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Iran nuclear deal: Key points- 20 Jan 2014 - BBC 02-07-2014

Iran nuclear deal: Key points


World powers and Iran have begun implementing a deal on Iran s nuclear programme following intense talks in Geneva.

Both sides committed to a series of steps which will last for six months, while a more conclusive deal is negotiated.

Here are the key points of what the US says the two sides agreed:

What Iran will do

a)     Halt production of near-20% enriched uranium and disable the configuration of the centrifuge cascades used to produce it

b)    Start to dilute half of the near-20% enriched uranium stockpile that is in hexafluoride form, and continue to convert the rest to oxide form not suitable for further enrichment

c)     Not enrich uranium in roughly half of the installed centrifuges at Natanz facility and three-quarters of the installed centrifuges at Fordo (Read our guide to Iran s nuclear facilities)

d)    Limit its centrifuge production to those needed to replace damaged machines

e)     Not construct additional enrichment facilities

f)     Not go beyond its current enrichment research and development practices

g)    Not commission or fuel the Arak heavy-water reactor

h)     Halt the production and additional testing of fuel for the Arak reactor

i)      Not install any additional reactor components at Arak

j)      Not transfer fuel and heavy water to the Arak reactor site

k)     Not construct a facility capable of reprocessing at Arak, preventing the separation of plutonium from spent fuel

l)      Agree to a cap on the permitted size of Iran s up-to-5% enriched uranium stockpile

m)   Allow IAEA inspectors to visit the Natanz and Fordo enrichment sites daily and the Arak reactor at least monthly

What the world powers will do

a)     Provide "limited, temporary, targeted, and reversible [sanctions] relief". (See Q&A: Sanctions)

b)    Not impose further nuclear-related sanctions if Iran meets its commitments

c)     Transfer $4.2bn (£2.6bn) of oil revenue to Iran in instalments

d)    Suspend the implementation of sanctions on Iran s petrochemical exports and its imports of goods and services for its automotive manufacturing sector

e)     Pause efforts to further reduce purchases of crude oil from Iran by the six economies still purchasing oil from Iran

f)     Suspend sanctions on Iran s imports and exports of gold and other precious metals

g)    License the supply of spare parts and services for the safety of flight of Iran s civil aviation sector

h)     Facilitate the establishment of a financial channel to support humanitarian trade already permitted with Iran and facilitate payments for UN obligations and tuition payments for students studying abroad

i)      Modify the thresholds for EU internal procedures for the authorization of financial transactions




Nuclear reactors work on the principle that nuclear fission releases heat, which can be harnessed and used to heat water into steam to drive turbines.

A typical nuclear reactor uses enriched uranium in the form of fuel pellets , each roughly the size of a coin and about an inch long. The pellets are formed into long rods known as bundles, and housed inside a heavily insulated, pressurised chamber.

In many power stations, the bundles are submerged in water to keep them cool. Other types use carbon dioxide or liquid metal to cool the reactor core.

To function in a reactor - ie produce heat through a fissile reaction - the uranium core must be critical . This means that the uranium must be in sufficiently enriched form to allow a self-sustaining chain reaction to occur.

To regulate this process, and allow the nuclear plant to function, control rods are inserted into the reactor chamber. The rods are made of a substance, typically cadmium, which absorbs neutrons inside the reactor.

Fewer neutrons means fewer chain reactions are started, slowing down the fission process. There are more than 400 nuclear power stations across the globe, producing about 17% of the world s electricity. Nuclear reactors are also used to power submarines and naval vessels.



1. Reactor core 

2. Coolant pump 

3. Control rods 

4. Steam generator 

5. Steam pumped to turbine, which generates electricity 

6. Containment building


Once extracted, uranium ore is taken to a mill to be crushed and ground into a fine powder. This is then purified in a chemical process and reconstituted in a solid form known as "yellow cake", due to its yellow colouring. Yellow cake consists of 60-70% uranium, and is radioactive.

The basic aim of nuclear scientists is to increase the amount of U-235 atoms, a process known as enrichment. To do this, the yellow cake is dissolved in nitric acid and chemically processed before being heated to become uranium hexafluoride gas.

Uranium hexafluoride is corrosive and reactive and must be handled very carefully. Pipes and pumps at conversion plants are specially constructed from aluminium and nickel alloys. The gas is also kept away from oil and grease lubricants to avoid any inadvertent chemical reactions.





