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How the Iran nuclear deal actually works

“I think in Iran, we are pretty confident that there is no undeclared plant”

How the Iran nuclear deal works, explained in 3 minutes

Iran is enriching uranium and breaking the limit set by the nuclear deal. Here’s what that means.

Uranium enrichment is a critical step in making nuclear energy and nuclear weapons. VOX, By Iran has exceeded the uranium enrichment level of 3.67 percent set in the 2015 nuclear deal it made with world powers, a spokesman for Iran’s nuclear agency said, according to reports Monday.

The deal put tight restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for the loosening of some international sanctions on the country. The 3.67 percent limitation on uranium enrichment purity was one of many limits in the deal meant to keep Iran from gathering enough material to build an atom bomb in a year if it chose to (Iran has never officially said it wants a nuclear weapon).

On Sunday, Iran’s deputy foreign minister, Abbas Araghchi, said Iran would begin enriching uranium to 4.5 percent for its Bushehr power plant.

“This is to protect the nuclear deal, not to nullify it. … This is an opportunity for talks. And if our partners fail to use this opportunity, they should not doubt our determination to leave the deal,” Araghchi said.

The 4.5 percent enrichment is still well below the 90 percent considered weapons-grade. But the violation of the deal is a move meant “to pressure Europe to reset the terms of the nuclear agreement following a US withdrawal from the pact last year,” according to the Washington Post.

Given the extraordinary destructive power of a nuclear weapon, keeping a close eye on enrichment around the world is critical to global security. But in the decades since the Manhattan Project, the enrichment process has gone from a massive, power-hungry, brute-force operation to a sophisticated and potentially clandestine affair.

Since it’s immensely important in international diplomacy right now, it’s worthwhile to understand what goes into enriching nuclear material, how the nuclear process works, and the strategies for keeping it in check………

Given the extraordinary destructive power of a nuclear weapon, keeping a close eye on enrichment around the world is critical to global security. But in the decades since the Manhattan Project, the enrichment process has gone from a massive, power-hungry, brute-force operation to a sophisticated and potentially clandestine affair.

Since it’s immensely important in international diplomacy right now, it’s worthwhile to understand what goes into enriching nuclear material, how the nuclear process works, and the strategies for keeping it in check.

Under the NPT, countries that don’t currently possess nuclear weapons are prevented from developing or spreading nuclear weapons technologies, but they can pursue nuclear activities for peaceful purposes like research or energy.

In 2003, Iran was found to have violated nuclear activity reporting requirements in the NPT, which spurred the international effort to get Iran to suspend its enrichment work. The US has argued that Iran does not have the right to enrich uranium since it was caught violating some of the safeguards imposed by the NPT, though Iran has not violated the treaty itself.

The goal of the six countries that signed the JCPOA with Iran in 2015 was to limit what is called “breakout time.” That is, how long it would take Iran to enrich enough material for a nuclear weapon if the country suddenly decided to ditch all international agreements and aggressively ramp up enrichment.

Prior to the agreement, Iran’s breakout time was estimated at four to six weeks. The provisions of the deal (Vox’s Zack Beauchamp put together an excellent explainer on this) aimed to extend this to more than a year, which would give international observers time to detect such a shift and enact countermeasures.

In short, the agreement made Iran limit uranium enrichment to 3.67 percent and decommission about 14,000 of its centrifuges, allowing just roughly 5,000 of Iran’s first-generation units to keep spinning. These IR-1 centrifuges produce between 0.75 and 1 SWU per device, whereas the IR-8 centrifuges Iran was developing at the time of the deal could theoretically manage 24 SWU, making them much more efficient.

Iran also gave up much of its low-enriched uranium stockpile, going from 25,000 pounds to 660 pounds. Iranian officials also agreed to pour concrete into their Arak reactor, a potential source of plutonium for nuclear weapons.

In addition, the JCPOA requires round-the-clock monitoring of Iran’s enrichment facilities in Fordow and Natanz, with only the Natanz facility allowed to operate. These are likely the only places where Iran can enrich uranium for a weapon.

“I think in Iran, we are pretty confident that there is no undeclared plant,” said Alex Glaser, director of the Nuclear Futures Laboratory at Princeton University.

International observers are also monitoring Iran’s uranium mining operations.

As it stands, the agreement effectively eliminates Iran’s prospects for enriching enough uranium for a civilian nuclear program and makes it much more tedious to gather the material required for a weapon. What little enrichment Iran is allowed under the deal is effectively a face-saving measure.

But, critics argue, pausing Iran’s entire nuclear enrichment apparatus only extends the breakout time by a few months since the country could just rebuild or reinstall its centrifuges if it decided to leave the agreement. And it looks like that day may be getting closer: a spokesman for Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization said Monday that the agency may increase the enrichment level to 20 percent or reinstall centrifuges.https://www.vox.com/2018/6/11/17369454/iran-uranium-enrichment

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July 9, 2019 - Posted by | Iran, politics international

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