Tag Archives: uranium enrichment

How Lasers Facilitate Nuclear Weapons Production

Different lazer sizes. The neodymium glass lasers (bottom) are used for nuclear weapons research.

 Using spinning gas centrifuges to enrich fuel for nuclear bombs requires a structure the size of a department store, and enough electricity for some 10,000 homes. An alternative method being developed would make the search far more difficult...The alternative is to zap the uranium vapour with a powerful infra-red beam from a laser…At least 27 countries, by one tally, have worked on laser enrichment since the 1970s. Most gave up, largely because production batches were tiny. Now, however, two firms say that they have learned how to scale up the process.

Jeffrey Eerkens of Neutrek, a Californian research firm, says its laser process requires around half the space and electricity that centrifuges need. A competing laser method is offered by Global Laser Enrichment (GLE), a consortium of General Electric, Hitachi and Cameco, a Canadian uranium producer. It, too, requires less space. In 2012 GLE was awarded a licence to build a facility in North Carolina for the commercial production of reactor fuel.

America has classified the technology, but that may not stop it spreading. The most important bit of laser-enrichment know-how has already leaked, says Charles Ferguson, head of the Federation of American Scientists—namely, that companies now consider it to be practical. This will reinvigorate efforts by other countries to develop the technology for themselves….

Non-proliferation optimists think laser-enrichment might not work as well as advertised, because GLE has still not begun commercial production. But this may be only temporary, because the company says the price of enriched uranium is too low to justify completing the project. A regime keen for a more discreet path to the bomb would not bother with such considerations.

Monitoring nuclear weapons: Lasering the fuel, Economist Technology Quarterly,  Sept. 5, 2015

The Uranium Fuel Bank is Here: IAEA-Kazakhstan Deal

image from http://www.ulba.kz/ru/

The IAEA and Kazakhstan on August 27, 2015  signed an agreement to set up the IAEA Low Enriched Uranium (LEU) Bank in Oskemen, Kazakhstan.  The IAEA LEU Bank, operated by Kazakhstan, will be a physical reserve of LEU available for eligible IAEA Member States. It will host a reserve of LEU, the basic ingredient of nuclear fuel, and act as a supplier of last resort for Member States in case they cannot obtain LEU on the global commercial market or otherwise. It will not disrupt the commercial market.

“I am confident that the IAEA LEU Bank will operate safely and securely, in line with the applicable IAEA nuclear safety standards and nuclear security guidance,” said IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano following the signature of a Host State Agreement with Foreign Minister Erlan Idrissov in Astana. “As the world’s largest uranium producer, with expertise in peaceful nuclear technology, Kazakhstan is well suited to hosting the IAEA LEU Bank.”

The Host State Agreement, a related technical agreement signed by Mr Amano and Energy Minister Vladimir Shkolnik, and a contract between the IAEA and Kazakhstan’s Ulba Metallurgical Plant comprise the legal framework for the IAEA LEU Bank….The IAEA LEU Bank will be a physical reserve of up to 90 metric tons of LEU, sufficient to run a 1,000 MWe light-water reactor. Such a reactor can power a large city for three years. The IAEA LEU Bank will be located at the Ulba Metallurgical Plant in Oskemen in north-eastern Kazakhstan. The plant has been handling and storing nuclear material, including LEU, safely and securely for more than 60 years.

The establishment and operation of the IAEA LEU Bank is fully funded through US $150 million of voluntary contributions from the Nuclear Threat Initiative, the United States, the European Union, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Norway and Kazakhstan…

The IAEA LEU Bank is part of global efforts to create an assured supply of nuclear fuel to countries in case of disruptions to the open market or other existing supply arrangements for LEU. Other assurance of supply mechanisms established with IAEA approval include a guaranteed physical reserve of LEU maintained by the Russian Federation at the International Uranium Enrichment Centre in Angarsk, and a UK assurance of supply guarantee for supplies of LEU enrichment services. The United States also operates its own LEU reserve.

