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Uranium Enrichment

Tag Archives | Uranium Enrichment

Sanctions against Russia look Great on Paper but they’re a Dead-End

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Now that Crimea has voted to unite with Russia and Vladimir Putin has welcomed Crimea with open arms, the Western half of the world, especially the United States and the European Union, are talking at lengths about imposing sanctions on Russia in order to bring Vladimir Putin to his senses.

U.S. reliance on Russian uranium makes sanctions difficult

However, the task seems easier said than done. The United States is simply not in a position to impose long-term sanctions on Russia. Economic and political ties between the United States and Russia are surely not exemplary. Yet, one key American industry relies heavily on a particular import from Russia: fuel for nuclear power plants. American dependency on Russia for its nuclear fuel is not a new development. It dates back to the early 1990s, when the HEU-LEU scheme was launched after the demise of the Soviet Union. Under this scheme, highly enriched uranium (HEU) from Russian nuclear warheads is processed into low enriched uranium (LEU) for use as fuel for American nuclear power plants.

While there are plans of reducing the need for nuclear energy, the United States still receives 100 GW of its power from nuclear power plants (compare this with Russia’s nuclear energy production of 230 GW). As a result, during 2014, 48 million pounds of uranium will be needed to fuel America’s nuclear power plants. Going by data released by the US Energy Information Administration (EIA), the total uranium Oxide produced within the United States is roughly 4.8 million pounds. Barely 10% of the total demand.

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Iran and Enhancement

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There are any number of obstacles that could trip up the nuclear negotiations between Iran and the “P5+1”—but the right to “enrich” nuclear fuel should not be one of them.

Pictured: Iran’s Hassan Rouhani and President Obama

Any close reading of the 1968 “Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons” (NPT) clearly indicates that, even though the word “enrichment” is not used in the text, all signers have the right to the “peaceful applications of nuclear technology.” Enriched fuel is produced when refined uranium ore—“yellowcake”—is transformed into uranium hexafluoride gas and spun in a centrifuge. The result is fuel that may contain anywhere from 3.5 to 5 percent Uranium 235 to over 90 percent U-235. The former is used in power plants, the latter in nuclear weapons. Some medical procedures require fuel enriched to 20 percent.

Iran currently has some 15,700 pounds of 3.5 to 5 percent nuclear fuel, and 432 pounds of 20 percent enriched fuel. International Atomic Energy Agency investigators have never turned up any weapons grade fuel in Iran and have certified that Teheran is not diverting fuel to build nuclear weapons. Intelligence agencies, including Israel’s, are in general agreement that Teheran has not enriched above 20 percent. A nuclear weapon requires about 110 pounds of uranium fuel enriched to between 90 and 95 percent. Iran insists it is not building a weapon, and its Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, issued a fatwa, or religious ruling, against the production of nuclear weapons as being contrary to Islamic beliefs.

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Can a Nuclear Armed Iran Be Contained?

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During his address at the United Nations General Assembly, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held up a diagram of a bomb to urge international action against Iran’s nuclear program.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressing the UN General Assembly. J Carrier/UN

He emphasized that soon Iran will have enough enriched uranium to become a threat to the existence of Israel, and said the world has until next summer at the latest to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power. The debate on Iran’s nuclear facilities has been going on for several years now, with arguments both for and against letting Iran enrich uranium. Not so long ago Kenneth Waltz wrote an article for Foreign Affairs in which he expressed his view that a nuclear-armed Iran could even be beneficial by providing stability in the Middle East, Netanyahu however argued that one cannot expect rational acts from the Islamic Republic and urged for the threat (or use) of force.

To shed light on the issue, we turned to Richard K. Betts of Columbia University, Sadegh Zibakalam of the University of Tehran, Michael Rubin of the American Enterprise Insitute, Gary G. Sick of Columbia University, Ze’ev Maghen of Bar Ilan University, M.J. Rosenberg a foreign policy commentator, David Menashri of the Academic Center of Law and Business in Israel, renowned author Robert Jervis of Columbia University, Gerald M. Steinberg of Bar Ilan University, Austin Long of Columbia University, Ran Rovner of Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Keenan Mahoney of Columbia University to ask: Can a nuclear Iran be contained?

