Feature

The reactor that triggered a nuclear crisis

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Science  09 Sep 2016:
Vol. 353, Issue 6304, pp. 1086
DOI: 10.1126/science.353.6304.1086

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Summary

The Tehran Research Reactor is used mainly for producing medical radioisotopes, not weapons, but Iran's dogged effort to produce fuel for it sparked the latest international crisis over the nation's nuclear ambitions—and helped motivate the July 2015 nuclear deal to constrain them. The reactor came online in 1969, with a 25-year design life. Iran kept its nuclear jalopy running decades longer than expected by scrounging for spare parts and by finding ways around international sanctions. In 2009, when the reactor was running low on fuel, negotiations broke down over Iran's request to purchase low-enriched uranium fuel plates. Iran was soon producing its own fuel, thanks to a technological breakthrough: Its engineers had learned how to interconnect centrifuge cascades to enrich uranium to ever-higher levels.