Centrifuges: how do they really work?

Following the incident at the Natanz nuclear site in Iran, Arutz Sheva brings you a brief summary of the science behind the centrifuges.

Arutz Sheva Staff ,

צילום: ISTOCK

As speculation and confusion grow amongst the viewers regarding what exactly took place in the Iranian Natanz nuclear plant, Arutz Sheva set out to field information the centrifuges and their functions. We were joined by Dr. Ido Ben-Dayan, Assistant Professor of High Energy Physics and Cosmology of the Physics department at Ariel University.

What are centrifuges?

It is something similar to a washing machine that aims to separate two types of material. Uranium has two isotopes, only one of which is suitable for creating a nuclear bomb, uranium 235. Over 90% of uranium is uranium 238. In order to produce a nuclear bomb one would need to concentrate a sufficiently large amount of uranium 235 in to a rotating device. The mass of the isotopes is different and so the isotopes can be concentrated In different masses until a large amount of uranium 235 is obtained.

What kind of damage can an electricity outage cause a centrifuge?

The process of separating the materials is a very delicate process done at a very high engineering level. Once there is a power outage it knocks out the accuracy and timing and can cause destruction of the hub, explosions, and more. If it is indeed damaged the whole process is significantly damaged.

What is your evaluation of the extent of the damage done to the centrifuge at Natanz?

From what little I know, and I emphasize that I have no information beyond what was published in the media, I think the extent of the damage is significant. The nuclear deal was originally intended to make sure that even if the Iranians decide to produce a nuclear bomb the process would take them at least a year. Following the withdrawal of the United States from the agreement, economic pressure was created and the Iranians officially stopped fulfilling the agreement, so the time to carry out the breach was shortened.

How far back do you assume this breach delay the Iranians from obtaining nuclear capabilities?

It is difficult to estimate accurately. It is estimated that this is a delay of a few months up to two years and if it is closer to the latter, it is a very big success, since a very large air strike would have delayed the process by at most three years. The action creates a respectable period of time for the statesmen to delay the process.

Dr. Ido Ben-Dayan
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