The IAEA Board of Governors authorized the establishment and operation of the IAEA LEU Bank on 3 December 2010. On 29 July 2011, Kazakhstan offered to host the IAEA LEU Bank in response to the Agency’s request for Expressions of Interest.

Since 2011, Kazakhstan and the IAEA have been working on the technical details for the establishment of the IAEA LEU Bank and have negotiated the Host State Agreement governing the establishment and hosting of the Bank.

In June 2015, the IAEA and the Russian Federation signed an agreement allowing transit of LEU and equipment through Russian territory to and from the IAEA LEU Bank.
Exceprts from Miklos Gaspar, IAEA and Kazakhstan Sign Agreement to Establish Low Enriched Uranium Bank , IAEA Office of Public Information and Communication, Aug. 27, 2015

see also Iran and the Global Fuel Bank

The Costs of Covert Operations in Pursuit of Regime Change in Iran

USB_flash_drive.  Image from wikipedia

Washington believed that covert action against Iran’s nuclear facilities would be more effective and less risky than an all-out war… In fact, Mark Fitzpatrick, former deputy assistant secretary of state for non-proliferation said: “Industrial sabotage is a way to stop the programme, without military action, without fingerprints on the operation, and really, it is ideal, if it works.”The US has a long history of covert operations in Iran, beginning in 1953 with the CIA orchestrated coup d’état that toppled the popularly elected Iranian prime minister Mohammad Mossadegh and installed a dictator, Reza Shah. The US has reorganised its covert operations after the collapse of the shah in 1979…

In January 2011, it was revealed that the Stuxnet cyber-attack, an American-Israeli project to sabotage the Iranian nuclear programme, has been accelerated since President Barack Obama first took office. Referring to comments made by the head of Mossad, then US secretary of state Hillary Clinton confirmed the damages inflicted on Iran’s nuclear programme have been achieved through a combination of “sabotage and sanctions”.

Meanwhile, several Iranian nuclear scientists were assassinated. The New York Times reported that Mossad orchestrated the killings while Iran claimed the attacks were part of a covert campaign by the US, UK and Israel to sabotage its nuclear programme….

There are at least 10 major repercussions arising from the US, West and Israeli policy of launching covert war and cyber-attacks against Iranian nuclear facilities and scientists.

First, cyber war is a violation of international law. According to the UN Charter, the use of force is allowed only with the approval of the UN Security Council in self-defence and in response to an attack by another country. A Nato-commissioned international group of researchers, concluded that the 2009 Stuxnet attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities constituted “an act of force”, noting that the cyber-attack has been a violation of international law.Second, the US covert operations are a serious violation of the Algiers Accord. The 1981 Algiers Accords agreed upon between Iran and the US clearly stated that “it is and from now on will be the policy of the US not to intervene, directly or indirectly, politically or militarily, in Iran’s internal affairs”.

Third, the cyber war has propelled Tehran to become more determined in its nuclear efforts and has made major advancement. According to reports by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), prior to covert operations targeting the nuclear programme, Iran had one uranium enrichment site, a pilot plant of 164 centrifuges enriching uranium at a level of 3.5 per cent, first generation of centrifuges and approximately 100 kg stockpile of enriched uranium.Today, it has two enrichment sites with roughly 12,000 centrifuges, can enrich uranium up to 20 per cent, possesses a new generation of centrifuges and has amassed a stockpile of more than 8,000kg of enriched uranium.

Fourth, the strategy pursued has constituted a declaration of war on Iran, and a first strike. Stuxnet cyber-attack did cause harm to Iran’s nuclear programme, therefore it can be considered the first unattributed act of war against Iran, a dangerous prelude toward a broader war.

Fifth… [s]uch short-sighted policies thicken the wall of mistrust, further complicating US-Iran rapprochement and confidence-building measures.