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Iran Nuclear Negotiations: Why This Time is Different

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The latest P5+1 talks in Istanbul rejuvenated the diplomatic track between Iran and the West, paving the way for a new chapter in Iranian nuclear negotiations. Yet if the recently concluded talks were a test of intentions, the upcoming negotiations in Baghdad are going to be a real test of wills.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad tours the Natanz enrichment facility

Both sides will have to overcome huge obstacles if they want to establish a “sustained process of serious dialogue” to resolve the Iranian nuclear impasse. The only way the Baghdad nuclear talks can work is if both sides confine their demands to a mutually acceptable deal. This means that the Iranians need to concretely demonstrate their openness to greater transparency — subjecting not only their (increasing) stockpile of highly enriched uranium to real-time, verifiable, and comprehensive inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), but also opening up their more controversial facilities in Fordo and Parchin.

Simultaneously, the West should refrain from imposing further sanctions, conditionally reverse unilateral sanctions on Iran’s oil exports and central bank, and patiently lay down the groundwork for a nuclear swap deal, whereby Iran will cap its enrichment levels at around 3.5-5 percent and exchange its 20-percent enriched uranium stockpile for guaranteed amounts of medical isotopes from the West.

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Why Iran will Compromise this Time

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As we inch closer to the crucial nuclear talks between Iran and the world powers, the so-called P5+1, the primordial question is whether this time will be different: Is Tehran willing to make necessary compromises – from greater nuclear transparency to more stringent restrictions on its enrichment activities - to reverse the economic siege that is bringing the country close to the edge? Is she going to use the talks as a delaying tactic or will she finally strike a mutually-acceptable deal with the West?

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel at the White House, July 6, 2010. Pete Souza/White House

From the perspective of the Iranian leadership, with sanctions beginning to squeeze the Iranian economy - atop intensifying threats of military invasion and a growing Western naval presence in the Persian Gulf - the nuclear impasse is worryingly morphing into a question of regime survival. Sure, the regime has significant resources – both financial and military – as its disposal to head-off growing international isolation, and pursue its nuclear program, but growing external pressure can affect the very foundation of Iran’s trillion-dollar industrializing economy. Moreover, growing economic uncertainty – compounding decades-long structural economic challenges - could also impact the country’s very social cohesion, amidst lingering discontent among certain quarters of the population.

This is precisely why this time could be different, and there are no shortages of diplomatic overtures on the part of Iran, signaling Tehran’s interest in resolving the crisis. If there is one thing that is consistent with the Islamic Republic of Iran, it is her undying instinct for self-preservation. Moreover, the Iranian regime is anything but monolithic: even within the upper echelons of the politico-military leadership, pragmatic forces have always sought to prevent any crisis or conflict, which would endanger the country’s territorial integrity. After all, the 1979 Iranian Revolution was nationalistic: its founding principles emphasized Iran’s territorial integrity and independence.

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Africa, Nuclear Security and the 2012 Summit

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Many hold a view that the terms Africa and nuclear security have no correlation. This is a false and dangerous perception.

The first plenary session of the Nuclear Security Summit at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C., April 13, 2010. Pete Souza/White House

South Africa’s Energy Minister Dipuo Peters announced on Tuesday 28 February 2012 that her country plans to use nuclear energy as part of diversified mix to help cure South Africa’s energy crisis and to take a step closer to cleaner energy. The plan – called the Integrated Resource Plan (IRP2010) – places specific emphasis on various technologies including gas, imports, nuclear, biomass, renewables (wind, solar and hydro).

As it stands, about 90% of South Africa’s energy, like most African countries, is produced from burning coal, which in turn has a negative impact on the world’s climate. And like South Africa, most African countries are looking towards nuclear power as a potential alternative to fossil fuels. South Africa’s Koeberg nuclear power station, located 30km north of Cape Town, is the only nuclear power station in South Africa and the entire African continent. However, this will change in the coming years/decades.

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