Iran hails nuclear advance on Revolution Day

Australia’s ABC News reported:

Hundreds of thousands of people have rallied across Iran to make the anniversary of the country’s Islamic revolution.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad used a massive pro-government rally in Tehran to boast that the Islamic republic is now a nuclear state and on the brink of having the means to produce weapons grade uranium.

He was addressing a crowd of tens of thousands of government supporters who turned out in the capital’s Freedom Square to celebrate the 31st anniversary of the Islamic revolution, when Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini ousted Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi.

“By God’s grace it was reported that the first consignment of 20 per cent enriched uranium was produced and was put at the disposal of the scientists”, Mr Ahmadinejad told the crowd.

The Associated Press reported:

Iran expects to produce its first batch of higher enriched uranium within a few days but its effort is modest, using only a small amount of feedstock and a fraction of its capacities, according to a confidential document shared with The Associated Press.

The internal International Atomic Energy Agency document was significant in being the first glimpse at Iran’s plan to enrich uranium to 20 percent that did not rely on statements from Iranian officials.

Iran says it wants to enrich only up to 20 percent – substantially below the 90 percent plus level used in the fissile core of nuclear warheads – as a part of a plan to fuel its research reactor that provides medical isotopes to hundreds of thousands of Iranians undergoing cancer treatment.

But the West says Tehran is not capable of turning the material into the fuel rods needed by the reactor. Instead it fears that Iran wants to enrich the uranium to make nuclear weapons.

The IAEA confidential document (made public by Arms Control Wonk) states:

1. Further to the Director General’s report of 8 February 2010 (GOV/INF/2010/1), the Agency received on 8 February 2010 a separate letter from Iran, dated 8 February 2010, informing the Agency that the operator of the Fuel Enrichment Plant (FEP) intended to transfer a small amount (about 10 kg) of low enriched uranium (LEU) produced at FEP from a large container into a smaller container for feeding into PFEP, and that these activities were to be performed on 9 February 2010. Iran requested that the Agency be present on the site on that date.

2. In a letter dated 8 February 2010, the Agency sought clarification from Iran regarding the timetable for the production process (including the starting date and the expected duration of the campaign), along with other technical details. In light of Article 45 of Iran’s Safeguards Agreement, the Agency requested that no LEU be fed into the process at PFEP before the Agency was able to adjust its existing safeguards procedures at that facility.

3. After the arrival of Agency inspectors at FEP on 9 February 2010, Iran transferred the LEU into the smaller container and moved the material from FEP to the feeding autoclave at PFEP. On 10 February 2010, when the Agency inspectors arrived at PFEP, they were informed that Iran had begun to feed the LEU into one cascade at PFEP the previous evening for purposes of passivation. They were also told that it was expected that the facility would begin to produce up to 20% enriched UF6 within a few days. It should be noted that there is currently only one cascade installed in PFEP that is capable of enriching the LEU up to 20%.

Arms Control Wonk provides this explanation of what “passivation” means:

One of the preparatory processes that is required before using a centrifuge component for the first time is “passivation” – which basically involves bathing any UF6 exposed bits in UF6 so that anything with a remaining potential to react will react in a controllable environment rather than in the vacuum system.

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