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Iran To Boost Its Enrichment Capacity Within Limits, Say Officials

An IAEA team checks the enrichment process inside the uranium enrichment plant Natanz, January 20, 2014

Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization Chief Ali Akbar Salehi says it takes Iran up to two years to reach Uranium enrichment at the 190,000 SWU level called for by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei on Monday.

Salehi said the organization has informed the UN nuclear agency IAEA that it has launched the process of increasing its capacity to enrich uranium in case the 2015 agreement that curbed its nuclear program collapses.

Separative work unit, abbreviated as SWU, is the standard measure of the effort required to separate isotopes of uranium (U235 and U238) during an enrichment process in nuclear facilities. 1 SWU is equivalent to 1 kg of separation work.

According to the World Nuclear Association, Natural uranium contains 0.7% of the U-235 isotope. The remaining 99.3% is mostly the U-238 isotope. Enriched uranium is a type of uranium in which the percent composition of uranium-235 has been increased through the process of isotope separation.

Salehi added on June 5 that a letter was handed to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna to inform it of the decision. But he also said Iran will continue adhering to the 2015 nuclear deal, and that the country's nuclear activities will remain within the limits set by the accord.

Speaking to IRGC-linked news agency Tasnim on Tuesday June 5, Salehi said “In case Iran pulls of the nuclear deal with the West, it would take one and a half to two years before the 190,000 SWU enrichment promise materializes.”

Salehi also said that “in the meantime, work will continue in Natanz to develop infrastructure for new centrifuges,” adding “We have plans, but they are not against JCPOA.”

He said the infrastructure includes “a centrifuge assembly line, which takes two months to be built.”

“However,” Salehi added cautiously, “this does not mean mass production of centrifuges.”

Salehi had said earlier this year that it would take only a few days for Iran to start industrial level enrichment.

The figure 190,000 SWU used by Khamenei and Salehi is the amount of enrichment required for supplying fuel to the nuclear power plant in Bushehr, the research reactor in Tehran and another reactor in Arak.

Major Nuclear Facilities In Iran
Major Nuclear Facilities In Iran

On Monday, Khamenei ordered the Iranian Atomic Energy Organization (IAEO) to start enriching uranium at a 190,000 SWU level from Tuesday June 15, “within the frameworks of the JCPOA,” Iran’s nuclear deal with the West.

Apparently, the 190,000 SWU is a number related with the fuel need of Iran’s nuclear reactor.

Based on JCPOA, Iran’s Uranium enrichment facilities would be limited to 5060 old P-1 centrifuges for ten years. These are machines with a capacity of one to 1.2 SWU. They can bring Iran’s total enrichment capacity to only 7,000 SWU.

Iran’s initial intention was to use 120,000 centrifuges but it was not allowed to do so.

Nuclear scientist Behrouz Bayat told Radio Farda that Khamenei’s statement was made for “domestic consumption” and that he is unlikely to pull out of the JCPOA.

Bayat added that Iran can move towards enrichment at 190,000 SWU only 15 years after the deal was signed.

Meanwhile, IAEO Spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi told reporters in Tehran on Tuesday that Iran plans to boost its enrichment capacity.

"In a letter that will be handed over to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) ... Iran will announce that the process of increasing the capacity to produce ... UF6 (uranium hexafluoride) ... will start on Tuesday," Kamalvandi said.

The UF6 is a feedstock for centrifuges.

On June 4, Yukiya Amano the head of the UN's nuclear watchdog called on Iran to ensure "timely and proactive cooperation" with inspections mandated under the 2015 deal with world powers over its nuclear program. Amano seemed to be encouraging Iran to show more enthusiasm in safeguarding the nuclear agreement.

Last month, President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the deal that set strict limits on Iran's uranium enrichment in return for the lifting of international sanctions.

The other signatories to the accord -- Britain, France, Russia, China, and Germany -- said they remain committed to the deal. Iran for now also is honoring the agreement.

The Process Of Uranium Enrichment Graphic
The Process Of Uranium Enrichment Graphic