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Kazakhstan and IAEA Establish Uranium Fuel Bank

IAEA aims to prevent Kazakhstan to become a next Iran


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ASTANA (Kazakhstan Ministry of Foreign Affairs) — International leaders in nuclear non-proliferation gathered at a signing ceremony in Astana, Kazakhstan on August 27, 2015 to celebrate the establishment of an international bank for low-enriched uranium (LEU) in Kazakhstan. The culmination of a decade of negotiations the bank is the first of its kind and falls under the administration of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Signing of LEU Bank Agreement Between IAEA and Kazakhstan

The agreement, made possible by transit support through Russia, is expected to play a key role in preventing the spread of enrichment programs such as those which took centre stage in the recent P5+1 negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program. The bank is funded in part through donations from the United States, the European Union, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Norway, Kazakhstan, and philanthropist Warren Buffett through the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI). NTI is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization with a mission to strengthen global security by reducing the risk of use and preventing the spread of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons and to work to build the trust, transparency, and security that are preconditions to the ultimate fulfilment of the Non-Proliferation Treaty’s goals and ambitions.

One of the main projects of NTI is to establish a new approach to the nuclear fuel cycle. With the hindsight of 60 years, policymakers today would likely design a global nuclear fuel cycle architecture quite different from the one that has evolved. This project has developed the first comprehensive approach to re-envisioning the nuclear fuel cycle and is developing guidelines for shaping a sustainable nuclear supply system and leveraging existing trends in nuclear industry.

In this context, the LEU Bank, which was announced in May 2015, is expected to start receiving fuel to the Ulba Metallurgical Plant in Oskemen, Kazakhstan in 2017. The LEU Bank was developed to assure countries with peaceful nuclear programs accessibility to a supply of LEU if its access on the commercial market was unavailable. It is intended to provide IAEA member states with confidence in a steady and predictable supply of fuel even if other supply mechanisms are disrupted. It is also an important step in supporting nuclear non-proliferation. For more details on the LEU Bank and similar projects, please visit the IAEA information page: https://www.iaea.org/ourwork/leubank.

At the event, Andrew Weber, former US assistant secretary of defence for nuclear, chemical and biological defence programs commented on the importance of the bank, which provides “an international, neutral, reliable, supply of low enriched uranium for power reactors, so [future developers] don’t have to develop their own enrichment capabilities that could be misused to produce the fuel for nuclear weapons.”

When asked how and when the bank will be used in an interview, former Senator and Co-Chairman Sam Nunn of the Nuclear Threat Initiative, a non-profit group which seeks to reduce the spread of nuclear weapons, said, “It’s being used every day that you have countries that decide that they can rely on the marketplace and this backup to the marketplace and not develop their own enrichment capability.”

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