The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) agreed to by Iran and the P5+1 in July 2015 placed restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program while other Middle Eastern countries– Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates–are planning to build their own nuclear power plants to meet increasing electricity demands. Although the JCPOA restricts Iran's uranium enrichment program for 10–15 years, Iran's neighbors may choose to develop their own national enrichment programs giving them a potential nuclear weapons capability. This paper argues that converting Iran's national enrichment program to a more proliferation-resistant multinational arrangement could offer significant economic benefits–reduced capitaland operational costs–due to economies of scale and the utilization of more efficient enrichment technologies. In addition, the paper examines policy aspects related to financing, governance, and how multinational enrichment could fit into the political and security context of the Middle East. A multinational enrichment facility managed by regional and international partners would provide more assurance that it remains peaceful and could help build confidence between Iran and its neighbors to cooperate in managing other regionalsecurity challenges.
Long-standing efforts to develop a commercially viable laser-based process for uranium enrichment, initially with atomic and later molecular isotope separation, have had limited success. This article discusses a model for a third generation of laser enrichment technology where CO2 laser light is Raman scattered to generate 16 μm photons that excite a vibrational mode in uranium-235 hexafluoride molecules within an adiabatically expanding free carrier gas jet, allowing for the partial separation of uranium isotopes by condensation repression. The SILEX (Separation of Isotopes by Laser Excitation) process being developed as part of the Global Laser Enrichment project may be one example of this separation technique. An ideal, asymmetric cascade for enriching uranium to weapon-grade levels is presented, and an analysis of the minimum laser performance requirements is included. Optimal running parameters, physical space constraints, and energy efficiency estimates are discussed. An assessment of the technical skills required is also provided. Finally, material available in an online supplement discusses possible lasers that may be utilized in such a process, and offers an introduction to dimer formation, a laser-based enrichment cascade, and a model for estimating the enrichment factor.
As implementation of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal begins, five other states in the Middle East are moving forward with civilian nuclear power programs. While most of these programs involve contracts with foreign vendors to provide reactors and the low-enriched uranium to fuel them, some states may want to follow Iran’s example and develop their own uranium enrichment programs, giving them a potential nuclear weapons capability. The authors assess the uranium enrichment capacity needed to fuel planned nuclear programs in the Middle East and support the idea of using the next decade to convert Iran’s Natanz national enrichment plant to a multinational one – in partnership with one or more of the international parties to the Iran nuclear deal and some of Iran’s neighbors. Such an arrangement could help maintain the transparency of Iran’s program after restrictions on it expire, thereby easing tensions between Iran and other regional powers. This confidence-building measure could create a political context within which other Middle Eastern states forgo acquiring their own national enrichment programs and begin a worldwide movement away from such programs in favor of more proliferation-resistant multinational arrangements.