Sixth, Iran would consider taking retaliatory measures by launching cyber-counter-attacks against facilities in Israel, the West and specifically the US…

Seventh, Iran is building a formidable domestic capacity countering and responding to western cyber-warfare. Following the Stuxnet attack, Iran’s Supreme Leader issued a directive to establish Iran’s cyber army that is both offensive and defensive. Today, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) has the fourth biggest cyber army in the world. Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) acknowledged that IRGC is one of the most advanced nations in the field of cyberspace warfare.

Eighth, Iran now has concluded that information gathered by IAEA inspectors has been used to create computer viruses, facilitate sabotage against its nuclear programme and the assassinations of nuclear scientists. Iranian nuclear energy chief stated that the UN nuclear watchdog [IAEA] has been infiltrated by “terrorists and saboteurs.” Such conclusions have not only discredited the UN Nuclear Watchdog but have pushed Iran to limit its technical and legal cooperation with the IAEA to address outstanding concerns and questions.

Ninth, worsening Iranians siege mentality by covert actions and violations of the country’s territorial sovereignty could strengthen the radicals in Tehran to double down on acquiring nuclear weapons. Iran could be pondering now the reality that the US is not waging a covert war on North Korea (because it possesses a nuclear bomb), Muammar Gaddafi lost his grip on power in Libya after ceding his nuclear programme, and Iraq and Afghanistan were invaded (because they had no nuclear weapon).

Tenth, the combination of cyber-attacks, industrial sabotage and assassination of scientists has turned public opinion within Iran against western interference within the country…[P]rovocative western measures have convinced the Iranian government that the main issue is not the nuclear programme but rather regime change.

Excerpts from  Seyed Hossein Mousavian, Ten consequences of US covert war against Iran, Gulf News, May 11, 2013

A Love Affair with Iran: Glencore and Trafigura

logo of atomic energy organization of iran

Glencore, a commodity trading house run by the billionaire Ivan Glasenberg, traded $659m (£430m) of goods, including aluminium oxide, to Iran last year, the Guardian has established.  The company…has admitted that some of its aluminium oxide ended up in the hands of Iranian Aluminium Company (Iralco).  Trafigura, another commodity trading house, has also admitted to trading an unspecified aluminium oxide (also known as alumina) with Iralco in the past.

The International Atomic Energy Agency has named Iralco as supplying aluminium to Iran Centrifuge Technology Company (Tesa), which is part of the Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran (AEOI). Aluminium oxide is an important material in gas centrifuges used to enrich uranium.  At the time of the Glencore and Trafigura trades with Iralco, it was not illegal or a breach of sanctions to supply Iran with alumina. It is unknown whether Glencore or Trafigura’s alumina passed from Iralco to Tesa, or whether it was used in centrifuge construction.

Since 2006, AEOI has been subject to UN sanctions designed to prevent Iran’s nuclear armament ambitions. Trading with Tesa has been specifically banned under US, EU and UK sanctions since July 2010. Iralco was added to the EU sanctions list in December 2012.  Glencore said it “ceased transactions” with Iralco immediately when it learned of its links with Tesa, and the last trade was in October 2012. “Prior to EU sanctions in December 2012, we were not aware of a link/contract between Iralco and Tesa,” the company said in a statement.  Glencore said it is “reliant on the relevant regulatory bodies/governments to advise us on developments in who we can/can’t do business with”.

Tehran, which some experts say already has enough enriched uranium to make several nuclear weapons, is in the middle of upgrading its stock of more than 10,000 centrifuges. The IAEA said Iran is replacing outdated centrifuges with thousands of more powerful IR-2m models.  Experts at the Institute for Science and International Security (Isis) in London said: “Iran is trying to replace maraging [super-strong] steel end-caps with high strength aluminium end-caps.”  Mark Fitzpatrick, director of Isis’s nonproliferation and disarmament programme, said the new centrifuges could enrich uranium four to five times faster than the existing ones. Iran insists its enriched material is for peaceful use, not for nuclear weapons, but it has refused to allow IAEA inspectors into several of its atomic facilities.

