5+1 group of world powers - the USA, UK, France, China, Russia, and Germany agreed on a long-term deal on its nuclear programme.
      • The deal was named as Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and in common parlance as Iran Nuclear Deal.
      • Under the deal, Iran agreed to curb its nuclear activity in return for the lifting of sanctions and access to global trade.
      • The agreement allowed Iran to accumulate small amounts of uranium for research but it banned the enrichment of uranium, which is used to make reactor fuel and nuclear weapons.
      • Iran was also required to redesign a heavy-water reactor being built, whose spent fuel would contain plutonium suitable for a bomb and to allow international inspections.
    • In May 2018, the USA abandoned the deal criticising it as flawed and reinstated and tightened its sanctions.
      • Since sanctions were tightened, Iran has been steadily breaking some of its commitments to pressure the remaining signatories to find a way to provide sanctions relief.
    • After months of delays, the European Union, Iran and the US have recently announced that indirect talks to resuscitate the deal would resume on 29th November 2021 in Vienna.

Source: TH

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