The aim of enrichment is to increase the proportion of fissile uranium-235 atoms within uranium.

For uranium to work in a nuclear reactor it must be enriched to contain 2-3% uranium-235. Weapons-grade uranium must contain 90% or more u-235.

A common enrichment method is a gas centrifuge, where uranium hexafluoride gas is spun in a cylindrical chamber at high speeds. This causes the slightly denser isotope u-238 to separate from the lighter u-235.

The dense u-238 is drawn towards the bottom of the chamber and extracted; the lighter u-235 clusters near the centre and is collected.

The enriched u-235 is then fed into another centrifuge. The process is repeated many times through a chain of centrifuges known as a cascade.

The remaining uranium - essentially u-238 with all the u-235 removed - is known as depleted uranium. Depleted uranium, a heavy and slightly radioactive metal, is used as a component in armour-piercing shells and other munitions.

Another method of enrichment is known as diffusion.

This works on the principle that of the two isotopes present in uranium, hexafluoride gas, u-235 will diffuse more rapidly through a porous barrier than its heavier cousin, u-238.

As with the centrifuge method, this process must be repeated many times.




Uranium bomb

The aim of all nuclear bomb designers is to create a supercritical mass which will sustain a chain reaction and violently release vast amounts of heat.

One of the simplest is a so-called gun design.

Here, a smaller subcritical mass is fired at a larger one, causing the combined mass to go supercritical triggering a nuclear explosion.

The process occurs in less than a second.

To make fuel for a uranium bomb, highly-enriched uranium hexafluoride is first converted into uranium oxide, and then uranium metal ingots.

This can be done using relatively simple chemical and engineering processes.

The most powerful basic fission weapon - an atom bomb - will detonate with an explosion the force of 50 kilotons.

This force can be increased by a technique called boosting, which harnesses the properties of nuclear fusion.

Fusion consists of the joining together of the nuclei of atoms of hydrogen isotopes to produce nuclei of helium. This process occurs when hydrogen nuclei are subjected to intense heat and pressure, both of which are produced by a nuclear bomb.

Nuclear fusion has the effect of injecting more energetic neutrons into the fission reaction, resulting in a bigger explosion.

Such fission-fusion-fission devices are known as hydrogen bombs, or thermonuclear weapons.



Plutonium bomb

Plutonium offers several advantages over uranium as a component in a nuclear weapon. Only about 4kg of plutonium is needed to make a bomb. Such a device would explode with the power of 20 kilotons.

To produce 12kg of plutonium per year, only a relatively small reprocessing facility would be needed.

A warhead consists of a sphere of plutonium surrounded by a shell of material such as beryllium, which reflects neutrons back into the fission process.

This means that less plutonium is needed to achieve critical mass, and produce a self sustaining fission reaction.

A terrorist group or country may find it easier to acquire plutonium from civil nuclear reactors, rather than enriched uranium, to produce a nuclear explosive.

Experts believe a crude plutonium bomb could be designed and assembled by terrorists possessing no greater level of skill than needed by the AUM cult to attack the Tokyo underground with nerve gas in 1995.

A nuclear explosive of this nature could explode with the power of 100 tonnes of TNT - 20 times more powerful than the largest terrorist bomb attack to date.









Reprocessing is the chemical operation which separates useful fuel for recycling from nuclear waste.

Used fuel rods have their metallic outer casing stripped away before being dissolved in hot nitric acid. This produces uranium (96%), which is reused in reactors, highly radioactive waste (3%) and plutonium (1%).

All nuclear reactors produce plutonium, but military types produce it more efficiently than others.

A reprocessing plant and a reactor to produce sufficient plutonium could be housed inconspicously in an ordinary-looking building.

This makes extracting plutonium by reprocessing an attractive option to any country wishing to pursue a clandestine weapons programme.




Iran s key nuclear sites

  1. 1.     Overview
  2. 2.     Natanz - uranium enrichment
  3. 3.     Arak - heavy water
  4. 4.     Bushehr - reactor

 Arak - Heavy water plant

The existence of a heavy water facility near the town of Arak first emerged with the publication of satellite images by the US-based Institute for Science and International Security in December 2002.


Heavy water is used to moderate the nuclear fission chain reaction either in a certain type of reactor - albeit not the type that Iran is currently building - or produce plutonium for use in a nuclear bomb.

