Iran exchanges enriched uranium for yellowcake

4 January 2016


On 28 December, Russia removed all low-enriched uranium (LEU) from Iran except 300kg as provided for by the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

"This is low-enriched uranium - up to 5%. The whole quantity except 300kg, which Iran can keep under the conditions of the deal, has been removed. Everything in excess of that quantity had to be removed outside Iran," a Russian Foreign Ministry source told Interfax.

Some 11t of LEU was taken by ship to Russia, according to media reports. Under the JCPOA, Iran has to maintain its stock of uranium enriched up to 3.67% as hexafluoride or its equivalent in other chemical forms at a level that does not exceed 300kg for 15 years.

Excess amounts of uranium will be sold at the market price and delivered to a foreign buyer in exchange of natural uranium, which will be delivered to Iran, or diluted to the natural level. All remaining uranium oxide enriched to between 5% and 20% will be used to fabricate fuel for the research reactor in Teheran.

The spokesman of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI), Behruz Kamalvandi, said Iran had imported 200t of yellow cake from Russia and Kazakhstan in exchange for the LEU. "On 28 December, we imported the final batch, which was 60t of yellow cake from Kazakhstan. This was in addition to what we had already received from Russia. In total, we have imported 200,000kg of yellow cake." He added: "It is a very good and valuable trade."

Kazakhstan on 30 December said it had agreed to a request to help implement the JCPOA from Federica Mogherini, high representative of the European Union for foreign affairs and security policy coordinator of the joint commission of the group of six international mediators (the UK, China, Russia, the USA, France and Germany) and from Iran.

AEOI head Ali Akbar Salehi said Iran had three choices regarding the surplus LEU. The first choice was to turn it into "fuel complexes, which would take two-three years". The second choice was "downblending it which is an irrational thing to do" after all the efforts taken for the enrichment. The third choice, "more reasonable and easier", was to exchange or sell the surplus enriched uranium.

Iran's Foreign Ministry director-general for Political and International Security Affairs, Hamid Baidinezhad, has said Azerbaijan and Norway had also played an important role in the fuel swap. He noted that the exchange had taken place even though the import of yellow cake by Iran was banned according to the UN Security Council resolutions.

Russian newspaper Izvestiya speculated that the uranium taken to Russia is worth at least $50m. Russian state nuclear corporation Rosatom explained that the uranium is not of a uniform enrichment percentage.

"Uranium of differing composition will be utilized at various sites in Russia. For considerations of antiterrorist security the site of this material's future location must not be divulged," a Rosatom source told Izvestiya. "The appropriate site for processing the uranium will be selected in each specific case depending on the composition of the uranium contained in the consignment. ...The Iranian uranium will be utilised exclusively for civilian purposes. All the IAEA-approved certifications indicate that the enrichment level of this material does not exceed 20%."



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