- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 11, 2006


The process of enriching uranium, which Iran claimed to have mastered yesterday, is one of the most difficult steps in developing a nuclear program. It requires a complicated plumbing network of pipes connecting centrifuges in a “cascade” that can operate flawlessly for months or years.

The process aims to produce a gas high with an increased percentage of uranium-235, the isotope needed for nuclear fission, which is much rarer than the more prevalent isotope uranium-238.

A gas made from raw uranium is pumped into a centrifuge, which spins, causing a small portion of the heavier uranium-238 to drop away. The gas then proceeds to other centrifuges — perhaps thousands of them — where the process is repeated, increasing the proportion of uranium-235.

Iran said yesterday its breakthrough had been achieved with a cascade of 164 centrifuges. Vice President Gholamreza Aghazadeh — Iran’s nuclear chief — said the country plans to be able to use 3,000 centrifuges by the end of the year.

Mr. Aghazadeh also said that Iran has produced 110 tons of the unprocessed uranium gas, an amount nearly twice the 60 tons of uranium hexafluoride, or UF-6, gas that Iran claimed to have last year.

Even so, the enrichment process can take years to produce a gas rich enough in uranium-235 that can be used to power a nuclear reactor or produce a bomb.

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