In August 2010, the IAEA visited the IR-40 heavy water reactor site at Arak. It said the facility was still being built but some major equipment had been installed. Iran told the IAEA the operation of the reactor was planned to start by the end of 2013.

The IAEA said that based on satellite imagery, the heavy water production plant appeared to be in operation, but had not had access to it to confirm such reports.

Bushehr - Nuclear power station

Iran s nuclear programme began in 1974 with plans to build a nuclear power station at Bushehr with German assistance.

The project was abandoned because of the Islamic revolution five years later, but revived in the 1990s when Tehran signed an agreement with Russia to resume work at the site.


Moscow delayed completion on the project while the UN Security Council debated and then passed resolutions aimed at stopping uranium enrichment in Iran.

In December 2007, Moscow started delivering the canisters of enriched uranium the plant needs.

Earlier in the same month, a US intelligence report said Iran was not currently running a military nuclear programme.

There are two pressurised water reactors at the site.

Satellite images from March 2010 show the first completed reactor building on a site that occupies 2.5 square kilometres (one square mile), about 17 km (11 miles) south of the city of Bushehr.

Iranian state media said the plant was connected to the national grid in September 2010.

When it was inspected by the IAEA in October 2011, the agency noted that the reactor was in operation.

Gachin - Uranium mine

In December 2010, Iran said it had delivered its first domestically produced uranium ore concentrate, or yellowcake, to a plant that can make it ready for enrichment.

Yellowcake is used in the preparation of fuel for nuclear reactors

Iran s nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi said the first batch of yellowcake had been sent from Gachin mine sent to a conversion facility at Isfahan.

Mining operations started at the Gachin in 2004.

Iran was believed to be running low on its stock of yellowcake, originally imported from South Africa in the 1970s.

Isfahan - Uranium conversion plant

Iran is building a plant at a nuclear research facility to convert yellowcake into three forms:


  1. Hexafluoride gas - used in gas centrifuges
  2. Uranium oxide - used to fuel reactors, albeit not the type Iran is constructing
  3. Metal - often used in the cores of nuclear bombs. The IAEA is concerned about the metal s use, as Iran s reactors do not require it as fuel.

Natanz - Uranium enrichment plant

Iran resumed uranium enrichment work at Natanz in July 2004, after a halt during negotiations with leading European powers over its programme.


It announced in September 2007 that it had installed 3,000 centrifuges, the machines that do the enrichment. In 2010, Iran told the IAEA Natanz would be the venue for new enrichment facilities - construction of which would start around March 2011.

This is the facility at the heart of Iran s dispute with the United Nations Security Council.

The Council is concerned because the technology used for producing fuel for nuclear power can be used to enrich the uranium to a much higher level to produce a nuclear explosion.


One area at Parchin has been identified as a suspected nuclear weapons development facility.


The overall complex is one of Iran s leading munitions centres - for the research, development and production of ammunition, rockets and high explosives. A limited inspection carried out by the IAEA in 2005 found no proof of any nuclear weapons activity at Parchin.

But according to information from an IAEA report in November 2011, it is believed the site has also been used for testing high explosives that could be used in nuclear weapons.

Qom - Uranium enrichment plant

In January 2012, Iran said it had begun uranium enrichment at the heavily fortified site of Fordo near the holy city of Qom.


It had revealed the existence of the facility, about 30km (20 miles) north of the city, in September 2009.

Iran initially informed the IAEA that it was constructing the plant to produce uranium enriched up to 5% - commonly used in nuclear power production.

In June 2011, Iran told the IAEA that it was planning to produce uranium enriched up to 20% at Fordo - and would subsequently stop 20% fuel production at Natanz.

In January 2012, the IAEA confirmed Iran had started the production of uranium enriched up to 20%.

Iran says the Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU) is for use as a fuel in research reactors. Uranium - with a concentration of 20% or more - is needed to build nuclear weapons.

The IAEA says environmental samples taken from the site at Fordo in April 2011 did not indicate the presence of enriched uranium.

Iran nuclear deal triggers anxiety for Israel and Gulf

By Shashank JoshiResearch fellow, Royal United Services Institute

The deal was announced by the EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, accompanied by the foreign ministers of Iran, the US, UK, Russia, China, France and Germany

Continue reading the main story

  1. Q&A: Nuclear issue
  2. Key points of deal
  3. Key deal but limited
  4. Nuclear deal and reaction

This weekend s agreement between Iran and Western powers, which increases Iran s distance from a nuclear weapon, is the most significant breakthrough in their nuclear dispute for 10 years.

