However, foreign news agencies, in particular Reuters, referring to the same report by the IAEA, cites a more heartbreaking quote: "The number of centrifuges for uranium enrichment in the Ford complex, located deep in the mountains, increased from 1064 to 2140 pieces."
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at the Natanz uranium enrichment facility
Perhaps, the IAEA experts themselves are confused in numbers. In any case, they do not prevent politicians and the media from scaring the population with various figures that supposedly show Iran’s desire to build an atomic bomb or a missile warhead. And it was again calculated how many tons of uranium enriched Iran and how many months it will make bombs out of it. But everyone keeps quiet that in centrifuge concentrating plants they do not receive enriched uranium at all. At the outlet there are gaseous uranium hexafluoride. And you can't make a bomb out of gas.
Uranium-containing gas has to be transported to another enterprise. In Iran, uranium hexafluoride deconversion production lines are located at the UCF plant in Isfahan. Deconversion of hexafluoride enriched to 5% is already successfully carried out there. But the result is again not uranium, but uranium dioxide UO2. You can't make a bomb out of him either. But just from it make fuel pellets from which they collect rods for reactors of nuclear power plants. The production of fuel cells is also located in Isfahan at the FMP plant.
To obtain uranium metal, uranium dioxide at a temperature from 430 to 600 degrees is affected by gaseous hydrogen fluoride. The result is, of course, not uranium, but UF4 tetrafluoride. And metal uranium is reduced from it with the help of calcium or magnesium. Whether Iran owns these technologies is unknown. Most likely not.
However, the key technology for obtaining nuclear weapons uranium enrichment to 90% is considered. Without this, all other technologies do not matter. But what matters is the performance of gas centrifuges, technological losses of raw materials, equipment reliability and a whole number of factors that Iran is silent about, the IAEA is silent, intelligence from various countries is silent
Therefore, it makes sense to learn more about the uranium enrichment process. Look at history a question. To try to understand where centrifuges appeared in Iran, what they are. And why Iran has managed to adjust the centrifuge enrichment, and the United States, having spent billions of dollars, could not achieve this. In the United States, government contracts for uranium are enriched in gas diffusion plants, which is many times more expensive.
Natural uranium-238 contains all 0,7% of the radioactive isotope uranium-235, and building an atomic bomb requires the content of uranium-235 in 90%. That is why technologies for producing fissile materials are the main stage in the development of atomic weapons.
How can lighter uranium-235 atoms be isolated from uranium-238 mass? After all, the difference between them is only three "atomic ones". There are four main methods of separation (enrichment): magnetic separation, gas diffusion method, centrifugal and laser. The most rational and cheap - centrifugal. Per unit of production, it needs 50 times less electricity than with the gas diffusion enrichment method.
Inside the centrifuge, the rotor rotates at an incredible speed — a glass into which the gas flows. Centrifugal force squeezes the heavier fraction containing uranium-238 to the walls. Lighter molecules uranium-235 going closer to the axis. In addition, a counter-current is created inside the rotor in a special way. Due to this, lighter molecules are collected at the bottom, and heavy at the top. In the glass of the rotor at different depths of the tube is lowered. One by one, the lighter fraction is pumped to the next centrifuge. According to another, depleted uranium hexafluoride is pumped into the “tail” or “dump”, that is, it is withdrawn from the process, pumped into special containers and sent to storage. In essence, this is waste, the radioactivity of which is lower than that of natural uranium.
One of the technological tricks - temperature. Uranium hexafluoride becomes a gas at temperatures above 56,5 degrees. For efficient isotope separation in centrifuges, a certain temperature is maintained. Which one? Information is classified. As well as information about the gas pressure inside the centrifuges.
