The IAEA Low Enriched Uranium Bank in Kazakhstan

Tariq Rauf

ASTANA, 29 August 2017:

On Tuesday afternoon, 29th August 2017, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Kazakhstan will formally inaugurate a Low Enriched Uranium (LEU) Bank located at the Ulba Metallurgical Plant at Öskemen (formerly Ust Kamenogorsk).

This event will mark an important milestone in the long march for the IAEA set up an IAEA owned and operated nuclear fuel bank as envisaged in the 1957 IAEA Statute. This initiative was proposed in September 2006 by the Washington, DC-based Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) which offered US$50 million to the IAEA, provided by global investor Warren Buffet, to set up an IAEA LEU Bank by raising an additional $100 million. By early 2009, the IAEA had accomplished the goal of getting funding support from the European Union (€50 million), Kuwait ($10 million), Norway ($5 million), United Arab Emirates ($10 million) and the United States of America ($50 million). Kazakhstan was the only country to offer to host the IAEA LEU Bank on its territory and pledged nearly $500,000 for the project.

Background: The Baruch Plan of 1946 eerily warned that “Behind the black portent of the new atomic age lies a hope, which seized upon with faith can work our salvation… Science has torn from nature a secret so vast in its potentialities that our minds cower from the terror it creates. Yet terror is not enough to inhibit the use of the atomic bomb. The terror created by weapons has never stopped man from employing them.” Baruch envisioned an internationalization of the nuclear fuel cycle that was ahead of its time

The original concept of “Atoms for Peace” in 1953 that called for the establishment of the IAEA also included the receipt, custody and supply of nuclear fuel as well as the acquisition and establishment of facilities, plants and equipment for the enrichment or fabrication of nuclear fuel as some of the principal functions of such an organization. These principles were included in the Statute of the Agency, but it was not until the 47th regular session of the IAEA General Conference in 2003 that serious thinking in the contemporary context was devoted to this matter

. At the General Conference, IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei elaborated a new approach to the sensitive elements of the nuclear fuel cycle – uranium enrichment and plutonium separation. ElBaradei called for a creation of a new framework for nuclear energy to assure supply of nuclear fuel for civilian uses while maintaining flexibility in nuclear fuel cycle choices and options for the Agency’s Member States

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. Between 2004 and 2008, some twelve different proposals were advanced including assurances of supply, multilateral enrichment centres and in international nuclear fuel cycle centresRead more

Tariq Rauf is a member of the board of Atomic Reporters
. He presently is working in Vienna on bringing the CTBT into force. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

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