But for Israel, Saudi Arabia and the other Arab monarchies, the photographs of their US and European allies celebrating a deal with their historic rival Iran have some disturbing implications.

The response has not been universally hostile. The United Arab Emirates said the agreement could support "the stability of the region", and Bahrain s foreign minister said it "removes fears from us, whether from Iran or any other state".

Continue reading the main story

“Start Quote

Saudi Arabia was shocked when the US suddenly cancelled planned missile strikes against the Syrian regime, squandering what Riyadh saw as the best opportunity to roll back Iranian influence in years”

But others were less positive. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insisted that the deal was a "historic mistake" that "turns the world into a much scarier place".

A Saudi foreign policy adviser warned that the West s quid-pro-quo for the deal was "giving Iran more space or a freer hand in the region". What explains this angst?

Since the Iranian revolution of 1979, Israel and the Arab monarchies have viewed Iran as a major threat. Iran has given money and sophisticated missiles to militant groups on Israel s periphery, the most powerful of these being Lebanon s Hezbollah.

The Arab monarchies argue that Iran has subverted their Sunni-led and mostly Sunni-majority nations by supporting disaffected Shia communities.

Insult and injury

In 2003, the US-led invasion of Iraq transformed it from an Iranian enemy to an Iranian ally. In 2011, the US stood by as another staunchly anti-Iranian regime in Egypt was toppled.

More recently, Saudi Arabia was shocked when the US suddenly cancelled planned missile strikes against the Syrian regime, squandering what Riyadh saw as the best opportunity to roll back Iranian influence in years.

That Saudi Arabia found out about the cancellation from CNN, rather than being told by American officials, added insult to injury.

For these countries, the nuclear diplomacy is therefore about more than just the nuclear dispute. They worry that the West has prematurely eased the pressure before Iran completely surrendered, leaving Iran with enough nuclear infrastructure to allow it to build a bomb in the future.


Benjamin Netanyahu: "It s a historic mistake"

They will be particularly vexed that the agreement envisages allowing Iran to continue enrichment of uranium (albeit under heavy curbs) indefinitely, something that Israel in particular had opposed.

But their greater fear is that this opens the door to a US accommodation of Iran in the region which, when combined with a growing US focus on Asia, will lead to a progressive erosion of America s inclination and ability to protect Israeli and Arab interests against Iranian meddling.

In some ways, this fear of abandonment is a rekindling of old anxieties. On a recent trip to the Gulf, an official from one Arab country told me that "we can remember a time when the US was closer to Iran than Saudi Arabia", referring to the reign of the Shah of Iran.

These fears are overwrought, but they are sincerely and widely held in the Middle East. They are reinforced not just by the fact of this deal, but also the way it was done.

It is reported that the US had been in secret bilateral talks with Iran since before the June election of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani - including over the period it cancelled the Syria strikes - and that Saudi Arabia tipped Israel off about these clandestine contacts.

Israeli-Saudi rapprochement

This highlights two interesting trends. First, Saudi and Israeli perceptions are increasingly converging, despite the fact that Riyadh does not even recognise Israel as a state.

Second, US allies are increasingly convinced that US-Iran co-operation will inevitably come at Arab and Israeli expense - a view that will harden if Iran is now included in US and Russia-led peace talks for Syria.

The Iranian negotiators were cheered when they arrived at Tehran s Mehrabad Airport

How can these countries respond? Israeli officials have warned that they are not bound by the terms of the deal - an implicit threat that the military option remains on the table - and Saudi officials intimate that they can procure a nuclear weapon for themselves from Pakistan.

Neither of these steps is likely for the duration of this interim deal. As Israel s former army intelligence chief Amos Yadlin put it: "In the coming six months the legitimacy of an attack will diminish".

But the US and Israel have previously co-operated on cyber-attacks against Iran, and Israel is widely believed to have assassinated Iranian nuclear scientists. Such covert action should not be ruled out, though it would anger Washington and all those who negotiated this agreement.

If a longer-term settlement does not follow, and Iran renews its nuclear expansion, then the risk of Israeli airstrikes will grow significantly.

It is implausible that Saudi Arabia will offer direct military assistance to any Israeli attack, as Britain s Sunday Times newspaper suggested this month, but it might secretly grant over-flight rights to Israeli bombers.

