I am sure by now that everyone is aware of the Iran “nuclear deal”, which basically says “g’ahead Iran, spin them centrifuges”, and how that doesn’t sound like a deal at all but a capitulation by the US. But, I guess the Obama administration thinks it’s a good idea for Iran to enrich uranium, seeing as it’s only fair since the US can enrich all of the uranium we want, amiright?
Well, except the US can’t enrich any uranium. I mean zero, nadda, null. The US currently has no domestic uranium enrichment capabilities. I bet few Americans actually knew that.
For many decades up until a few years ago, the US enriched its own uranium for commercial and national security use using the old Manhattan Project era gas diffusion method. I don’t want to get too detailed about it, but it’s old tech and very inefficient. The US plan? Do what everyone else in the world is doing and research using gas centrifuges. But us being America, we gotta make ’em bigger and better than anyone else’s.
So the Carter administration actually started the ball rolling on such a program and in the 1980s the government built a facility next to the Department of Energy’s operating gas diffusion plant in Piketon, OH. Research and development continued and lots of centrifuges spun until the DOE pulled the plug in 1985. The facility was mothballed and the US uranium enrichment future looked bleak.
In the 1990s, the Clinton administration and Congress directed the DOE to privatize their enrichment operations. USEC Inc., the company formed from this, then began to look earnestly at the old centrifuge facility and started cleanup and rennovation. By the late 2000s, they had centrifuges spinning again, albeit a much smaller amount compared to the original program. Unable to gain enough investors due to a shaky uranium market (where all other enrichment operators were fully or partially state owned), the DOE’s unwillingness to authorize a loan guarantee, and the permenant shutdown of the last US enrichment operation, USEC filed Chapter 11 and was renamed Centrus Energy, while it’s shares were shuffled around to creditors.
Certain folks in government got nervous about this, namely the NNSA and quite a few congress members, and decided it would be in our national security interest to keep the centrifuges running and testing continuing, so that they could finance building several cascades for NNSA use in the near future when funding was available and the details worked out. So the DOE and ORNL, along with Congress, began funding the project last year setting a lot of technical milestones (which were all met), while the NNSA discussed their plans for several cascades of centrifuges for their use.
On September, 11 of this year (seriously), the DOE announced that they were no longer going to fund the centrifuges at Piketon, OH after the end of the month and would only fund research and design activities on a much smaller scale in Oak Ridge, TN, effectively shutting down the US’s own uranium gas centrifuge program for the second time.
As the title says, I am not making this up. The Obama administration is basically saying Iran should run uranium centrifuges, but we can’t afford to, even if by not doing so we are putting ourselves at risk of losing our nuclear capabilities in the future.
What we really can’t afford to do is not enrich our own uranium, while at the same time allowing Iran to do so.