When the temperature decreases, the hexafluoride liquefies, and then completely "dries up" - it goes into a solid state. Therefore, barrels with "tails" are stored in open areas. After all, here they will never heat up to 56,5 degrees. And even if you pierce a hole in the barrel, the gas from it will not evaporate. In the worst case, some yellow powder will fall out, if someone has enough strength to knock over a container with a volume of 2,5 cube. m
The height of the Russian centrifuge about 1 meter. They are assembled in cascades of 20 pieces. The shop is located in three tiers. In total, the 700 000 centrifuges workshop. The engineer on duty rides along the tiers on a bicycle. Uranium hexafluoride in the process of separation, which politicians and media call enrichment, passes through the entire chain of hundreds of thousands of centrifuges. The rotors of the centrifuges rotate at a speed of 1500 revolutions per second. Yes, yes, one and a half thousand revolutions per second, not a minute. For comparison: the speed of rotation of modern drills is 500, the maximum 600 revolutions per second. At the same time, in Russian factories, rotors revolve continuously for 30 years. Record - over 32 years. Fantastic reliability! MTBF is 0,1%. One failure per 1 thousand centrifuges per year.
Due to super-reliability, we only in 2012 began the replacement of fifth and sixth generation centrifuges with devices of the ninth generation. Because they aren't looking for good from the good. But they have already worked for three decades, it is time to give way to a more productive one. Older centrifuges rotated at subcritical speeds, that is, below the speed at which they could go peddling. But the devices of the ninth generation work on supercritical turns - they pass a dangerous line and continue to work steadily. There is no information about new centrifuges, it is forbidden to photograph them in order not to decipher the dimensions. One can only assume that they have a traditional meter size and rotational speed of the order of 2000 revolutions per second.
Not a single bearing of such speeds can withstand. Therefore, the rotor ends in a needle that rests on a corundum thrust bearing. And the upper part rotates in a constant magnetic field without contacting anything at all. And even with an earthquake, the rotor's beating does not happen with destruction. Verified
For your information: Russian low-enriched uranium for fuel elements of NPP reactors is three times cheaper than what is produced at foreign gas diffusion plants. It's about cost, not about cost.
600 MEGAWATT PER KILOGRAM
When, during the Second World War, the United States embarked on an atomic bomb program, the centrifugal method of isotope separation was chosen as the most promising success method of producing highly enriched uranium. But technological problems could not be overcome. And the Americans, with annoyance, declared centrifugation impossible. And all over the world they thought so, until they comprehended that in the Soviet Union centrifuges spin, and how they spin.
In the United States, when they abandoned the centrifuges, it was decided to use the gas diffusion method to obtain uranium-235. It is based on the property of gas molecules with different specific gravity to diffuse (penetrate) differently through porous partitions (filters). Uranium hexafluoride is driven sequentially through a long cascade of diffusion steps. Smaller molecules of uranium-235 easier seep through the filters, their concentration in the total mass of the gas gradually increases. It is clear that in order to obtain 90% concentration, the number of steps must be calculated in tens and hundreds of thousands.
For the normal course of the process, gas is required throughout the chain to be heated, maintaining a certain level of pressure. And the pump should work at each step. All this requires huge energy costs. How huge? In the first Soviet dividing production, 1 600 kWh of electricity was required to produce 000 kg of enriched uranium of the desired concentration. Pay attention - kilowatt.
Even now, in France, the gas diffusion plant almost completely eats the production of three blocks of a nearby nuclear power plant. The Americans, who allegedly have the entire private industry, had to specially build a state-owned power station in order to feed the gas diffusion plant at a special rate. This power plant is still in state ownership and still uses special tariffs.
In the Soviet Union in 1945, it was decided to build an enterprise for the production of highly enriched uranium. And at the same time to develop the development of the gas diffusion method of isotope separation. In parallel, proceed to the design and manufacture of industrial plants. In addition to all this, it was necessary to create no-new automation systems, instrumentation of a new type, materials resistant to aggressive media, bearings, lubricants, vacuum installations and much more. For all Comrade Stalin gave two years.
The deadlines are unrealistic, and, naturally, in two years the result was close to zero. How can a factory be built if there are no technical documentation yet? How to develop technical documentation, if it is still unknown what equipment will be there? How to design gas diffusion installations, if pressure, temperature of uranium hexafluoride is unknown? Yes, and how to behave this aggressive substance in contact with different metals, also did not know.