Saudi-Israeli intelligence contact is also likely to flourish, particularly as the two countries look for any sign that Iran is cheating on the deal. But neither country can afford to push the US too far away.

The Geneva agreement is a modest step that leaves much work still to be done. But for some of America s allies, it is a troubling sign of things to come. Their priority will be to ensure that this nuclear thaw does not now turn into a regional realignment.

US-Iran relations: A brief guide

From the CIA-orchestrated overthrow of Iran s prime minister in 1953 to Friday s phone call between Presidents Obama and Rouhani, BBC News looks at 60 years of tricky relations between Iran and the US.



US and British intelligence agencies orchestrate a coup to oust Iran s democratically elected Prime Minister, Mohammad Mossadeq. The secular leader had sought to nationalise Iran s oil industry.

CIA documents acknowledge its role in Iran s 1953 coup



The US-backed Shah of Iran, Mohammed Reza Pahlevi, is forced to leave the country on 16 January following months of demonstrations and strikes against his rule by secular and religious opponents.

Two weeks later, Islamic religious leader Ayatollah Khomeini returns from exile. Following a referendum, the Islamic Republic of Iran is proclaimed on 1 April.

1979: Exiled Ayatollah Khomeini returns to Iran



A rescue mission ends in disaster for US troops, with the deaths of eight servicemen in a collision between a helicopter and a transport plane.

The final 52 hostages are eventually freed after 444 days in captivity.

"From the moment the hostages were seized until they were released minutes after Ronald Reagan took the oath of office as president 444 days later, the crisis absorbed more concentrated effort by American officials and had more extensive coverage on television and in the press than any other event since World War II"- Historian Gaddis Smith

1980: Tehran hostage rescue mission fails

1981: Tehran frees US hostages after 444 days



The US secretly ships weapons to Iran, allegedly in exchange for Tehran s help in freeing US hostages held by Hezbollah in Lebanon.

The profits are illegally channelled to rebels in Nicaragua, creating a political crisis for President Ronald Reagan.

Alistair Cooke s Letter from America: Oliver North testifies on Iran-Contra


The American warship USS Vincennes shoots down an Iran Air flight in the Gulf on 3 July 1988, killing all 290 people on board.

The US says the Airbus A300 was mistaken for a fighter jet.

Most of the victims were Iranians on their way to Mecca.

1988: US warship shoots down Iranian airliner



Mohammad Khatami, a reformist, is elected Iranian president in 1997.

The following year he calls for "a dialogue with the American people" in an interview with a US TV channel. The prospect of a thawing in relations beckons, but there is no breakthrough.

Profile: Mohammad Khatami


"Iran aggressively pursues weapons [of mass destruction] and exports terror, while an unelected few repress the Iranian people s hope for freedom"

In his State of the Union address, President George Bush denounces Iran as part of an "axis of evil" with Iraq and North Korea.

The speech causes outrage in Iran.

Analysis: Iran and the axis of evil



In 2002 an Iranian opposition group reveals that Iran is developing nuclear facilities including a uranium enrichment plant at Natanz and a heavy water reactor at Arak.

The US accuses Iran of a clandestine nuclear weapons programme, which Iran denies.

A decade of intermittent Iranian engagement with the UN s nuclear watchdog and diplomatic activity follows.

The UN ratifies four rounds of sanctions on Iran between 2006 and 2010 over the nuclear issue.

The US and EU also impose sanctions on Iran, stepping up measures in 2012 to include the financial sector. Several other countries have bilateral sanctions.

The US Treasury claims in 2013 Iran s currency has lost two-thirds of its value in the past two years.

Q&A: Iran nuclear crisis

Q&A: Iran sanctions



Ultra-conservative Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is elected president in June 2005.

The populist leader s bombastic style and questioning of the Holocaust leads to a worsening of Iran s relations with the West.

His disputed re-election in 2009 leads to the worst internal unrest since 1979.

In 2010 his speech at the UN sparks walk-outs after he claims that most people believe the US government was behind the 9/11 attacks.

Profile: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

Protests at Ahmadinejad UN speech



On a trip to the UN forum in New York, Iran s new President Hassan Rouhani held a phone call with President Barack Obama - the first conversation between US and Iranian heads of state for 30 years.

Mr Rouhani used his Twitter account to break the news of the historic conversation.

The US president also said the two men had expressed their determination to solve the long-running dispute over Iran s nuclear programme.




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