IAEA Confirms Iran Exported Excess Heavy Water

11 Metric Tonnes of Water Sent Abroad

Once again in keeping with the P5+1 nuclear deal, the IAEA has confirmed today that Iran has exported 11 metric tonnes of heavy water abroad, confirming that the water arrived at its “destination outside Iran,” but not saying specifically where it would be.

Under the deal, Iran is allowed to keep its heavy water facility operational, and to keep 130 metric tonnes in the country, with excess being exported into international markets. The deal primarily aimed to guarantee international market access for Iran with a plant redesign reducing their need for such water, though it’s also meant another “cap” that people can accuse Iran of violating.

This has been a recurring problem, because Iran’s first major export to the United States fueled a major Congressional backlash and since then Iran has struggled to get countries to buy the heavy water in a timely fashion, meaning at times they’ve gone slightly above 130, as last month they reportedly had 130.1 metric tonnes on hand, before sending some to Oman.

It may ultimately be that this additional water was sent to Oman as well, since the IAEA didn’t provide details. Since the cap only applies to heavy water held directly in Iran, they have been able to avoid violations by storing excess heavy water in Oman while they wait for buyers to emerge.

At any rate, heavy water is not dangerous in any way, not radioactive nor of any value in any form of weaponry. It has applications in scientific research, and also in certain types of civilian nuclear reactors, like Iran’s initial Arak reactor design.

Last 5 posts by Jason Ditz

Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is news editor of Antiwar.com.

  • George Phillies

    Heavy water is deuterium oxide. Deuterium, typically after moving it from the oxide to a lithium hydride, is a core component in hydrogen bomb construction and various techniques for boosting atomic bomb yields.

    • Gary Sellars

      Are you trying to suggest that Iran wants to make thermnuke weapons from their heavy water plant? Complete rubbish.

      Heavy water is mainly used as a moderator in natural uranium reactors like CANDU. Its attractive as it doesn’t require enriched fuel, so avoid controversial centrifuge plants where critics can accuse them of making weapons grade materials. Its controversial in its own way however HW moderated reactors can operate with greater seperation between fuel rods, so fuel assemblies can be housed in individual pressure-retaining tubes and inserted/removed while the reactor is live (unlike a typical PWR where removing rods requires a core shutdown and depressurisation). They can therefore be used a plutonium generators by irridating fresh rods until the Pu content reaches a maximum, after which they are removed from the core and processed to remove the weapons grade material.

      This can’t happen if the reactor is under IAEA supervision as the rod history is carefully recorded, but that doesn’t stop Uh’Murikkkan wack-jobs from objecting….

      • Well, that, but also aside from what heavy water is used for, look at the quantity:

        Iran is allegedly seven one thousandths of one percent over its allowance. One tenth of one metric ton over their limit of 130 metric tons. That’s well within any reasonable margin of various errors of measurement, on the part of the Iranians or on the part of IAEA.

        Anyone who gets excited about this has far too much time on his hands and far too little to do.

        • George Phillies

          Yes, deuterium separated from the water — the oxygen is highly undesirable — is one of the fusible components for a hydrogen bomb. There are other arts, Li and T in particular. I used to live rather close to the US main manufacturing facility for D2O and hence D for our fusion bombs. Of course, you also need other parts, such as the fission section, and there seems to be rather little evidence that the Iranians had a great deal of interest in procuring them. They do presumably have the depleted uranium left over from isolating U235, convenient for the third stage if they go there.

          With respect to American whack jobs, one of us has a physics doctorate from MIT, and you have instead a lack of good manners.

      • dieter heymann

        Yes but I doubt that Iran has an active reprocessing plant.
        I understand that it would be very difficult to move rods undetected from the reactor to a reprocessing plant given the intrusive IAEA supervision.

  • TellTheTruth-2

    After years of Netanyahu’s lies Iran wanted nuclear weapons, Iran worked out a compromise to prove they were not seeking nuclear weapons and they’re living up to the agreement. Are the war mongers happy? Nope!

  • nhmakingwaves

    Heavy water can have military uses, such as in neutron bombs, but only in the context of a fission bomb already existing. It can be helpful in creating the components for such a bomb also. I’m not suggesting Iran is doing anything nefarious with it, just making a correction to the article above.

  • Luther Blissett

    And so begins the “debate” about Iran’s adherence to the nuclear deal….

    This ends in war.

    Woolsey got 50% of American to accept ‘Saddam did 9-11’, I’m sure he can find an exploitable technicality in an complex treaty.