The Guardian has learned that Glencore traded $659m worth of metals, wheat and coal with Iranian entities during 2012. Buried deep in its annual report, one of Glencore’s US affiliates, Century Aluminium, 46% owned by Glencore, states: “During 2012 non-US affiliates of the largest stockholder of the company [Glencore] entered into sales contracts for wheat and coal as well as sale and purchase contracts for metal oxides and metals with Iranian entities, which are either fully or majority owned by the GOI [government of Iran].”…..

Trafigura, which came to global political attention when it was revealed that a licensed independent contractor of a ship it had chartered dumped tonnes of toxic oil slops in Ivory Coast, said: “We can confirm that Trafigura has traded with Iralco in the past. In October 2011, a physical swap agreement was reached whereby Trafigura provided alumina to Iralco in return for aluminium for Trafigura to export worldwide. No deliveries have been made or exports received since new EU sanctions were published in December 2012.

Excerpts, Rupert Neate, Glencore traded with Iranian supplier to nuclear weapon’s programme, Guardian,  Apr. 21, 2013

The Nuclear Proliferation Potential of Laser Enrichment

The following is being released by Physicians for Social Responsibility:  The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is putting U.S. nuclear non-proliferation policy at risk if it decides not to require a formal nuclear proliferation assessment as part of the licensing process for a uranium laser enrichment facility in Wilmington, N.C.  That’s the message from 19 nuclear non-proliferation experts in a letter sent today asking the NRC to fulfill its statutory responsibility to assess proliferation threats related to the technologies it regulates. The letter is available online at http://www.psr.org/nrcassessment.

Global Laser Enrichment, LLC, a joint venture of General Electric (USA), Hitachi (Japan) and Cameco (Canada), has applied for a license to operate a laser enrichment facility in Wilmington, North Carolina, based on Australian SILEX technology. The NRC licensing review schedule sets September 30, 2012 as the date of license issuance.  One of the authors of the letter, Catherine Thomasson, MD, executive director, Physicians for Social Responsibility, said:“It is a widely shared view that laser enrichment could be an undetectable stepping-stone to a clandestine nuclear weapons program. To strengthen U.S. policy and protect the U.S. and the world from nuclear proliferation, the NRC should systematically and thoroughly assess the proliferation risks of any new uranium enrichment technology BEFORE issuing a license allowing their development.”  Dr. Ira Helfand, co-president of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, said: “If the U.S. is going to have moral authority in dealing with proliferation threats in other nations, such as Iran, it must do a better job of taking responsible steps in relation to proliferation threats in our own backyard. In fact, a persuasive case can be made that laser enrichment technology requires even more immediate action, since this is a known danger that can be addressed directly by the NRC under its existing regulatory authority.”

In the letter, the experts note that the NRC has no rules or requirements for a nuclear proliferation assessment as part of this licensing process. The experts are concerned that the Commission is falling short in its duties since a 2008 NRC manual on enrichment technology clearly states that laser enrichment presents “extra proliferation concerns due to the small size and high separation factors.”

Previous letters to the NRC asking for a proliferation assessment, signed by many of today’s signatories, have been rebuffed. NRC is on record stating that the National Environmental Policy Act does not require preparation of a proliferation assessment. However, a March 27, 2012 memorandum from the Congressional Research Service clearly concludes that the NRC has legal authority “to promulgate a regulation” requiring a proliferation assessment as part of the licensing process.  Both the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Act of 1978 and the Atomic Energy Act are cited by the experts as statutory basis of the NRC’s responsibility to assess proliferation risks.

Excerpt, 19 Experts: Nuclear Proliferation Risks Of Laser Enrichment Require Fuller NRC Review, PRNewswire, Sept 5, 2012

Proliferation Risks of Laser Enrichment

Laser Uranium Enrichment