AP: Composites help Iran start uranium enrichment

A Feb. 7 report from the Associated Press (AP) says Iran has begun uranium enrichment with the help of carbon fiber centrifuge rotor tubes.

The Associated Press (AP) reported on Feb. 7 that Iran’s nuclear project has developed its own version of an advanced centrifuge to produce enriched uranium faster than its previous machines, diplomats and experts said.

The report said few of the IR-2 centrifuges were operating and that testing appeared to be in an early phase, with the new machines rotating without processing any uranium gas. More significant, the officials said, is the fact that Iran appears to have used know-how and equipment bought on the nuclear black market in combination with domestic ingenuity to overcome daunting technical difficulties and create highly advanced centrifuges.

According to the AP, diplomats said that Iranian experts now are testing a small number of more advanced IR-2 machines. They described it as a hybrid of the P-2 centrifuge once peddled on the black market by A.Q. Khan, the scientist who oversaw Pakistan’s development of nuclear weapons.

The report said the diplomats, who agreed to discuss the development only if granted anonymity because they weren’t authorized to divulge the confidential information, said it was unclear whether the new generation centrifuges were in an underground facility or an aboveground pilot site at Natanz. The P-2 centrifuge sold by Khan can enrich uranium gas up to three times faster than a P-1, but it is made from maraged steel - a high-nickel, low-carbon steel that is difficult to manufacture and hard to smuggle through international controls.

The report said one of the diplomats said the Iranians had circumvented that problem by making the centrifuge’s rotor tubes out of carbon fiber, presumably using machines and technology developed for Tehran’s missile sector and using a German version as a model.

A former U.N. nuclear inspector, David Albright, said the ingenuity demonstrated by such a development was impressive. “If you learn how to make carbon fiber rotors, you are very far ahead,” said Albright, whose Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security tracks countries under nuclear suspicion. “They are much cheaper and easier to make, and you can learn to spin them very fast.”

Using a hypothetical example of the efficiency of a P-2-based centrifuge compared with the P-1, Albright said 1,200 of the more advanced machines could produce enough material for a single nuclear warhead in a year, compared to 3,000 of the older model.

Information: Click here for the original AP story.