All these questions were answered during the operation. In April, 1948 of the year in one of the atomic cities of the Urals earned the first stage of a plant from 256 separation machines. As the chain of cars grows, so did the problems. In particular, bearings were wounded by hundreds, lubricant flowed. Moreover, the work was disorganized by the special groups and their volunteers, who were actively searching for pests.
Aggressive uranium hexafluoride, interacting with the equipment metal, decomposed, uranium compounds were deposited on the internal surfaces of the aggregates. For this reason, it was not possible to obtain the required 90-percentage uranium-235 concentration. Significant losses in the multi-stage separation system did not allow obtaining a concentration above 40 – 55%. New devices were designed, in 1949 year, started to work. But still it was not possible to reach the level of 90%, only on 75%. The first Soviet nuclear bomb therefore was plutonium, like the Americans.
Uranium-235 hexafluoride was sent to another company, where it was brought to the required 90% by magnetic separation. In a magnetic field, lighter and heavier particles deflect in different ways. Due to this separation occurs. The process is slow and expensive. Only in 1951, the first Soviet bomb with a composite plutonium-uranium charge was tested.
Meanwhile, a new plant was being built with more advanced equipment. Corrosion losses were reduced to such an extent that, since November 1953, the plant in the continuous mode began to produce the 90% product. At the same time, the industrial technology of processing uranium hexafluoride into uranium oxide was mastered. Metal uranium was then extracted from it.
Especially for the power plant was built Verkhne-Tagilskaya TPP with a capacity of 600 MW. And in total, the plant consumed 3% of all electricity produced in 1958 in the Soviet Union.
In 1966, the Soviet gas diffusion plants began to be dismantled, and in 1971, they finally eliminated it. Centrifuges replaced filters.
TO THE HISTORY OF THE QUESTION
In the Soviet Union, centrifuges were built back in the 1930s. But here, as in the United States, they were considered unpromising. Relevant studies have closed. But here is one of the paradoxes of Stalin’s Russia. In the fertile Sukhumi, a hundred prisoners of German engineers worked on various problems, including developing a centrifuge. This direction was headed by one of the leaders of Siemens, Dr. Max Steenbeck, the group included a Luftwaffe mechanic and a graduate of the University of Vienna Gernot Zippe.
Students in Isfahan under the leadership of a cleric with prayers express support for Iran’s nuclear program
But the work came to a standstill. The Soviet engineer Viktor Sergeyev, the 31-year-old designer of the Kirov factory engaged in centrifuges, found a way out of the impasse. Because at the party meeting he convinced those present that a centrifuge was promising. And by the decision of the party assembly, and not the Central Committee or Stalin himself, the corresponding developments were started in the design bureau of the plant. Sergeev collaborated with the German prisoners and shared his idea with them. Steenbeck later wrote: “An idea worthy of coming from us! But it never occurred to me. ” A Russian designer came - reliance on the needle and the magnetic field.
In 1958, the first industrial centrifuge production reached its design capacity. A few months later it was decided to gradually transition to this method of uranium separation. Already the first generation of centrifuges consumed electricity in 17 times less than gas diffusion machines.
But at the same time there was a serious flaw - the fluidity of the metal at high speeds. The problem was solved by Academician Iosif Fridliander, under whose leadership a unique alloy B96ц was created, which is several times stronger than weapon steel. Now in the production of centrifuges are increasingly used composite materials.
Max Steenbeck returned to the GDR and became vice-president of the Academy of Sciences. And Gernot Zippe in 1956 year went to the West. There he was surprised to find that no one uses the centrifugal method. He patented a centrifuge and offered it to the Americans. But they have already decided that the idea is utopian. Only after 15 years, when it became known that all uranium enrichment in the USSR was carried out by centrifuges, Zippe's patent was implemented in Europe.
In 1971, the concern URENCO was established, belonging to three European states - Great Britain, the Netherlands and Germany. Concern shares are divided between the countries equally.
The British government controls its third of the shares through Enrichment Holdings Limited. Government of the Netherlands - through the company Ultra-Centrifuge Nederland Limited. The German share of the shares belongs to the company Uranit UK Limited, whose shares, in turn, are equally divided between the firms RWE and E.ON. URENCO is headquartered in the UK. Currently, the concern owns more than 12% of the market for commercial supplies of nuclear fuel for nuclear power plants.
