Twenty-seven

Apart from now common and frequent reference to Iran being in contrary to UN Security Council resolutions, the latest Iran report of UN nuclear watchdog Yukiya Amano does not state anything new except that environmental samples taken at the Fordow uranium enrichment site have revealed a level of enriched uranium above what has Iran has declared to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), 27%.

“28. The results of analysis of environmental samples taken at FFEP (Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant on 15 February 2012 showed presence of particles with enrichment levels of up to 27% U-235, which are higher than the level stated in the DIQ (Design Information Questionnaire). In a letter dated 4 May 2012, the Agency (IAEA) requested that Iran provide an explanation for the presence of these particles. In its reply, dated 9 May 2012, Iran indicated that the production of such particles “above the target value” may happen for technical reasons beyond the operator’s control. The Agency is assessing Iran’s explanation and has requested further details. On 5 May 2012, the Agency took further environmental samples from the same location where the particles in question had been found. These samples are currently being analysed.”

David Albright, president of the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), has an explanation and both dampens and fuels the immediate brouhaha in mainstream media.

“The IAEA has found traces of uranium enriched up to 27 percent at Iran’s Fordow enrichment plant. This elevation is likely due to improved cascade design. An effect is to overshoot 20 percent when 3.5 percent LEU (low enriched uranium) is fed into the tandem cascades at the old feed rate for 15 stage cascades. To avoid this problem, Iran likely increased the feed rate of 3.5 percent LEU, which lowered the enrichment level of the product back to 19.75 percent. It also increased slightly the amount of 19.75 percent produced.

This development is an embarrassment for Iran but it is not a sign of Iran moving to higher enrichment levels. Nonetheless, its deployment of a 17-stage cascade reflects a reconfiguration of the cascades that can make breakout faster and more efficient.” (Emphasis added.)

Well, 19.75% is a construct anyway. It is conventionally LEU while 20+ percent would be highly enriched uranium (which automatically would lead to brouhaha).  That the Iranians are embarrassed is rather not likely. That IAEA inspectors were able to detect these “particles” indicates just two things: That Iran can quickly enrich to higher levels if a respective decision was made and that the IAEA can easily monitor this (provided Iran has made them aware of each of its enrichment facilities; Amano again complains that Iran has specified, in 2010, the locations of ten further sites without providing the IAEA with respective information yet).

Last modified May 26, 2012.

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