How is uranium enriched?

The whole world is aware of the unfolding threats of a possible nuclear war between the United States and some countries in the Middle East and Asia. But, do you know what are the key elements for developing such a bomb?

Well, first we need to say that the atomic bomb that the United States dropped on Hiroshima in Japan during World War II cost more than $ 500 million in 1944 - about $ 7.2 billion at the current price.


It involved a structure of 20, 000 people to build it, an additional 12, 000 to operate the site where it was being assembled and demanded 10% of the electricity from across the country.

All of this makes its cost incredibly high - in a way that is impeding for most countries - and the main reason is not all that we have listed so far, but the uranium involved in building an atomic bomb.


A key ingredient in building these daunting large-scale weapons, enriched uranium is not easy to find out there.

Also, it's not any kind of uranium that works in nuclear reactors and bombs - and this is where the complication begins. The type required for nuclear purposes is Uranium-235, but it only accounts for 1% of this element in nature. Ninety-nine percent (99%) of natural uranium is Uranium-238, according to the Illinois Argonne National Laboratory in the United States.

The only difference between the two types is the weight, as the 235 is slightly lighter, allowing it to be separated from the rest - but not without a very high degree of difficulty.

First, uranium is transformed into gas and placed in cylindrical centrifuges that are the size of a person. Circular motion moves one type of particle away from the others - the heavier ones go to the center of the cylinder, and the lighter ones go to the edges.

One point about this, however, is that these centrifuges are very expensive because they need to be constructed of highly contamination resistant material at very high speeds, which requires technology and tough raw material.


Another issue is that in order to separate enough Uranium-235 for an atomic bomb, it is necessary to use hundreds or even thousands of centrifuges working nonstop simultaneously.

The WWII bomb, for example, used 62 kilos of uranium-235, extracted from almost 4 tons. That is why it is called "enriched uranium", due to the rarity and difficulty of extraction.