However, if the method of operation of the centrifuge is identical, the URENCO have fundamental design differences. This is explained by the fact that Herr Zippe was familiar only with a prototype made in Sukhumi. If the Soviet centrifuges are only one meter in height, then the European concern began with two meters, and the latest generation of machines grew into columns in 10 meters. But this is not the limit.
The Americans, who have the biggest in the world, built 12 and 15 meters high machines. Only their factory closed, not having time to open, back in 1991. They are modestly silent about the reasons, but they are known - accidents and imperfection of technology. However, in the United States operates a centrifuge plant owned by URENCO. Sells fuel to American nuclear power plants.
Whose centrifuges are better? Long cars are much more productive than small Russian cars. Long run at supercritical speeds. In the 10-meter column below, molecules containing uranium-235 are collected, and at the top, uranium-238. The bottom hexafluoride is pumped to the next centrifuge. Long centrifuges in the process chain is required many times less. But when it comes to the cost of production, maintenance and repair, the numbers are reversed.
Russian uranium for fuel cells of nuclear power reactors is cheaper than foreign ones. Because it takes 40% of the global market. Half of American nuclear power plants operate on Russian uranium. Export orders bring Russia more than 3 billion dollars a year.
But back to Iran. Judging by the photos, here, at the processing plants, two-meter URENCO centrifuges of the first generation are installed. Where are they from Iran? From Pakistan. And where did Pakistan come from? From Urenko, certainly.
The story is well known. A modest citizen of Pakistan, Abdul Kadir Khan, learned in Europe as a metallurgical engineer, defended his doctoral thesis and took a rather high post at URENCO. In 1974, India tested a nuclear device, and in 1975, Dr. Khan returned to his homeland with a suitcase of secrets and became the father of a Pakistani nuclear bomb.
According to some reports, Pakistan managed to buy 3 thousand centrifuges in the concern itself URENCO through dummy companies. Then they began to buy components. One Dutch friend, Khan, knew all the suppliers of URENCO and contributed to the purchases. Valves, pumps, electric motors and other parts from which centrifuges were assembled were purchased. Something gradually began to produce themselves, purchasing the appropriate structural materials.
Since Pakistan is not rich enough to spend tens of billions of dollars on a nuclear weapons production cycle, equipment was also produced for sale. The first buyer was the DPRK. Then Iran’s petrodollars began to flow. There is reason to believe that China, which supplied Iran with uranium hexafluoride and the technologies of its production and deconversion, was also involved.
In 2004, Dr. Khan, after meeting with President Musharraf, spoke on television and publicly repented of selling nuclear technology abroad. Thus he removed from the leadership of Pakistan the blame for the illegal export to Iran and the DPRK. Since then, he has been in comfortable conditions of house arrest. And Iran and the DPRK continue to increase the separation capacity.
What I would like to draw attention to. The IAEA reports constantly state the number of operating and non-operating centrifuges in Iran. From which it can be assumed that machines made in Iran itself, even with the use of imported components, have a lot of technical problems. Perhaps most of them will never work.
At URENCO itself, the first generation of centrifuges also presented an unpleasant surprise to their creators. It was not possible to obtain a concentration of uranium-235 above 60%. It took several years to overcome the problem. What problems Dr. Khan faced in Pakistan, we do not know. But, starting research and production in the 1975 year, Pakistan tested the first uranium bomb only in the 1998 year. Iran is actually only at the beginning of this difficult path.
Uranium is considered highly enriched when the content of the 235 isotope exceeds 20%. Iran is all the time accused that it produces precisely highly enriched 20-percent uranium. But this is not true. Iran receives uranium hexafluoride containing uranium-235 in 19,75% so that even by chance at least a fraction of a percent does not cross the forbidden line. Uranium of precisely this degree of enrichment is used for a research reactor built by the Americans during the Shah regime. But now 30 years, as they stopped supplying him with fuel.
