Iran has confirmed its ability to produce nuclear fuel rods.. What is its story?
Tehran – On the eve of the launch of the eighth round of talks between Tehran and world powers on the Iranian nuclear file in Vienna, the head of the Iranian Atomic Energy Authority, Mohammad Eslami, announced that his country is capable of producing nuclear fuel rods in order to supply reactors with fuel.
Talk of nuclear fuel rods first surfaced in Iran 9 years ago, when state television announced that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had loaded home-made nuclear fuel rods into a medical research reactor in Tehran, and France saw that the move would be an additional concern from Tehran.
The Iranian television, which broadcast the ceremony live, that Ahmadinejad loading rods fertilized with a degree of 20% in the Tehran medical reactor “a sign of the achievements of Iranian scientists.”
According to specialists, the nuclear fuel rods will enable the reactor to operate to produce radioactive isotopes used in the treatment of cancerous tumors, which will benefit half a million cancer patients in Iran.
Uranium enrichment facilities in Iran
Iran’s nuclear program began in the 1950s with help from the United States as part of the Atoms for Peace program.
1958: Iran became a member of the International Atomic Energy Agency.
1967: The Tehran reactor was built and equipped with reactors in the form of basins with a capacity of 5 megawatts, and Argentina initially supplied the reactor with fuel, but it stopped in recent years.
1967: The beginning of Iran’s nuclear activities was when the United States sold a 5-megawatt nuclear research reactor to the University of Tehran and was powered by 93% enriched uranium fuel (which the United States supplied until 1979).
1968: The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) is signed and the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran is established in 1974.
2002: The Natanz uranium enrichment facility was unveiled in the city of Isfahan, central Iran.
The Natanz facility was built 8 to 9 meters underground and is surrounded by two rows of thick concrete walls for the “safety of people” and also for fear of “possible bombing”, but the main part of this facility – the centrifuge site – is located at a depth of 30 to 40 meters underground.
February 2003: Iranian President Mohammad Khatami announced the provision of nuclear fuel by Iranian experts to Iran’s nuclear power plants.
April 2006: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, then President of Iran, announced that his country had succeeded in enriching uranium to 3.5%.
April 2007: Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announces for the first time the installation of 3,000 centrifuges at the Natanz facility.
October 2009: Russia and France were supposed to supply fuel to the Tehran reactor, but the deal failed and Iran began manufacturing fuel by first enriching uranium to 20% and then converting it into fuel rods.
February 2012: Iran announced that it would build 20%-enriched nuclear fuel rods and load them into the Tehran Research Reactor.
2009: The “Fordo” facility was unveiled, which was built in the heart of the mountains at a depth of 90 meters in the heart of the rocky cliffs in northern Iran.
January 2011: The International Atomic Energy Agency announces that Iran has started producing 20% uranium at the Fordow enrichment facility.
nuclear fuel rods
Enriched uranium is an essential component of civilian nuclear power generation as well as the production of nuclear weapons.
Most nuclear plants use enriched uranium (and may have used plutonium) in the form of compressed disks of uranium dioxide, which are preserved in hollow cylindrical sticks (about half a meter long) called fuel rods.
The weight of one disc does not exceed 7 grams, but it produces the energy equivalent of producing 93.5 barrels of oil.
Uranium is found in nature on two heavy isotopes with an atomic weight of 238 grams and constitutes about 99.3% of ores, and this isotope is stable and does not participate in nuclear reactions.
As for the second isotope and its atomic weight of 235 grams, it is the rare and effective one that is needed in all parts of the world, and the proportion of this isotope must be increased and concentrated in nuclear fuel to produce a reaction. This increase and concentration is expressed by enrichment.
What is used as nuclear fuel in reactors and nuclear power plants goes through the uranium enrichment process, and the most common uranium enrichment device is a device called a “centrifuge”.
It is necessary to enrich uranium by at least 3% in order to use uranium as fuel in most types of nuclear power plants to generate electricity, and uranium ore, which naturally contains 0.7 uranium, is enriched by centrifuges in varying proportions.
Enriched uranium is converted into discs that are placed inside fuel rods until they are installed in nuclear reactors to generate electricity.
A nuclear reactor is a device in which the nuclear fission process (splitting the atom) is carried out in a studied manner, and the heat energy obtained in this way is used to evaporate water and rotate steam turbines for electric generators.
Iran has so far achieved 60% enrichment of uranium, and what makes Iran’s enrichment potential controversial and worrying for some countries is that if any country can enrich uranium to about 5%, it can easily enrich to higher degrees, and nuclear weapons are also made with uranium enriched with a purity of 90 %.
Bushehr power plant
Iran intends to use indigenous nuclear fuel at the Bushehr plant (Iran’s first nuclear power plant to generate electricity), which was commissioned in September 2011, with the participation of the Russian company “Rosatom”. The necessary fuel for the power plant is provided by this company. And transports fuel waste to Russia as well.
As part of the 2015 nuclear deal, Iran agreed to reduce its production of enriched uranium to 300 kilograms with an enrichment rate of less than 5% of uranium, and to transfer its surplus abroad, but it did not continue to do so after Washington withdrew from the agreement.
The capacity of the Bushehr nuclear plant to produce electricity is 1,000 megawatts, and the share of electricity generation from nuclear energy in Iran last year was about 1.6 percent of the country’s total electricity production.
– According to the former head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, Ali Akbar Salehi, Tehran’s goal is to increase electricity generation from nuclear energy in the country from one thousand megawatts to 20 and 30 thousand megawatts.
Quantity, not just quality
Dr. Ahmad Sherzad, a nuclear expert and former deputy in the Iranian parliament, said, “In this type of issue, quality is not the only determinant, and quantity is also important, because the Bushehr reactor needs tens of tons of fuel annually (about 38 tons per year) and if we want to inject 100 kilograms of Fuel, for example, doesn’t make sense.”
Sherzad added – in his interview with Al Jazeera Net – “If we can inject tens of tons of fuel, it will be completed within a few months. Given that uranium raw materials are not supplied to Iran and Iran’s resources are very limited, it is difficult for Iran to replace it.”
The second point, according to Sherzad, is that the West has no problem in using Iranian-made fuel in nuclear power plants, and on the contrary, it will be very happy. What the negotiating members of the nuclear agreement face is that Iran keeps enriched uranium, and the West demands Iran not to store enriched uranium.
Dr. Mustafa Khosh Jashem, an international affairs and foreign policy analyst, added that the statements of those responsible for the nuclear file in Iran mean that Tehran will continue to exercise its right to domestic enrichment under any form, and the nuclear fuel cycle for peaceful purposes will not be affected by the negotiations.
Khush Jashem continued in his speech to Al Jazeera Net that the use of local fuel for the Bushehr power plant means growth and expansion in fuel production, stabilization of the fuel production cycle and industrial enrichment, and this comes within our country’s needs to build new power plants, and use less fossil fuels to generate electricity.
Khosh Chashem pointed out that the Russians are responsible for producing fuel for the Bushehr power plant for a certain period of time, and it is natural for each country to want to be self-sufficient, because any interruption or suspension in this regard will have many consequences for the country’s industries and electricity.