News ID: 140003
Published: 0159 GMT April 22, 2016

US goes shopping in Iran’s nuclear bazaar

US goes shopping in Iran’s nuclear bazaar

Mere months ago, Iran’s nuclear program was a dispute with Western countries, the US in particular. Now it’s supplying the US Department of Energy with a strategic substance that the United States itself can’t produce. DOE has struck a deal to purchase 32 tons of heavy water — water containing the hydrogen isotope deuterium — from the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran.

The $8.6-million sale helps Iran meet a commitment under last July’s nuclear deal to shed heavy water, reported.

“We’re securing material that will allow us to do great science,” says Thom Mason, director of Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee. DOE will resell a portion to industry for uses such as nuclear magnetic resonance imaging and protecting optical fibers and semiconductors against deterioration by blasting them with deuterium gas. DOE will also send six tons to Oak Ridge for an upgrade of the Spallation Neutron Source (SNS), the world’s most powerful accelerator-driven machine for generating neutrons for research.

Deuterium – hydrogen with an added neutron – accounts for just one in every 6420 hydrogen atoms. That neutron makes heavy water (D2O) more efficient than regular water at slowing neutrons and initiating fission. As a result, a handful of countries use it as a moderator in nuclear power reactors.

The heavy water purchase could open the floodgates to other collaborations with Iran. According to the nuclear agreement, Iran’s Fordo uranium enrichment facility is slated to become an international S&T center. 

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