Here, however, there was also a problem. A technological line for deconversion of uranium hexafluoride enriched to 19,75% to uranium oxide was built in Isfahan. But so far it has been tested only for the 5% fraction. Although mounted back in 2011 year. One can only imagine what difficulties Iranian engineers will be facing if it comes to 90-percent weapon-grade uranium.
In May 2012, an anonymous IAEA officer shared with journalists information that at the enrichment plant in Iran, the IAEA inspectors found traces of uranium enriched to 27%. However, in the quarterly report of this international organization there is not a word on this topic. It is also unknown what was meant by the word "footprints". It is possible that it was just a stuffing of negative information in the framework of the information war. Probably, the traces are scraped off particles of uranium, which, in contact with the metal from hexafluoride, turned into tetrafluoride and a donkey in the form of green powder. And turned into a production loss.
Even in advanced production, URENCO losses can reach 10% of the total. At the same time, light uranium-235 enters into a corrosion reaction much more readily than its less mobile fellow 238. How much uranium hexafluoride is lost during enrichment in Iranian centrifuges, one can only guess. But you can vouch that there are considerable losses.
RESULTS AND PROSPECTS
Industrial separation (enrichment) of uranium is carried out in a dozen countries. The reason is the same as that declared by Iran: independence from the import of fuel for reactors of nuclear power plants. This is a question of strategic importance, since we are talking about the state’s energy security. Expenses in this area are no longer considered.
Basically these enterprises belong to URENCO or they buy centrifuges from the concern. Russian machines of the fifth and sixth generation equipped enterprises built in 1990-s in China. Naturally, the inquisitive Chinese dismantled the cog samples and did exactly the same. However, there is a Russian secret in these centrifuges, which is not something that can be reproduced, even understand what it is, no one can. Absolute copies do not work, even if you burst.
All those tons of Iranian enriched uranium, which are scared of a foreign citizen by foreigners, and also domestic media, are actually tons of uranium hexafluoride. Judging by the available data, Iran has so far not even approached the production of uranium metal. And, it seems, is not going to deal with this issue in the near future. Therefore, all calculations, how many bombs Tehran can make of the existing uranium, are meaningless. You cannot make a nuclear explosive device out of hexafluoride, even if it can be brought to 90% uranium-235.
A few years ago, two Russian physicists inspected Iranian nuclear facilities. The mission is classified at the request of the Russian side. But judging by the fact that the leadership and the Foreign Ministry of the Russian Federation do not join the accusations against Iran, Tehran has not detected the danger of creating nuclear weapons.
Meanwhile, the United States and Israel constantly threaten Iran with bombing, the country is being harassed with economic sanctions, trying to delay its development in this way. The result is the opposite. Over the 30 years of sanctions, the Islamic Republic has been transformed from a raw material into an industrial one. Here they make their own jet fighters, submarines and a lot of other modern weapons. And they are well aware that only armed potential restrains the aggressor.
When the DPRK conducted an underground nuclear explosion, the tone of negotiations with it changed dramatically. It is not known that the device was blown up. And whether it was a real nuclear explosion or a charge "burned out", since the chain reaction should last for milliseconds, and there are suspicions that it was protracted. That is, the release of radioactive products occurred, but the explosion itself was not.
The same story with intercontinental North Korean missiles. Twice they were launched, and both times it ended in an accident. Obviously, they are not able to fly and hardly ever will be able to. Poor North Korea does not have the appropriate technology, production, personnel, research laboratories. But more than Pyongyang is not threatened with war and bombing. And the whole world sees it. And makes reasonable conclusions.
Brazil announced that it intends to build an atomic submarine. Just so, just in case. Suddenly, tomorrow someone will not like the Brazilian leader and he will wish to replace him?
Egyptian President Mohammed Mursi intends to return to the question of Egypt’s developing its own program of using nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. Mursi made this statement in Beijing, speaking to the leaders of the Egyptian community living in China. In this case, the Egyptian president called nuclear energy "clean energy." The West on this issue is still silent.
Russia has a chance to create a joint venture with Egypt to enrich uranium. Then the chances are sharply increased that the nuclear power plants here will be built according to Russian projects. And we will leave on our conscience conscientious information bombs about the alleged nuclear bombs.