IAEA, Kazakhstan Agree to Create Nuclear Fuel Bank

IAEA, Kazakhstan Agree to Create  Nuclear Fuel BankIAEA, Kazakhstan Agree to Create  Nuclear Fuel Bank

Operated by Kazakhstan and expected to start operations in 2017, the International Atomic Energy Agency's "Low Enriched Uranium Bank" will be a physical reserve of LEU—the basic ingredient of nuclear fuel.

The bank will also act as a supplier of last resort for the Vienna-based agency's member states in case they cannot obtain LEU on the global commercial market or otherwise.

The facility is also seen as an important part of international efforts to prevent nuclear non-proliferation—as a way to dissuade countries from building enrichment facilities that might be misused to purify uranium to weapons-grade levels, Worldnuclearnews reported.      

The agreement was signed in Astana by IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano and Kazakhstan’s Foreign Minister Erlan Idrissov.

The Kazakh government said on Friday the signing ceremony was attended by representatives of UN Security Council members, including China, France, Russia, the UK and USA, as well as representatives of donor countries for the project—the European Union Kuwait, Norway and the UAE.            

“I am confident that the IAEA LEU Bank will operate safely and securely, in line with the applicable IAEA nuclear safety standards and nuclear security guidance,” Amano said, according to an IAEA statement.

In addition to the Host State Agreement, the ceremony included the signing by Amano and Kazakhstan’s Energy Minister Vladimir Shkolnik of a related technical agreement, and a contract between the IAEA and Kazakhstan’s Ulba Metallurgical Plant. The three documents comprise the legal framework for the IAEA LEU Bank.

“A lot of work must still be done, but after the signing of the relevant documents today, the legal framework is fully in place and we can move ahead with full-scale implementation,” Amano said.

The IAEA LEU Bank will host up to 90 tons of LEU, sufficient to run a 1,000 MWe light-water reactor. The Ulba Metallurgical Plant has been handling and storing nuclear material, including LEU, safely and securely for more than 60 years.

“The establishment and operation of the IAEA LEU Bank are fully funded through $150 million of voluntary contributions from the Nuclear Threat Initiative, the USA, the EU, the UAE, Kuwait, Norway and Kazakhstan. Their contributions will cover the cost of the facility for the first 10 years of operation,” Amano said.

“As the world’s largest uranium producer, with expertise in peaceful nuclear technology, Kazakhstan is well suited to hosting the IAEA LEU Bank.”

Kazakhstan hosts more than 15% of global uranium reserves, but has no nuclear power plants of its own.

Amano said that in line with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on Iran’s nuclear program, signed in July, Iran might in the future offer part of its own LEU stocks for the bank.

“Inventory for the bank will be bought through open tenders,” he said.

On 25 August, Amano sought approval for extra funding of $10.6 million per year for the IAEA’s “special arrangement” with Iran, which he stressed “would not serve as a precedent”. Amano made his request to the agency’s Board of Governors at a meeting convened to consider the UN Security Council’s Resolution 2231, namely its request for the IAEA to undertake verification and monitoring of Iran’s nuclear-related commitments under the JCPOA.